Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coming Home - Studios and Sacred Spaces

I am first and foremost a painter. I also write and have facilitated Circles for workshops and community storytelling. My current art studio is located in a building across the street from my home. It's my third studio space and each studio has represented a journey and a story.

First creative space

Let's call the kitchen table my first studio space. I'm four years old. This would be considered external creative space. Internally at four years old my creative space was the world of animals and plants, the extravagant colors of the universe. Before that I don't remember awareness of active creative work space although I have a vivid memory of being pre-verbal and feeling an awesome rage because I couldn't reach colored pencils laying on a table in sight but out of reach. I couldn't yet form words to ask for them and those colored crayons might as well have been on another planet. As an older child I remember a few memorable occasions when my dear Mom, who passed away this year and now is keeping time and playing with gusto on a full size violin in the spirit world, drew special additions on masterpiece artwork I brought home from school. She would sometimes add fake eyelashes and big saucy lips to the people and animals in my drawings and I'm sure she had no idea how dismayed I was. I'm reminded that we don't know what children are thinking unless we ask. I also realize these events were partly responsible for my transition from drawing to doing more writing - a more secluded and safer venue.

Second sacred space

My second real studio was free space in the basement of an fine apartment building on the best street in town. A friend was the building manager and offered me a one-room basement apartment that was used only for storage. I could have it rent-free if I cleaned it up and did I want it? Did I? I'm reminded of the girl who's given a large pile of horse manure and is thrilled, saying, "there has to be a pony in here somewhere." Only a pony-loving-artist could have looked in those rooms and seen a pony. It was pretty much full of old carpet, furniture, unrecognizable tubs of things, more grubby stuff and judging by the fixtures and wallpaper it hadn't been lived in for probably 20 years. It was terrifying to look at - filthy, smelly, paint peeling, ceiling falling in, no running water, bath and sink full of dirt and plaster. I was able to get water to the kitchen sink and from there buckets of water to fashion a flush toilet. All I could see was it's charming character and potential. I was in love.

As I loved this charming pony-studio so in turn it loved me. Beneath the manure were appalachian freckles, an arabian profile, great form, and a lovely personality. As I nurtured every inch of it into a "studio" it strengthened my creative personality. I hauled out trash six times my body weight, I got filthy, sweaty and determinedly happier day after day. The transformation took a couple of months of physically tough labor. As a path was cleared I painted the walls white, scrubbed stone and metal, floors, put bars on the windows so I'd feel safe at night, and loved it back to the proverbial magic lantern, rubbed and rubbed, eventually it glowed. A year or so down the road the building was sold and my friend no longer managed it, so I vacuumed and dusted the common areas once a week for the new owner instead of paying rent. I also showed him the photographs of "before" and "after" which I think persuaded him I'd paid some dues for the space. Today I can drive by and see lights on in that apartment, somebody lives there now. I created not only a studio space for myself but dredged it back to the land of the living so that when I left it became a home. I'm guessing they don't need a bucket to flush.

Third sacred space

But back to our original story. So now we're up to studio number three. The third studio in our story was on the 7th floor of a beloved, grubby old shoe factory which provided studios for 200 artists and homes for more than a few of them. A thriving, true artist community in downtown. My first space there was rented from a master painter who became my friend and mentor. Then I rented a small space kitty corner, looking over towards the Minnesota River. On a clear day I could see the trees lining the River, great cloud views by day and stars by night. A glorious studio experience. Sadly for our whole community, the building was sold for renovation as "artist lofts" and the prices were too high for the artists currently living and working there so we were tossed like feathers to the four winds... It was a dreadful break-up, emotionally wrenching for a community that provided creative, emotional and day to day support for each other. Sadder still more than a few of the artists expected to become homeless.

I started casting around for a different studio space. Around this time a 'For Rent' signed appeared in a shop window across the street from my home. Some weeks passed and I called to make an appointment to see the space knowing most likely I couldn't afford the rent. No harm in looking I told myself, it will help me start the process and I was curious. Yes, the rent was higher than I was paying at the shoe factory and, no, I couldn't afford it. During our conversation the building owner mentioned it would be great to have an artist in the building. I'd never had anyone see me as an specially attractive tenant just because I was an artist! She was a creative person herself and thought a painter would be a wonderful addition for the building. Much as I tried to think of ways to make it work by sharing the space and rent, it was just too expensive. So, oh well, too bad, I couldn't rent the space. Two weeks later that 'For Rent' sign was still in the window. I called the owner and couldn't even really say why but I learned she'd been meaning to call me for a few days because she'd decided she wanted to rent the space to me if we could work something out. We did just that. We worked out an arrangement that worked for us both. It's worth checking out "impossible" possibilities. You just never know how things might work out. So make the effort and then let go of the outcome. It won't always work out but sometimes it will.

Fourth sacred space - ugly ducks and swans

At this point in my life and in my work with creative clients, I'm interested to learn more about the creative space internally - how to support creative people as they empower and honor their creative spirit. As an artist this is my own life's work too. If we're attentive I believe it is an ever-evolving and deepening process. The evolution of artists and their creative spaces, externally and internally, are unique and there's no guide book. Artists face challenges most other folks do not. Some challenges artists face are so daunting that the artist feels they must give up her or his creative work altogether. Sometimes letting go of creative work is essential to lead a happier or healthier life and then it's certainly a reasonable choice.

We all need to take a break from time to time. Long term abandonment of creative work is a different kettle of fish altogether. When giving up creative work feels like a tragedy, then giving it up is not necessarily a good choice or perhaps shouldn't be the only choice. My rule of thumb is this: if events or experiences have halted your creative spirit or you're no longer able to summon the courage to do creative work, you're wounded and the wound is worthy of healing. Your healing journey is important. Your creative work is important, no matter if it is a hobby or your life's work. You are important. You deserve to take time to seek out ways for healing to occur, so you can be more freely creative again-or for the first time. I believe that like ugly ducks turning into beautiful swans, the tremendous energy bound up in challenges and experiences can be transformed into powerful fuel for creative work. Creative work that is unique and only you can do. The energy can be transmuted and channeled into your craft, your heart's work. I am not saying this is ever easy to accomplish-it's not uncommon for creative people to seek some professional help to facilitate that transformation. For some folks that help might be to seek help from a creativity coach, movement therapist, psychological counselor, massage and energy worker, pastoral counselor, hypnotists.

I know creative people wounded by catastrophic events around their creative work, too much toxic criticism, exhaustion or burn-out and they weren't able to return to their creative work. Sometimes the event or events occurred within recent years or even years ago in their youth but have surfaced again. When an artists gets halted, to the extent they must abandon the work they love, that's a tragedy-for the individual creative person and, honestly, for civilization because artists are the spirit and measure of a civilization.

Losing an artist from our community is like losing a part of our collective frontal lobe. So what can you do? If you're an artist, take care of yourself every way that you possibly can. If you don't consider yourself to be an artist and don't want to be one, you can help by finding an artist in your own community whose work you like, an artist right there where you live, and support the heck out of her or him: share and buy their work, be friendly, promote them, talk about them and about their work, be a patron in small ways or large. This isn't a benefit only to your family and the artist, it's a gift to humanity.

Where is the fourth sacred space? For me at this time it is within, that sacred space where the desire to create art is planted.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2007 Pamela Yates.

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