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.