Thursday, August 19, 2010

Filling an empty space

I'm getting ready for my last big exhibition of the year, so earlier this week I popped by my framer with a few final pieces to prepare. I ordered one extra frame in a size I thought I could finish by installation date (September 10) and decided that will have to be enough. I've been twitchy to work on some big pieces lately, but by September? Not too likely.

So, what's this last small piece before September 10 going to be?

No idea.

Blank block.

I'm in a funny place just now. After an amazing week producing woodcuts at Anderson Ranch I have all sorts of new things I want to try and new ways I want to work... but it seems now is not the time to wander off into new territory. Not when I need to create another image in an already-established series for a show that has to hang in three weeks. So my block sits... waiting for me to find a balance between where I've been and where I want to go.

I think most people know this place... facing a blank slate, a blank page, a blank canvas, a blank whatever. Sometimes the blank can be intimidating, but it is also full of possibility. This block could be ANYTHING. (It could even be a doorstop.)

This week my mental energy has been directed at a big contract job, deadline of which looms ominously. But every once in a while this blank block, whispering of possibility, slips in and out of my attention- like a butterfly across the garden. And I really want to chase it.

Downtime has been non-existent since... oh... I don't know... May?... so yesterday when I felt myself starting to fight another cold (ack!)  I decided it was time to take a book with me to a hot bath. Twenty minutes. Surely I could give myself 20 minutes.

The book I took upstairs to the tub was Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit," which I read some time ago and decided I could spend some time with again. I'm thinking about my work routines post-ranch, remember, and the beginning pages of this book are all about routines and rituals and work habits.

In the first few pages I found one short paragraph which smacked me upside the head:

"The blank space can be humbling. But I've faced it my whole professional life. It's my job. It's also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity."

Filling this empty space constitutes my identity. Is it really that simple? Wait, maybe simple isn't the word I want. Maybe it's the idea that filling an empty space with dance, music, art, poetry, prose is enough that feels like a dope slap. There's so much explaining, and justifying, and defining, and all kinds of stuff that clutters a career in the arts. I really hate to use words like artist, and creative, and talented... because they carry so much baggage. What does it mean to call someone an artist? Or talented. What the heck does that mean? On the spectrum of artists from the Lascaux cave painters to Michaelangelo to Damien Hirst where do I fit in?

Filling this empty space constitutes my identity. There is no expectation here about how I fill that space or why I do it or with what degree of competency I do it. I just do it. Sure, I have to talk about it, and think about it. I have to hone my craft and develop my skills and strive to produce authentic work. Some days I will be successful and some days I will fail. But all of that stuff is extra. I don't have to walk in to the studio and say, "Today I'm going to make Art," and feel like a fraud when I just make a mess. My bottom line? I carve marks in an empty block and print those marks to empty paper. Filling an empty page constitutes my identity.

Could be I'm just rambling here, but it's an idea that feels right, so I'm going to live with it a while and see what happens. Start from the bottom line and build... and if it all comes tumbling down, the bottom line is still there and I start again. From there I can go anywhere.


  1. And you really can't go wrong. It's the doing. Not the doing well or right. It's just having to do it. Great post.

  2. What a great post. I have Ms. Tharp's book. It sits on a bookshelf and has been read through once and leafed through at other "downer" times. We sometimes need others to help us with our balance; to help put things back in perspective.

    May I be so bold as to say, Sherrie, that you are so much more than your art. Your art is fantastic and I love it and hope to be able to buy some more from you for my new house. BUT - you are so much more than this wonderful gift you have.


  3. Thanks, Wendy and Lindy...

    A long time ago a friend said to me that it's important to remember that we are human BEings, not human DOings. Yeah. Gotta remember that.