Last week marked the end of the “60 Day Studio Challenge.” Two things got in the way of my publishing a final article and showing off my finished studio. Number one: I’m not finished yet! I need more time. Sixty days sounded like plenty of time to whip even the most dismal studio into shape. Wrong! Painting the floor and some of my studio furniture took longer than I expected. I’ll explain the floor (admittedly just fishing for sympathy here!). Imagine a 12-foot square room divided into three 4-foot by 12-foot sections. I had to move everything off of one four-foot square section to paint. When that section dried, I had to move everything off the next four feet so I could paint the second section. Ditto for the last section. That’s a lot of moving (or in my case, dragging)! And that was just the painting portion of the project. So I need more time. In choosing 60 days for the challenge I should have realized that I need 60 days in total, not 60 consecutive days! So now that I’ve cleared that up, counting the 20 non-consecutive days I’ve spent so far on getting my studio back in shape (over the course of the past two months), I have about 40 “studio days” left. I will finish. I have a friend coming to work in my studio and former students looking for classes. So I am very motivated…just temporarily stalled.
The other thing that prevented me from writing an article about my “out of shape studio” last week was world events. By now you’ve all seen the gut-wrenching images of the young boy whose body was found face down on a beach in turkey. He, his young brother and their mother were three of the 12 Syrian refugees who drowned that day while trying to escape to one of the Greek islands. And those 12 souls were symbolic of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other migrants and refugees who risk their lives daily trying to reach the relative safety of Europe. My heart aches for them and for their families. In light of these tragic events, working on my studio and writing about having too much “stuff” somehow seemed disrespectful. In fact, anything to do with art this week just felt frivolous to me.
This is not the first time I have felt like this. I have often struggled with letting myself be creative. At times it seems both luxurious and selfish to spend time creating in my studio. I have felt this way more often since having my children. I know they won’t always be here and be little. So any time away from them feels either neglectful or selfish. But truth be told, following my creative heart wasn’t much easier before I had kids.
Before I was a jewellery artist I was a full-time production Raku potter. Talk about an oxymoron! Raku pottery originally was part of a Zen tea ceremony. Very relaxing and inner-reflective. But my form of Raku was hectic, dirty and heavy. I loved it! Making, packing, hauling and displaying my pottery at shows in two countries and in galleries and stores was back-breaking work. And being at the mercy of the whims of trends and crowds at shows was stressful! Hard work, but all of my choosing, and all in my own studio, while others were teaching, or farming, or helping others in some way through different professions. Maybe I should do “better work”…work outside my studio. Sometimes as a full-time potter–I felt like something was wrong or off.
My inability to write an article about the studio challenge made this old struggle resurface. I reflected back on a conversation I had with my father, Stewart Froese about 15 years ago, back in my pottery days. I was agonizing over my life’s purpose. I kept questioning whether my work was important. I worked around the clock at my craft every day, yet the stress of making an adequate income was paralyzing at times. Dad told me not to confuse money with being paid, or to confuse pay with importance. There are several ways to be paid, he explained. One is with money. Other ways include appreciation of our work by others, our own satisfaction in doing good work, and happiness created for others who enjoy our work. He didn’t deny that I was working very hard. Did my income match the work I put in? No. Did that make it hard to sleep at night? Yes. Was my work any less important than those who earned sizeable and stable incomes? “No”, said my father, who considers the work of an artist as very important. He emphasized that I should never underestimate the importance of my work as an artist. “Art is what makes life worth living. Without art, why would anyone be motivated to work? Without colour, music, stories and items that delight our senses, life would be all nose to the grindstone. Artists bring our world alive.”
The tragic world events last week sent me right back to agonizing over art and purpose. Spending my days working on articles for this site and searching for new techniques and new artists seemed frivolous in a way I’d never felt before. The images on Facebook of drowned children and desperate families were even sadder and more troubling when placed in stark, incongruous juxtaposition with photos of people’s pets, restaurant meals, and beautiful jewellery and art.
I reflected on the conversation I’d had with my father. His words, “making people happy is noble work” resonated with me. Sharing joy IS good work! I remembered that he also had said that no matter how miserable people are, how barren our lives are, humans have a fundamental need to create and embellish and improve. Art does not stop during war or famine. No matter how hard things get, there will be people who record, react, witness or pay tribute to it through their art. Their creative spirit cannot be quiet. In contrast, there will also be those who, in times of great strife, will gather all they can and selfishly squirrel it away for themselves. But love and goodness only increase when we share. “Think of it this way,” my dad explained. “We all have a light. There is an energy within us. Some call it our spirit or our soul. If we hide our light, cover it up with greed or wrongdoing, no one can see the light. If we share and give of ourselves, our light is visible. Now imagine when others join in; the light gets brighter. And as more and more people join in, joy will push out the darkness.”
I set out to think of ways that I could make a difference. Being a working artist and a stay-at-home mom means I have neither the time nor the means to jump on a big project. Then I realized that, while I cannot go out and physically save someone from drowning in the Mediterranean, I can share what I have with local people in need. Now I’m eyeing my over-stuffed house and studio with a harsher eye than any organizing guru ever could! I know I have more than I need, and a lot to share with others who are less fortunate. I am also thinking about working as an English tutor to help make life easier for a new citizen. Most importantly, I am realizing that I can let my light shine by creating art and by promoting the work of other artists.
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is an editor at Cre8tiveFire.com and a jewellery artist. When she is not heralding the wonders of jewellery making or chasing her kids, she rearranges her tools and materials in her studio…hoping someday to slow down long enough to get back to her own jewellery line.