Hello Brave Souls!

I’ve been intending to start a blog for some time.  I am a passionate painter and watercolor is my medium of choice.   Its my intention to start by thinking back over my career as an artist to see how I arrived here, both to reflect on my path and to share how I have wrestled with the challenges so many artists find along the way.

Recently I was asked by another artist “What inspires you?” I thought I’d start my blog by sharing the answer I gave her.

Ants Love Peonies, an original watercolor, 22x30

Careful looking inspires me.

Painting has given me permission to spend a long time looking carefully at how a flower or leaf is constructed. The same is true when I decide to consider a social or cultural issue. My art gives me permission to look a little closer and spend all the time I need contemplating.

I don’t know what I am going to find when I start a painting. For me it is always a process of discovery, whether I am contemplating how a poppy is constructed, how we learn to value certain things over others, or to examine the effects of global warming. I plant the question and then pursue it through a series of studies that lead to larger paintings layered with meaning.

I think art making is intellectual, spiritual, and emotional work. Art can help society see and feel things with new clarity, and provides opportunities to re-examine what we thought we knew.

While I do art about subjects that appeal to me or concern me personally, I have learned to trust that if I put the artworks out in the world they will find their audience. I have also learned that the paintings I have created that I was most afraid to share with the world were the ones that had the most impact on others. They were the most important works for me to share.

I’ve learned to recognize fear as a guide that lets me know when I am addressing a subject worth spending time with. These artworks are usually breaking some convention in art or exploring a subject I’ve been taught is taboo.

My subject matter has run the gamut from mythical self-portraits as Medusa, to works that celebrate women’s traditional arts, to nature and environmental subjects. In each series I had some element of doubt that I had to overcome to move forward.

I guess you could also say I’ve been inspired by fear, fear of telling my truths.

Fear based questions I asked that turned out to be important:

* Is it too beautiful, too decorative, too emotional?
* Is it too feminist, too political, too personal?
* Is watercolor an important enough medium? Are quilts and lace important enough subjects? Am I good enough?
I’ve learned to drop the ‘too’ and embrace the beautiful, decorative and emotional, the feminist, political, and personal, and to paint the subjects I’ve been drawn to with the medium I love. I have learned that my art making is not about the products but about the process of discovery. I have learned that only I can make my art, and that if I do it might inspire others to make theirs…too.

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About Helen R. Klebesadel

I am an artist.
This entry was posted in Artist Resources, Biographical, Career Development, Inspiration, Teaching Art and Creativity, This and That, Watercolor, Women Artists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hello Brave Souls!

  1. Hi Helen, I loved reading your story. It seems to be our time of life to look back and make sense of things! My friend Terry Shupbach quit her job at MCAD because the other profs (male) kept telling her students their work was “too personal, too decorative”…just what she had encouraged them to do… And at UWLAX they said it was “just therapy”… We all share that collective issue. Has it changed? I think we have had a hand in giving people permission! and giving ourselves permission in the process.

  2. Thanks Joyce. I wish I could say the world, and art world, and art educating institutions have changed enough to fully embrace and value art and artists that come from varied cultural, class, gender, and other experiences.

    There is still a lot of work to do before we figure out how to deal with multiple criteria for excellence in art (considering acceptable a broader range of approaches to media, form, content, contexts and artists) rather than thinking that the one that dominated where we were raised and taught as the only one that matters (the privilege of defining ‘good’ as what we do).

    Educational institutions (teachers) especially need to develop ways to model rigorous studio practice that makes room for multiple approaches, teaching how to understand and critique art that comes from different motivations and intentions. If we can figure that out we might be able to figure out how to communicate with people across all of our differences. I think its a model for world survival.

    I do think its better than it used to be overall as educational theory has shifted to focus on student-centered engagement and to see students not just as vessels to be filled, but as potential new knowledge creators who bring valuable experiences to the educational table. The museum world has shifted a bit too, to become more audience focused and let the viewers have a larger degree of control over their experience (see New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction )

    Unfortunately we are in a time of transition and the culture wars are still being fought. The paradigm has shifted in some places but not others. Just this week I was talking with faculty in another college art department where the culture is toxic for the women and people of color in the department, and its clear the senior faculty just don’t get what they are doing.

    In fact it was the conversations I have had lately with art students and untenured art faculty whose art, by just existing, challenges dominant aesthetics. I decided would still be useful to re-examine some of the questions and challenges we’ve considered in our careers as individual artists with the purpose of giving as much permission as possible to as many artists as possible.

    Thanks for responding!

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