Bettina Matzkhun is our moderator. I don't know her personally, but I've heard her speak and I'm aware of her work, and admire her. I am in debt to her already for giving us some guidance on how to frame our presentations.
She gave us some suggestions on ways to discuss our practices that would be engaging, starting with exploring what drives us.
So far I have always had trouble writing about what drives my art practice, because I fall into to cliches about my creative origins story , beginning with my childhood. Yes, I grew up in a beautiful setting, on five acres of rural land near Pitt Lake. Yes, I spent most of my time outdoors. Yes, I always wanted to know more about how the First Nations had made their livelihoods using only bioregional materials. Yes, I was wretched when we moved into town.
And then in adulthood, it was like the typical Greek hero's journey: shambling and interesting, with some fear and despair, and the occasional shining moment of illumination, all within the script.
I won't go into the details, because that's not really on-topic; this post is just supposed to be about what drives me in my art practice.
I think what drives my art practice is connecting with people. I graduated from art school doing some pretty theoretical, trapped-in-my-own-head work, and I didn't really make anything or do anything for a long time after that. I played at making things, designing things; but it was shallow and disconnected work.
I had always wanted to know how to make baskets and things like that. It was like a personal holy grail for me, the ultimate goal -- to make things for myself, out of things that I harvest myself, to serve my needs. This was a natural progression of my thesis work at art school, which was about self-sufficiency. Providing for one's needs is the most basic objective of any incarnated being; and to do that work, be confronting that physical reality through art, with no veils, is like confronting mortality and humanity and the universe, all at once. I guess some people go off in the woods with nothing and practice survival skills, but my way is to make art.
One of my sisters connected me with the Urban Weaver Studio, and I met Sharon Kallis. I had my first opportunities to share something I was really passionate about, and even knowledgeable about, and Sharon told me I was good at it and encouraged me.
After that, it's been one opportunity opening to the next, and I keep saying 'yes', because every time I step in front of a group of people, I have to 'get real', I have to be grounded in the what, why, where, when, and how of the materials and techniques, the history, my participants, myself, and how this practice fits into the bigger picture of craft work, environmental art, and sustainable human livelihoods. I don't have to be the ultimate expert -- I'm not -- but I have to be clear.
So this clarity, this grounding that I get from teaching is what drives me and guides me. I specialize in 'the eye-opening experience', facilitating beginners having their first encounter with natural materials -- I enjoy the excitement of blowing their minds with yard waste and tens of thousands of years of human tradition. What I make right now are samples, class sets of tools, program proposals, and marketing materials. Occasionally I make an object, but usually just as a teaching tool. My practice is the teaching.
Where is the artist or craftsperson in this? is this irony? All I know is that it is I am much more honest now than when I was working in a corporate setting and dreaming abstractly about gathering and making for myself. I have a young family, and as they grow, I will probably make more objects, have shows, apply for grants, and do more work in my studio, by myself; but for right now, I need to teach -- my participants reflect my practice back to me like a mirror, so that I can see it and examine it.
Ultimately, I think my mission is not so much to make beautiful objects or become a master in a particular field of craft, design or art myself; I want to help others to appreciate beauty -- especially natural beauty -- and to challenge our society's ways of being, and open eyes to other ways of being. It is a mission that lives in the dimensions of human relationships and understanding; and my coming to understand those dimensions is why I teach, and what drives my practice.