Monday, July 13, 2009
Ask, Tell: the great debate
My artist date last week was the most memorable one of all time. I had been thinking more about making Giclée prints of my work, but knew very little about them. An artist friend recommended someone and it had been on my mind to find out more about the printer and the process. The web site provided a lot of information and I felt the cost was reasonable for the results. Because the printer was about an hour drive away, I took the piece that I was most interested in reproducing in case they had time to do it that day.
The conversation was informative and because of the three dimensional nature of the work, such as the porcelain figurines, the printer was making sure that I understood that some of that quality would be lost and the piece could be less interesting, at least different as a result. It was almost like he was trying to talk me out of it. Yet, I felt I understood the limitations of the process and that it was still worth doing. He had time, and asked if I could go have lunch and come back in two hours.
As I drove off to find a place to spend my two hours my mind was considering the possibilities that having a print of this piece would bring. Like other artists, if I chose a piece that other people liked, I could sell the prints at a fraction of the price of the original, widening my audience, earning some money, and the cost of the set up and making the prints would be recouped quickly.
Then the printer called when I was only a few blocks away - could I return to the shop...he said I was going to be really upset...the frame on the piece had failed, the piece fell, the figurines were broken.
A week prior to this I had sent a proposal to a collector for this specific piece. I had written a two page letter explaining the significance of the piece and why it would fit in the collection. I had written a two page analysis of the imagery. I had included glossy photos of the piece. Of course I imagined getting a call from the collector to confirm the inclusion of this piece in the collection and I would be faced with explaining it was broken. It was slowly occurring to me as I worked on this in my mind that replacing the figurines was unlikely so restoring the work to what I represented to the collector was nearly impossible. I felt sick. I had to remind myself to concentrate on turning the car around and driving back safely.
The printer felt horrible. He explained what happened. It made sense. I saw that by no fault of his or my own, the frame failed, the materials had not been strong enough to hold the weight of the piece, and the dust pan was filled with what was left.
There was nothing to do but to go home. The urge was to feel heartbroken, crestfallen, sad, sick, miserable, "why me", "just my luck", "nothing ever goes my way", and on and on. It was raining. The long drive home gave me time to be alone with my thoughts.
The teaching is: don't try to stop the feeling or emotion that arises when something like this occurs but rather to observe it and stay with it. I felt really upset. And then the teaching is to observe how the mind wants to run off into imaginary scenarios and messages to add on to this feeling, and usually add on to the misery. Watch how the mind wants to do that. Observe it and just stay there. Eventually, the feeling of calamity became less, and there was room for something else.
I was able to process some more. The figures could be glued. The broken figure carries meaning for the piece and perhaps is even better than what it was before. This metaphor, symbol, and iconography is potentially powerful.
Then from my art geekitude came the memory of Marcel Duchamp and a piece of his, known as "The Large Glass" that was accidentally broken when being installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He saw it as the perfect random event that completed the piece and made it better than before. Life is random, Marcel. Life is also beautiful as you seemed to figure out, Marcel.
Marcel painstakingly repaired his broken piece, but left the cracked glass intentionally knowing that it had perfectly completed the piece visually and intellectually.
The teaching is that what happens in life isn't really the point; what we do next is. The old, overused cliche "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" can be true.
The trick is to find out how. So often the lemons life throws at us trigger other responses and we are so far into our reaction so fast, and that reaction is so automatic and so all-encompassing that seeing an alternative way to be at that moment seems impossible. Yet there are infinite possibilities.
Another teaching that came to mind is "Loving What Is". So, to start telling myself that this event should not have happened, or at least it should not have happened to me, that the printer should not have dropped it, I should have known better in building the piece, I should have stayed and handled the piece...should, would, could...(these are key indicators in our thinking when we are resisting "what is"), to let any of that thinking occur is to not observe reality.
Of course this is what happened. Things like this happen all the time to people all around the world. Why would I think that I would be exempt. This is "what is". If I can accept it, yes even LOVE it, I bring myself the greatest joy. We do have a choice in what we think and how we react. The thing happened. There is no turning back from that. I have the proof that it happened. It is real. The figurines are broken. So do I want to put energy into rage, regret, or revenge? Or do I want to, with a clear mind, accepting and loving what is, make plans to move forward on this piece and prevent frame failures in the future?
What shape will the piece take now?