Part 1, which came second: end of semester / artist statement
In which the art taught me something, like it always does, and that something was a reminder rather than something new. It’s the same lessons – love, be not afraid, trust, stay – over and over again for this self who is by grace becoming a tiny bit more well-integrated.
And here’s part 2, which came first.
“I’m stumbling in pursuit of grace.”
It came between first and second graduations, this second-to-last semester of five years of undergraduate studies. Almost but not quite an ending, it sits as a late middle (but a middle nonetheless) – a place I’m aware of the value of dwelling within. Middles live out faithfulness, and I want to do that well. (Nothing new, for example: this and this and “my favorite color is gray” and reading Lauren Winner’s Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis three times in one year.) I have been learning, but honestly, it often seems I’ve been forgetting at about the same pace.
For me, forgetting feels like floundering and looks like clenched fists. Floundering perhaps helped the semester go more quickly, but if so it was only because I did my best to ignore it. Presence asks you to feel, to allow yourself to be touched by excitement and sadness and loneliness (albeit unfounded) and hope. Worn out from a first half of the year of staying open I put my head down and pulled my arms in close to my body and let most of those things roll over me this semester. Don’t touch me, I’m not strong enough.
Visual art, or at least the kind of art I make, is about touch as much as it’s about sight. It’s tangible, the result of physical processes. In hindsight, then, it makes sense that the defensive craving to transcend the need for connection would trigger the drying up of creative energy. In this last year of undergrad, the “get ready for junior painting / senior studios / creating your thesis next year” impetus to make art disappeared and with it, a (now I see, misplaced) sense of confidence in creation. I got lost in spite of pretty words about presence and appreciating art-making as a way of learning. While researching ways to spend my first year after graduation and finding that none of them required the painting of conceptual abstractions, I tried figure out why I was making art anyway. After one particularly frustrating exchange with an instructor, the words “I don’t want to be an artist” landed in my sketchbook. What were those words? Hand-eye coordination, years of practice putting together lines in a certain way. Simple linear elements, a composition of recognizable, communicative forms, symbols within a shared visual culture. A minimal composition on the stark white color field of a page. Perhaps it was the most honest drawing I made all semester.
In that uncomfortable place, I anxiously avoided the studio instead of staying faithful and (often half-heartedly) made just enough to get me through the semester. Instead, I got a part-time job and wrote a budget and made spreadsheets mapping out potential post-grad plans and updated my CV a million times and scheduled appointments with university career counselors. I messied and cleaned, and messied and cleaned, my apartment. I read obsessively and scribbled more words than usual in my journal and tried to pray.
Every time I showed up to the art, though, she welcomed me. There was room for questioning in the making. When I remembered to breathe I found myself still faithfully, mysteriously sustained. Still a created being, being created, safe and still being saved. Remembering emerges as pattern – a rhythm of return that whispers grace. Grace, like always, not requiring me to be strong enough.
that grace might reign, leading to life.
(from Romans 5)