Know what I love? A good question. Especially when it’s a question so simple, it may otherwise never have had the opportunity to be asked.
So often we use words in the abstract sense, without laying down a concrete definition, as if everyone is on the same page in relation to meaning.
I’m a definition person and a frequent visitor to online dictionaries and thesauruses. I’m also a question person so I was delighted recently, when the Art is Magic Instagram account announced my RAW workshop and the question was posed:
What is the difference between messy and RAW?
I love this, so let’s dive in.
I’ve been sharing my artwork online for a number of years. At first, I was really just exploring and learning materials and kind of imitating a certain aesthetic in what I was painting. Everything I sat down to create, was kind of sweet. I painted angels and birds and flowers and dogs. I sometimes stamped or collaged inspirational quotes, messages and mantras into finished pieces
Also, I was creating finished pieces.
I was aware that what was coming out of me, wasn’t necessarily my own voice. It was more like an echo chamber for the voices of the online mixed media artists I had started following and who were influencing me.
And while it never ‘felt’ like me on the page, I somehow instinctively knew that this was part of the learning process. That trying on the voices of others, would somehow, perhaps even by a process of elimination, reveal to me, my own. And so, I was ok with the ever present but patient frustration that is inherent in the process of finally meeting oneself on the page.
I showed up and I did it anyway.
After all, I had spent years suppressing this side of me. The very virtue of my allowing myself to officially (and by officially, I mean, without the need to qualify) come out of the artist closet at 39 years of age to begin with, was me winning at life.
I had opened the gates and become one with the flood. I did not need for it to become an ocean or a lake or a river. My creativity was flowing and that was all that mattered for me. I knew with time, the rest would come.
I began selling my artwork online and in markets. People ‘liked it’, that was a bonus. I liked it. I always, in spite of knowing it’s potential for development, have liked my art. And it’s less about loving it from a purely aesthetic place, I just love that it exists.
Expressing my creativity, is a conduit for my being capable of loving that *I* exist.
Some might call it a celebration, others their proof of life. Having a physical, concrete, visual, representation of my existence and expression in the world, is my way of declaring ‘I AM HERE’.
And I think that’s important.|
In saying this, because I began depending on the selling of my art, I did fall into the trap of ‘trying too hard’ to paint pieces that were sellable. I fell into the trap of outcome and product over process.
I was chasing something.
I was also running away from something. I was running away from the 9-5, a world that has taught me that I am not for it nor it, for me. I have known for a long time that the work I’m doing now, is my sacred contract, my soul’s calling, my north star. I suppose you could say, it’s a sense of vocation.
At this stage I had taken the leap, committed to and invested in my creative self, fully. I believed in possibility and I put all my faith, heart and soul into making it happen.
It was also a lot of pressure to put on my creativity.
In 2016, I was 2 years in when grief came calling at my door. I was engaged and about to be married for the second time, when I discovered at 40 years of age that I was pregnant, for the first time.
Our happiness was short lived as 5 weeks before our ‘wedding day with bump’, I lost the pregnancy.
And that’s where the quality of what had been flowing out of me, changed.
I was angry. I was hurt. I was confused. I felt incredibly vulnerable. I became the proverbial storm in the tea cup and painting ‘nice’ was simply no longer a thing I could do.
It was at this point I realised that what I had been doing all along, was painting for you. Not me. You.
Those flood gates I mentioned earlier? The force of emotion that visited itself upon me, tore them clean off and my waters, raged.
This was an emergency. I needed to contain it. So I abandoned ‘nice’ in service to NOW.
I got on my pages and I began tending to the flood. I let it come. I wrote with it. Furiously. I scribbled. I tore. I threw paint at my pages from across the room and didn’t care where it landed.
Because of the nature of my loss, I felt I didn’t have ‘the right’ to be so upset. So I stuffed it down but as always, it came out sideways. Fortunately, I had learned at this stage, what all these supplies at my disposal could do. So I let them do the talking and become my voice.
I scribbled where I wanted to scream. Tore, where I was hurting. I splashed and dripped and dropped ink where I felt powerless and confused and denied and lost. I revealed on paper, the internal drama of my experience, betraying any facade of outwardly poise.
And in doing so, I facilitated myself through the mess that is grief.
And grief is messy. As much as my intellect might try to bypass that truth with a philosophical slant, my creative self knows better. And she’s not afraid to dive in.
After a couple of months, I re emerged from my social media and marketplace withdrawal. I began sharing what I was up to. I started journaling at the markets. I realise now, what happened is that I was cracked open and was now letting you in.
I was no longer ‘trying to be’ this artist with her shit together. I was just me, with all this emotion, doing my best to contain it and myself and what mattered more now than to sell, was to be seen.
And I was.
Suddenly, I began making contact. It seemed the art I was making now, was like a flare going up into the ether and signalling to the pilgrims out there, that ‘Here be Dragons’. And they came and said ‘we see’. And next thing I know, I’m not slaying my dragons alone anymore. There was an ‘us’ and because I had finally allowed myself be unmasked and imperfect and willing to be me.
RAW: This is the feedback I got and I knew what they meant.
It meant I was being emotionally honest. I was telling the truth. Finally, I could admit that where I am, is where I’m at and not twelve years down the road, chasing the ‘better version’ of myself.
I am me and what you see now, is what you get, now.
So, when I felt ready to teach, I was wondering what I might call my workshop and here was this word. RAW. Emotional honesty. Truth telling. This is what I mean, when I use the word RAW.
If you’re a devotee of definition, RAW is defined as strong and undisguised. Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, calls it the unsanitized version of events.
But wait, revealing such intimate truths is a terrifying prospect, is it not?
It might be and that’s why us artists are the fortunate ones. Because we have our creativity, the perfect vehicle in which to ‘go there’. Nowhere does it say that emotional honesty, must be a literal endeavour. We have our journals and communities as the containers in which to hold our stories, as we learn to masterfully transcend detail with symbolic expression.
In RAW, we abstract the concrete. It’s immensely liberating and it also feels safe. Like, we get to be rebels, without risking our psychic lives.
As for messy, well to borrow a famous tagline from Ronseal paint: Messy simply does what it says on the tin. It means making art that is messy, loose and free.
But even more than that, what messy means to me, is creating from a place that is UNconcerned with 'getting it right'.
What I teach, is an understanding of process and how it is composed of certain elements, the RAW materials that make up your practice.
So many people are overwhelmed at the thought of having a practice because they’re focussed on the outcome as representing the whole. What I help you do, is to break it down so that you’re only ever tending to the individual elements and once you show up for that, then art can’t help but be made in the process.
So, I want to ask you a question now Pilgrim and maybe you’ll share with me in the comments, what stops you from being RAW on the page?
Guest Post by Amanda Grace
Join us for Amanda’s upcoming online mixed media workshop RAW