Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You can't practice genius

"Weathered faces lined in pain are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand."

On Lampwork Etc. right now there is a discussion about whether talent is innate or if it can be cultivated by practice.

The original poster said that she didn't believe that practice could turn a good artist into a master artist. She used Van Gogh as an example of talent. I happen to idolize Van Gogh. His work, I mean. And I agreed with the original poster that no matter how much I practiced I would never achieve that level of artistry.

Before I jumped in, I asked Neil his thoughts. He said, "you can't practice genius." That pretty much sums it up for me.


The discussion veered off on several tangents. Art is in the eye of the beholder. You can master technique by practice. The eye for design and composition is innate. The eye for design and composition can be learned. It is all subjective and the only thing that matters is what you feel.

Creativity isn't something that can be learned. Creativity is something that can be learned. Van Gogh was a failure all his life anyway, didn't sell any of his work, was largely unknown as an artist, had problems with mental illness, and eventually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

My own comment was this. Practice perfects execution. Vision is a gift.

I hover on the verge of the conclusion that I lack vision.

Yet a comment on the other side of the fence also spoke to me. Talent gets trumped by hard work every time.

I suppose that's true, to the extent you have a talent and you don't use it. Woody Allen (who I don't idolize, but that's another post) is credited with saying "80 percent of success is showing up." Allen made the comment in the context of wannabee writers and playwrights, i.e., those who completed a play or a novel were on their way to production or publication, as opposed to the vast majority who claim their ambition is to write, but who never actually write the play or book at all.

I've been thinking a lot about this as I make beads that aren't selling right now. I question why I keep making beads. I wonder about the line that divides breathtaking artistry and competent work.

There are lampwork artists who make simply amazing beads. But I don't just admire the beads for their beauty. I stand awed by the artist's ability to conceptualize the bead.

Some great bead artists find their niche and make variations on a theme that never get old. And that's great. But other bead artists continue to envision and produce new styles of beads, each as appealing as the last, and that's brilliant.

In my mind, the jury still is out on whether I have what we are calling talent. In my own assessment, I have done nothing artistically that puts me into the camp of the master bead makers. Not yet. Maybe never. But I haven't completely abandoned hope. So on I plod.

And yes I know that there are people who admire my work and elevate me to the level of lampwork luminary. I think that's because they are my friends and most are not bead makers and most are not familiar with the breadth of the bead making art and the body of work of the truly visionary lampworkers. It's just that I know the difference.

I do think I make some pretty beads, along with lots of adequate beads, but nothing I've done has been truly original. There are those who'd say that there's nothing new under the sun anyway, that everything that can be done with glass and a torch has already been done, whether you know it or not. I disagree. I see artists experimenting with new ideas, exploring new techniques, perfecting novel styles. Almost every day, thanks to the Internet.

I've just dived into a new media, enamels on glass. After six semesters of classes I'm hanging up my efforts to learn to enamel on metals and to fabricate jewelry from metals. I've faced the music, I have no special knack for it and I'm no longer enjoying the journey. However, I've now become interested in working with enamel on beads.


I've tinkered with enamels and powders in the past but this time I've thrown my whole self in by ordering small jars of all 46 colors of enamel made for soft glass. Color stimulates me, having lots of it to choose from excites me. I'm hopeful that it will even tickle my imagination too. But I know there's a learning curve, and I have to accept that I may be making some ugly beads as I strive to tame a new material.



Anyway, it's a change of pace. On Sunday I worked with five enamel colors plus white, today I worked with five different colors plus white. Reds and blues, greens and yellows, purples and oranges, the color wheel in fact, so far.

I want to get a little bit proficient before I dive into the palette that really excites me, the orchids and violets and peaches. And I haven't yet tested any of the fourteen transparent colors.

Who knows. It may be a phase. Or maybe it will be my breakthrough. I may mix it up, work with some enamels and some silver glass and some leaf and foil.

What I want to focus on and know I need to focus on is making beads that are art in my own mind. I've said it before, I'm a validation junkie, but since my needs there are not being met, I have two choices. Stop making beads. Or set my goal as making beads that please me. We can debate whether talent can or cannot be achieved by practice all the livelong day. But at the end of the day, the only way to empirically define "talent" is subjective. It's all in how you choose to look at it.

Besides, if I stopped making beads, I'd probably become obsessed with something else. With luck it would be something healthy and productive.

Unlike my grand obsession with the man who done me wrong eleven going on twelve years ago.

Sometime in April 2002, after Marty did the pull and push thing again (or was it I who did the pull and push thing?), I ended my "no-strings" relationship with Mark.
It had gotten to the point that I dreaded being alone with him because he'd want to have sex. I felt like I couldn't keep accepting favors (mowing my yard, shampooing my carpets) and gifts (he was always buying me really nice presents) and be unwilling to be intimate.
We were at my house on a Saturday and I just didn't want him to be there. I told him I couldn't be with him any more. At first he seemed to understand. He left.

But later he came to irrationally believe that because he left my house that day, that he had somehow walked out on me, and that the breakup (if you can break up with someone you never actually made a commitment to) was his fault.

Marty was still very much present in my heart. When I told him to "go in peace" I secretly hoped he'd convince me otherwise, but he immediately gave up.
I always felt that if we had a chance to get back together it would only work if he wanted it very, very much, at least as much as I did, if not more. It appeared he didn't.
Since he didn't follow up, I once again tried to put him out of my mind. But it wasn't working. I still thought of him all the time.
I don't know what to do. Keep on keeping on, as I have these last long months, or make one more effort? Write him another note and ask him to see me?

I keep hoping to meet someone new who will capture my imagination. But days go by where my heart aches to think Marty isn't with me, when my mind and soul dispute the idea that he could have any true chance at happiness without me in his life.

Could it be pride keeping us apart? Or is that a delusion? Was he just a player who has no ability to feel deeply beyond the next easy pleasure? Logic tells me, if he cared, he'd come to me.

I doubt myself.
Mark was writing multiple sad email messages to me every day. His efforts to hold on by telling me he loved me didn't make him attractive to me, just pathetic.
I don't want to seem pathetic to Marty for holding on this far on down the road. Much better to accept not being with him in this lifetime.

So I can't make a move, yet I can't seem to let go of the hope that he will make a move. I fantasize that he will knock on my door with an armful of roses. Wherever I go, I look for him in the crowds, his tall, leonine figure, his beautiful face.

I know that one day this will end. I won't always have that urge to reach him. I will meet someone else who takes my breath away, or time will simply work its healing magic. Memories do fade.
I still had to get through the next three months, the months he and I were together a year earlier. Maybe when those dates had come and gone, he'd lose his power over me, the spell would be broken.
I don't even know if it is really Marty the human being that I miss, or some fantasy lover, some recollection of that joyous but fleeting time. He proved himself to lack character. Why do I want him so still? I need to let it go.

Twice I have declared Independence Day from the albatross around my neck that is Marty, once in January and again on April 1, and here it is, past Memorial Day, and I'm still stuck on dead center.

I've given it to God - over and over - and I feel like God keeps handing it back.
A year had passed since Marty first contacted me. All the old questions still swirled in my mind.
Was it all really nothing more than an illusion, a figment of the imagination?

Or was it real - and then something happened to change it?

Looking at the cold hard facts, I know it doesn't look good for Marty. Someone who "loves you so much" one day doesn't push you away overnight because a former girlfriend contacts him - and then put his personal ad back on the Internet three weeks later.

Am I being cold? Weren't those real tears in his eyes when he spoke about her? Or were they the same tears he cried when he told me about his bitchy heartless wife? The same ones as when he "misted up" because I "moved him so"?

And yet I don't believe he lied. I won't accept that he played me. I can't believe there could be so much evil in the world. I won't believe it was just a game.

Marty hurts. I felt it. It is part of what drew me to him, the consanguine ache. No one will ever understand him as I do, no one will have the empathy and compassion for him that I have.

I am so sorry for him for not having me. It breaks my heart.
I was beating a dead horse again.
There are no answers. Marty himself probably doesn't really know why he did what he did.

It makes me want to give him one more chance. Dammit.

I honestly think that happiness is an inside job. Getting there is the challenging part. I think we have to learn to be happy with ourselves, alone, first. I myself have fought this, kicking and screaming. As soon as one relationship ends I rush right out trying to find another one as quickly as possible. It's a panacea, but in the long run it derails the cure.
Of course, I had a new person now.
I have been going out with Randy, but I feel no real chemistry. He is a nice man who seems to enjoy my company. We have been going out on weekends, mostly to dinner, movies, a baseball game.

In all this time, maybe a dozen dates by now, he has never once tried to hold my hand or kiss me good night. I think he likes me and is respecting me, based on what I have told him about Mark's high-pressure tactics and pushiness.

It's very strange. I think it has to go one way or another at some point. Right now I don't know what I want, so I guess we will continue to have dinner, see movies or whatever else, without commitments.
During this time, Mark continued to barrage me with email messages, six, seven or more, every day. Then he suddenly fell silent. After a week I was concerned enough to wonder how he was coping, but cognizant that if I inquired it might raise false hopes.

It was about this time that I started a correspondence with a woman in Scotland, Claire, who I'd met on a new message board. We were the same age and there were uncanny parallel aspects in our respective situations. It comforted both of us to openly exchange our thoughts, to share our dreams and doubts and disappointments.

God knows, no one else in my life wanted to hear about it any more.


"Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils
Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night
You took your life, as lovers often do

But I could've told you Vincent
This world was never meant for
One as beautiful as you."

Don McClean

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