Thursday, June 4, 2015

Recovering Your Imagination—Lessons from Art on the Farm

Earlier this week, Sage Bray, editor of The Polymer Arts magazine said some very nice things about my work on her blog. I wrote her to say that I really appreciated it when someone takes the time to look closely at the work and then offer an informed analysis of what they see, rather than merely stating that they like it. It's much more helpful to me as an artist to know that what I’m trying to express is actually getting through to others.

But what struck me later as interesting about Sage’s comments was that she said “Christine’s work is really very fascinating. I have no idea where her forms might come from–they are quite original”…Hmmm, I thought. Why, they come from my imagination, of course—where else?
 Cathy's bead - Polymer, Pan Pastels, crayon

Pondering, I began to consider that, because of the widespread dispersal of information, ideas and designs on the Internet, much work we see today is derivative and not really the product of our imaginations. A lot of talk goes around polymer and jewelry circles about how it’s impossible to come up with anything totally original, that we are just unconsciously recombining the myriad things we see in our rambles through the interwebs into what we then think is an original concept. I disagree.

We all are born into a human culture and pick up cues about that culture with our mother’s milk, as it were. My Celtic Studies professor at Berkeley many times proposed the theory that we learn ideas, concepts of right and wrong, mannerisms, language, definitions of beauty, what art is, etc. before we’re even able to speak. Inspirational author and thinker,Simon Sinek, talks about how we choose what we buy using the pre-language, limbic center of the brain. He posits that we choose the ‘why’ of something, employing feelings rather than logic, and then reinforce this choice with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.


Susan's work - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon
All theories aside about whether or not any work can be truly original, exposing ourselves to other cultures and their art can serve to inform our choices and enrich our design ‘palette’. There are potent ways to stimulate our imaginations and I endeavor to teach them as the central part of the curriculum at Art on the Farm. Sure, I provide plenty of new techniques for polymer surface design but sending people home solely with a bag of new tricks is not my goal. I want to send them home with a method to discover their own way of working. Introducing tools to develop their imaginations is the best way to do that.
I’ve come to realize that my Art on the Farm course is actually about developing your personal design style and polymer is merely the vehicle. I could be teaching cookery, music, rug hooking, or sculpture. It wouldn’t matter—the principles are the same, as are the steps to achieving the goal of ‘making it your own’.
Jan's element - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon
So of course I was mightily pleased with the results produced at the first session of this Spring’s Art on the Farm. After three days in the studio, everyone’s take on the instruction and techniques was different, everyone worked in their own style and the work seemed, to me, to reflect the unique personality of every individual there.

Ruth's beads - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon

Thinking about all this has made me decide to make some changes to my basic course. I’ve expanded it to four days in the studio and I’m limiting the class size to four students at a time. I’m also creating an application so that potential students can identify their goals and reasons for coming to Art on the Farm. I’m not here to pour information into people’s heads—people need to ‘create value’ for themselves and I want to assist students to take responsibility for doing that.

Ruth's bangle - Polymer clay, Rub n' Buff - completed after returning home after the class

I’m really looking forward to our second session, being held for 4 days, from June 17-20, 2015. If you’re interested in joining us, there’s one seat left. E-mail me at for information.
Mary's beads - Polymer, Pan Pastels, acrylic, crayon