I have incessantly pondered how to begin this first 2014 article. What do I want to share with the readers this year on the subject of Art and Creativity? And how can I link this subject to The PRC’s theme “Balance”?
Let’s begin with a definition of balance. According to Dictionary.com, balance means “a state of equilibrium; mental steadiness or emotional stability.” According to Traci Currie, balance also means recognizing the yin and yang in one’s life in order to help understand and explore the beautiful complexities that make life worth living. I don’t blame any reader for asking, “What in the world are you talking about? Yin and Yang. Really, TC?” And my response is YES! I am talking about the opposing forces that need each other to help create balance. For example, I am both comfortable and uncomfortable in the mental and physical space I presently inhabit. The opposition lies in living out my discomfort but also creating ease in my day-to-day routine.
You might wonder why life is uncomfortable for me these days. Well, I am on an unpaid leave-of-absence from work. I do not have insurance. I do not have my own home (as I once did). I no longer have a vehicle I can jump into and drive anywhere and everywhere; I am more dependent on people than I have ever been in my life. And believe you-me, I am a very independent person. Now, let’s look at the other side – what makes life comfortable? I have a warm place to lay my head every night. I am fed every single day. If there is an emergency I have loved ones who will help me. Most of all, I am faith driven. In other words, although I may not have the answers to my questions and concerns right now, I know or believe that the questions/concerns I have will be answered in due time.
Art and Creativity’s Connection to Life Outside the Comfort Zone
Now what does being uncomfortable have to do with being creative and artistic? Everything. At the end of 2013 I asked Discomfort to be my friend instead of my enemy or my phobia-driven antagonist. Discomfort replied, “Sure thing, TC. But I require something of you.” My response, “What do you want from me?” Discomfort’s response, “Trust. Walk with me all the way to the end of this journey and do not give up – no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Just find a way to keep going.” Finding a way to move through situations means I have to be creative and quite the artist. And guess what? I’m up for the challenge! After all, Discomfort and I are friends, and the great thing about an honest friendship is that you have the opportunity to learn each other and grow together.
So, this year I have sought out other artists who have impacted my life. Some of them are friends; some of them are people I have never met but read about or listened to; some of them have passed on and some have yet to be found. Although they come in different shades, ages and gender, I am focusing on women of color for my articles. In addition, I have also decided to rethink what art is and what it looks like to both the world (that’s a pretty big audience) and to me. In essence, I hope to broaden the understanding (mine and yours) of Art and Creativity.
Throughout the year I will talk to various women artists about balance and what that means to them. But most importantly I will link their responses to my life so that there is a connection as to why I have chosen them for each article. I will not focus every month on a specific artist but I will always focus on the theme, balance, which is why I am calling this, “A Year of Symmetry: Creatively Finding Balance from the Artisan.” I specifically use the word artisan because it often defines a craftsperson or someone skilled in the applied arts. Not everyone is deemed an artisan. I have learned that artisans study their craft and most often become the craft itself – which leads me to my first artist or more appropriately named, Artisan.
The Unconventional Artisan: Carol
For February I have chosen to be a bit unconventional by featuring my mother. What’s unconventional about that? Well, she does not like being in the public eye. Putting her in the spotlight is uncomfortable. Moreover, people might argue my calling her an artisan, but hear me out, and consider her story:
Carol is a teacher. OK, actually she is a retired computer programmer, and she presently substitutes three days per week at a bilingual elementary school. Most of the students know her quite well and she is well-loved by some of the teachers and students. I am not just saying this because she told me or because she is my mother. I actually witnessed it. I visited the school and watched her in class this past January. I also watched her interaction with various teachers and administrators who made it their business to tell me how much they love her. She is an artist. She has a way with children that many of us WISH we had.
My mother has a rhythm in her Caribbean voice that is assertive, vibrant, and peaceful. For example, a fifth grade boy was getting smart with her. I held my breath for a moment wondering how this was going to play out. She said something to him calmly and walked away. He seemed to annoyingly fiddle around on the computer. He even looked at me once as if he wanted to take me down. She went back to his computer and talked to him again. Before I could blink he agreed with whatever she said and willingly completed his work. Now, I know this is a general example because the question one might have is “What did they say to each other?” For me, it was less about what was said and more about what she showed him – a teacher’s heart, wisdom, and skills. How is this art? Well, I have learned over the years that a good teacher isn’t just someone who gives you information and walks away. A good teacher, in many cases, is a performer. We perform for our students and find ways to make the material interesting, understandable, sometimes creative, and relevant to their lives. And as a performer we find ways to improve our performance for our audience. My best teacher was a statistics professor. STATISTICS?! (For those of you who loathe anything numerical). He made stats look like poetry because he LOVED the subject so much that you had no other choice but to enjoy it as much as he did. He cracked jokes, offered personal anecdotes, even acted out a few scenarios with numbers. And to think, I was told that this professor disliked women and Black people, which meant I was out for the count! But aha, I came out of that class with an A (or A-) because he taught me poetry with numbers. What am I saying about my mother and/or teachers? My mother does more than substitute-teach. She teaches these students with hugs, with words of encouragement, with the obvious technical instruction, and most of all, with love.
All the artisans I know, no matter what they profess as their occupation, are called by this rightful name because they know how to find the artistry in what they do. And even when the work becomes frustrating and uncomfortable they somehow embrace the challenge as a part of the road map they have been given to find their way to their appointed destination. Again, it’s a part of life. It’s what makes life worth living.
What have I learned from her? The question that I really should ask is “What haven’t I learned from her?” I now know that I teach because it is an art form that I can wheel and deal and reshape every time I step into the classroom. But then again, everywhere I go seems to afford me the opportunity to be a teacher and a student, which means ART is always at my feet. So, here’s to an artisan that knows her craft as well as she knows herself. And make no mistake, Carol knows herself well. If you need proof, simply look at what she has produced – ME!
About the Contributing Writer:
Traci Currie is the Art + Creativity contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. Read her latest posts here.