I am fighting with my ego. Again.
During what should have been a productive day in my studio, I decided to ramble on in my own mind about what defines art. I started piecing together snippets from different conversations with people I admire, creatively and personally. I am trying to make peace with this girl in my head who keeps telling me I am not an artist.
So, here is the backstory. Over a decade ago I began this journey of creating jewelry. Working full time as a therapist with teenagers whose stories and struggles and pain left me in tears for most of my hour drive home, I found I needed something to do as my own therapy. I needed something to do with my hands, some way to create order out of chaos, a way to bring color and beauty to my little world. So, I started creating jewelry as my own coping strategy. At night I could think through my sessions from earlier in the day and while still keeping part of my mind focused on the task before me, I found I gained clarity to offer new observations and thoughts to my students the next day. Once I gave birth to my daughter a couple of years later and decided to stay home with her, it seemed like an easy way to bring in some money while I worked from home. (I grossly overestimated how easy that would be and how much money I would actually be making, but that is an entirely different blog.)
Most people I know who are jewelers on any level began by playing with beads. Buying them. Arranging them. Assembling them. It’s fun. It begins the yearning to know more, to do more. It gets us into a few arts and crafts shows where we begin to compare our work to others, we become inspired. We want to get into bigger shows with the right crowds for our product. We want to make pieces that people do not constantly pick up and announce that their cousin makes jewelry just like this. We realize that many shows will not accept jewelry made with beads. So some of us may start to play with wire. And then possibly dabble in woven metals. And finally, we begin the journey on the esteemed metalsmithing path. We dive into art history, we read about every metal technique there is, we take classes, we melt enough silver to pay for a dream vacation. There is a glimmer of hope that one day we may finally be recognized as an artist.
And suddenly, I am that third grader who came home with the first place ribbon for a vase and flower collage made entirely from paper. Fortunately, my grandmother (a definite artist) was visiting when I walked in the door and she and my mom insisted on taking my picture with the winning piece and making me feel like I had just figured out the secret to world peace. I felt amazing.
I have worked hard to learn new techniques, to understand heat and metal and flux and to be able to make custom pieces from the blank slate of sheet metal. I have been pushing myself towards some philosophical ideal of art, determined by the art fairies, otherwise known as galleries and art show jurors. And I have learned a funny thing about what art is to me. Art is when a couple sends me personal photos from their wedding day, wearing rings that I made with love and tells me that the rings made the day everything they hoped it would be. Art is when someone picks up the phone we talk for an hour about how the experiences I shared in a blog post helped her through a similar time. Art is when someone’s eyes fill with tears because the piece of jewelry she is giving says what she had been struggling to say for years to someone she loves. Art is when you touch a piece of metal a hundred times a day because it reminds you of someone you love. Art is when someone prepares to pass from this world, giving her family the pieces that were special to her, all with a story about how and why her husband had each one custom made for her. Art is connection. It is movement in the deepest parts of our souls.
And so, I am claiming my own definition of art for my business. I am still pushing myself technically with metal, because I am addicted to it and always want to grow and be challenged. But I am also giving myself permission to work with beads again. I miss color. I miss playing. And that’s okay, because I have a message to send, not a point to prove. I’m letting go of my ego’s need to be stroked and fed. I want to be moved and to move and to connect and love.
I am so thankful to each person who finds value and meaning in what I do. The connection we share is the true meaning of art for me.