Eye on the Heart

Making samples of your art is always hard. You want to get every part right, you are working against a clock, and you don’t want to start over.  Usually you have a show coming, art retreat deadline coming, or a class deadline sneaking up in jackboots.

Here it is: the intersection of art and writing. Communicating from the heart is never easy to understand.

The past two days to get samples made. Of course the gremlin shows up. This time he showed up in a van with the whole family. It wasn’t the ‘aren’t-good- enough’ trap I fell into. It was something much worse. It was, “what if my concept for this class is simply too complicated? What if no one comes? Maybe I should do something else, something easier to understand” And there it was–the same thought that had driven me out of silverwork. The idea that I had to focus on what sells, what is easy for clients to understand and pay for.

I thought about it for a while. I know that a lot of people prefer product classes–you go in, hand over the money, and walk out with a cute project. If you are adept, you walk out with a project good enough to give as a gift. I don’t teach those classes anymore. Enough people teach those. I’m going for something else.

Almost every artist I know has videos, a You Tube channel, and online classes. I think that’s brilliant. I’ve watched a lot of You Tube–I’ve learned how to tie a tie when my husband had his arm in a cast, how to do Coptic stitching with both one and two needles, and how to do a reasonable watercolor wash.

But it’s not what I teach. I think we make art for a different reason–not to make gifts but to make meaning. That’s why I teach in person. To see a glimmer of hope and help the person stay with it. To see the shadow of fear and let the person know that’s OK, too. That’s why I teach classes that include deep writing.  Sometimes when I explain a class to store owner or art retreat leader, I get a blank stare. Each time that happens, I feel a pang of guilt, an urge to take it back and offer a simpler class.

But I’m not going to make that same mistake again.  I want to offer people access to their own creativity, to joy, to meaning-making.  There may be fewer people out there who want to explore meaning, but they are my audience.

I often thrill to artists who do esoteric art with great enthusiasm. With great love. The only reason that kind of art works is because it connects their hearts to their soul through their minds. It’s challenging. It’s thrilling. It’s frustrating. But in the end, it has more satisfaction than anything else. And if you are willing to share what you learned after going through that process, the class will be powerful, particularly if you walk out with your hands empty and your heart full.

Years ago, an artist friend of mine learned how to make fishing nets by hand. She sized down the pattern and used hair-fine silver wire to cover small rocks. It took infinite patience, and person after person said, “Who would buy that?” “How much will you charge?” Her answer was, “It doesn’t matter. I’m learning how to encase my hard heart in delicate beauty.” Years later, I saw her work in a gallery, and smiled. She had found her audience, appreciation and the value she had to make for herself first.

So I’m going to take a stand for my own art. The art of exploration, of writing, mark-making and meaning making. It’s too juicy and rich for me to walk away.

I’ll soon be announcing two classes that I’m teaching based on this concept of deep work and deep satisfaction. I welcome those who want to join me. And if the classes are small, it won’t make any difference to working from the heart.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist who works at the place where words and art elude each other. She is the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

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17 responses to “Eye on the Heart

  1. I’m so thrilled for you, standing up for your art and your meaning! You inspire me in so many ways. Thank you. Hogs and quiches.

  2. I can’t wait for your new classes Quinn…I remember so well your “Magic Words” class and how enthused and excited I was when I came home that night! My mind was spinning with ideas, not just about the exercises from the class, but how I wanted to incorporate that enthusiasm and meaning into my artwork. I need to re-take that class with you or another one that’s just as interesting and fun. It will be the perfect anecdote for my current hurdle of too many ideas and not enough focus!

  3. It must be hard to explain to people that they won’t have a ‘pretty’ product at the end of the day. What they will have is so much more powerful, a chance to open up their own creativity and some tools to cope with the things that get in their way. Maybe it scares some people.

  4. I so appreciate this post. I have never gone for what will sell (and therefore do not sell a lot..) but everything that comes from my hands satisfies my soul! Keep up the good work.
    Will the class be in person or online?

  5. To me, this sounds like the words of a true artist. You are creating what has meaning to you, from your heart and not just to appeal to the masses.

    I applaud that and I’m very happy you are creating classes that aren’t like so many others or where each student creates the exact same piece from a kit. Someone blazed the trail and did their own thing in the first place. Then others saw it, liked it, and wanted to learn to do it and then started to add their own twist to the process. It’s great to see some new trails being blazed and judging from the response to your book and the recent Raw Art Journaling workshop, there are many of us who are looking for what you are offering! You go, girl!

    • It’s really scary when a store owner looks at you and says, “Well, what are they MAKING?” because the answer “meaning,” doesn’t sound like a good marketing idea. But it’s the only way I know how to forge ahead. One retreat space owner is completely enthusiastic, and that made me hopeful.

  6. I love the artist’s idea to encase her hard heart in delicate beauty. How beautiful!
    Quinn, do you find that once you create most of your art to make meaning that it is doubly hard to mass produce for the masses? I can’t focus and lose interest if my art isn’t meaningful. And if I start a new project with the intent to have it be a money maker, I usually push it aside to do art that again provides meaning, deep satisfaction.
    Your example has provided much inspiration for me, and encouraged me to give myself permission to do the art that speaks to me, perhaps only to me. And to know that it is OK to do so.

    • It’s a real struggle, isn’t it? As a successful photographer, it must be on your mind to find the next “sellable” flower or view. And that one will never really work right. I’m loving the Hipster shots you are taking and posting on your site. Even if they aren’t “professional,” there is that joy and appreciation you bring to your work. And, of course, they look beautiful to me!

      • The amazing thing I’m finding, Quinn — when I am at a show and can talk to individuals about a specific piece, a piece way out of the ordinary, and explain how it is meaningful to me, some of them really get it. They are the ones that come back, wanting to own the artwork. And that is my biggest thrill – to connect me and my art to another person.

        And I am thrilled with my “fast” photography. A totally different media than my “slow” photography! Lots of good stuff coming from this experiment!

  7. Quinn, if it’s any comfort, I cite you often to friends and fellow explorers of art, journaling, writing, creativity: that it’s the meaning that matters, that changes things. It inspires me to find my own way too, even if it feels deeper and darker than ‘the market’ might (appear to) want.

    I just wanted to let you know that your commitment to your own art and meaning making is changing things for others, as well as yourself.

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