Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Importance of Discomfort in the Creative Process

photo tanner/tieken © 2015
I think its basic human nature to desire comfort, to be and remain comfortable whenever possible. It's just easier, if there's nothing wrong there's no need to change and we can continue on following the same trajectory without much thought. Somehow this state gets mistaken for the "Yes! Now I have arrived!" epiphany/pitfall that's actually the death bell for creativity.

For example, take two seeds from the same indigenous plant, grow one indoors and another outdoors. At first you may see the indoor sprout thriving as the outdoor sprout struggles. We may even think to ourselves "oh, poor outdoor plant, it just doesn't have the same chance."

It's very likely that the outdoor sprout will get knocked down by the wind, and we may pity the sad little thing but in truth something magical happens when stress is applied: the plant changes and evolves, now turning it's efforts to strengthening the stem instead of continuing to weakly reach towards the sun. It may go days without water, forcing the roots to dig deep and tap into reserves hidden beneath the soil. It may have to struggle with a neighboring plant for resources... all the while the indoor plant is quite comfortable and sheltered, but a dire shift has already occurred in the indoor plant. It never had to struggle, it never had to evolve, it never had to adapt so in truth has become dependent on us for it's very survival.

The outdoor sprout, put under the right amount of pressure (not too much just enough to force it to adapt) doesn't need to be babied or coddled.

Creativity is much the same way to me. It's not silence, agreeability and complacency that makes it stronger, it's criticism, discontentment and the drive to be more. Stress and pressure is the force exerted and when mixed with the unwillingness to be defeated or lay down broken that evolution and growth occurs automatically. If you look at the natural world, everything is perpetually ever-evolving, changing, adapting... a story that is telegraphed into every molecule and cell.

Encouragement is important but as in all things extremes are dangerous. If you notice that outdoor plant is dying of thirst, yes, water it! Keep in mind, the balance in life is somewhere in-between, if we abandon the stress created by critical thinking and honest reflection we will have a very weak and needy result that can't endure the test of time or the real creative force of nature. Yet it has to also be nurtured, given access to the resources that can become it's arsenal for survival.

While it's nice to be given complements and told how amazing everything you do is, it can be a great disservice. At a certain point, if you don't learn to detach your ego from your work and process criticism, moreover learn to be self-critical you can't grow and your work will become stagnant. So it's really a matter of deciding which is more important, being told how great you are or embracing greatness as a verb, an action grounded in struggle and work, not some lofty destination.

Be wary of anyone who comes along and offers to plant, water, shelter and feed your creativity because it will be just as needy and dependent as our poor indoor plant. Step into discomfort, embrace fear, reach for the unknown and rejoice in the lessons learned from failure. Instead of searching for compliments, cultivate that drive to survive, that force within oursleves to push through, your creativity will bare fruit and you won't need anyone to tell you how great your work is. Count every battle scar, view your work critically, and revel in the process of your potentially uncomfortable evolution. This is where real creative freedom resides, the strength and wisdom revealed through the willingness to embrace the inevitability of both failure and success.

Anyone promising you an easy road through the creative process is trying to sell you something. The creative process requires work, it demands passion. It doesn't care what you achieved last year or yesterday, it doesn't need the perfect studio or the perfect equipment, those are just environmental influences. When passion and drive fuels the creative process limitations are just obstacles waiting for their future antidote to be discovered.

Until next time, create, practice and persevere... what we cultivate today is the foundation of our artistic expression tomorrow.  Sincerely, Wanaree

copyright wanaree tanner © 2015 all rights reserved

Thursday, September 24, 2015

First Full Immersion Experience at The Metal Clay Arts Conservatory and Sustainable Stones Studio

Metal Clay Arts Conservatory is pleased to announce it's official opening with our first participant, Tracy Menz of Tracy Menz Designs from Annapolis, Maryland, in our week long Full Immersion Experience. Here are a few highlights of our inspirational time together. In addition to some beautiful sustainable jewelry creations, new friends were made for life!

Tracy Menz and Wanaree in front of the new Conservatory Studio.
The Conservatory Studio Workspace

Tracy learning to cut and polish at the Sustainable Stones Studio

Steve cutting a custom petrified wood cab for Tracy's first ever metal clay ring.

Wanaree cutting and polishing a Sustainable Stone for Tracy's  Animal Legal Defense Fund auction piece.
Tracy finishing the metal work for her sea glass cabochon.
Tracy's finished pieces! The sea glass pendant is reversible, with a hand carved bezel and open back featuring Wanaree's signature Koi texture stamp. Tracy's first ever metal clay ring featuring Wanaree's signature Celtic texture designs and a custom cut Sustainable Stone cabochon by Steve Tieken.
Tracy wanted to design a piece incorporating paw prints to be auctioned off for Animal Legal Defense Fund we choose a very special Sustainable Stone to highlight the Silhouette cut suspension gallery bezel wire. This is the first time Wanaree ever attempted to execute a backplate free setting, which freely allows light to pass through the entire stone. Steve named the piece "Rainbow Bridge" to honor all the beloved pets and animals that have crossed over.
Steve teaching Tracy how to identify and collect Sustainable Stones.
Tracy was a natural, even finding her first ancient artifact, a local LaMoine Chert scraper.
Wanaree discussing a local clay deposit during an outdoor excursion.
Wanaree and Tracy relaxing at one of our meditation gardens.

The Conservatory Studio's large kitchen and onsite
accommodations has all the comforts of home!
The Full Immersion Experience includes Wanaree's delicious Asian inspired vegetarian meals.
The combined expertise of Wanaree Tanner and Steve Tieken provides a
 visceral and educational experience for a full immersion creative adventure.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

MetalClay Art Conservatory Studio

Update on the Conservatory Studio progress, dry wall is being put up now, all the work is being done by local Amish carpenters and craftsmen. Set on 28 acres with a meandering stream and one of the few original red barns left in the area. Remodel is scheduled to be complete in late spring. We'll keep you posted~

Front view of house...three bedroom accomedations, two upstairs rooms with great views of the countryside

Ancient sycamore tree out front.

Side view of the house...

Wood burning stove in the main seating area...

Peering through the studio area...

One of the last original red barns still left in the area, where horses, a pony, and a mule reside. 

Partial view of the back 28 acres...

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Practice and Discipline: The Key to Excellence

As in all things in life, whether it be art, music, or any particular skill, practice is essential to excellence. Practice is not a destination, there is no end, there is no completion, it is the very vehicle of transformation. There is no point at which one arrives and practice becomes unnecessary.

Ability, in itself, is a seed that must be watered every day, it is a living organism that requires thought and attention. If you were to watch any seed closely, water it consistently, it's progress of growth may not be visible for weeks. Yet, if you tend it, give it ideal conditions in which to grow, one day a tender sprout will erupt from the ground. The time for germination depends on the variety, some sprout quickly, others require more patience and nurturing. The same is true of a practitioner of any art form.  

The key to committed practice is discipline. A good musician will tell you, they play every day, not just when they are composing or learning a song. I once listened to a flutist practice scales (going up and down a particular musical key) for several hours. Playing scales is the first thing ever taught to concert musicians, and she was already an accomplished player, yet, every day she would still commit time to this most basic of lessons. A long lineage of this kind of discipline creates fertile ground in which excellence and mastery can grow within an art form. 

With visual arts, it is far more subtle. We produce an end result that is tangible, that can be held and experienced. The work and practice that formed it may not be entirely known to someone outside it's field, but anyone with a discerning eye can examine a piece, in depth, and see the skill or artistry that created it. 

Whatever latent or active talent we have must be refined with practice. When creativity and inspiration wanes, it is discipline that keeps us working. More often than not, new ideas can manifest during such lulls, but more importantly, the commitment to the overall work should supersede our sometimes short attention span. While this kind of practice may not produce anything worthwhile in the immediate, it's the investment into the body of work that will benefit.

Self examination is also essential. Questioning our work and/or reviewing our progress must be done with detached brutality. In this, it is important to remove our emotional ties, and handle ourselves with a critical authority that isn't about tearing down or deeming, but about growth. Where can improvement be made? While I may view a piece as my finest, never is it without room for improvement.  

Often, that critical authority needs to come from outside ourselves. This can be the role of a good instructor. Their illumination of a new technique or process is only one aspect of our learning, we must take those techniques, practice them, and then be ready for sincere evaluation if excellence is what we truly wish to manifest. They should also give us the foundation and example for which we can grow and strengthen our own critical authority. True teachers are simply facilitators of this process. Exaltation should only be emphasized in the work produced, not in the teacher or even in the artist. Why? Because the human ego can crush progress with it's belief of having arrived. If we instead develop a passion for practice and sincere self-examination we will reap a harvest of improvement and innovative distinction.  

There is a balance between creative ingenuity and practiced skill. They are like different muscles in our artistic body, and require individual attention as well as harmonious synthesis for health to be achieved. Some artists may be born with a latent ability and talent where this process happens naturally, and with little to no interpersonal influences. In these cases the work speaks for itself. This does not necessarily mean they don't have to work long hours or try harder, it more often means the working and practice comes so fluidly that it may appear effortless. 

Creativity and inspiration must be tempered with practice and discipline if we wish to push the boundaries of our own abilities. That is, if we wish to create meaningful art, and not just make objects.