Ready to Heed That Creative Urge? First Silence Your Inner Critic

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank March 15, 2015 19:37

Critical artistA music-teacher friend once told me that everyone can sing.

This sounds like a reasonable enough proposition until we recall how many people insist that they can’t sing. What they mean, of course, is that they don’t think they sing all that well and therefore confine their singing to the shower or the car or the Emigrant Wilderness.

Other people say they can’t draw or they can’t dance.

We might be grateful for such humble self-appraisals if the alternative is that they inflict their artistic ineptitude on us.

Art doesn’t have to be a performance, though. It’s wonderful to live in an age when we can look at or listen to the work of talented professionals whenever we like, but it would be a shame if the dazzling talent of the pros intimidates the amateurs into silence.

I saw two art exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum recently that got me thinking about the role of art in our lives. One showed the work of Judith Scott.

At the age of 7, Scott was the victim of a terrible mistake. Because she had Down syndrome and was unable to communicate, she was assumed to be severely retarded and sent to a grim “home for the uneducable.” Her caregivers did not discover that she was deaf until she was in her 30s.

At the age of 42, her twin sister became her legal guardian and moved her to California. In Oakland, Scott began going to the Creative Growth Art Center, a studio for artists with disabilities. There she began furiously wrapping whatever she could get her hands on in yarn, twine and fabric strips.

She kept at it for nearly two decades, until her death at 61.

Some of the objects on view at the Brooklyn Museum look like weapons whose lethality has been blunted by the soft material encasing them. Some look like they have been given a protective covering – the word cocoon comes up often in reviews of Scott’s shows.

Part of the power of Scott’s work is that it bears witness to the fierce impulse to make art – to reshape and transform the material world with our hands. Scott reminds us that this impulse is in all of us, regardless of whether we have the talent or vision to be recognized by the elite art world of museums or galleries.

On a different floor of the museum was a sprawling exhibition of pieces by contemporary Brooklyn artists. Much of the work fell into familiar categories: art as a multi-screen video display, art as a mash-up of found objects, art that chronicles the passage of time, interactive art.

What impressed me was less the quality of the art than the sheer number of people who made it. I came away thinking that I, too, could spin the straw of experience into the gold of art.

A few years back I began fooling around with my daughter’s guitar when she wasn’t using it. I bought a few instructional CDs, then a few instructional DVDs, and when I felt like I wasn’t getting any better on my own, I took lessons from a live human teacher. I’ve gotten a little better, but I’m still pretty lousy.

Which is fine. I harbor no ambitions – or should I say delusions? – about performing in concert halls or even the local coffee shop, so I put no pressure on myself. And without that pressure, without the fear of being judged, I can lose myself in playing for hours at a time.

After my day at the museum, though, I want to make more than music. I want to make stuff. Heeding the impulse to make art might be a partial answer to the question of what to do with all the free time that looms for those of us thinking about – or actually living – life after jobs.

First silence your inner critic. You’re not singing or dancing or painting or sculpting or composing with a view toward performing or publishing or presenting. You’re in it for the sheer pleasure of making something.

Russell-FrankLook at it this way: When you reach that time of life when you’re acutely conscious that time is short, it is wonderful to find an activity that allows you to lose track of it.

For inspiration, consider the words of famously bad songbird Florence Foster Jenkins: “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

Russell Frank, a former Sonora resident, teaches journalism at Penn State University.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Russell Frank
By Russell Frank March 15, 2015 19:37
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