When I moved to Germany, I was thirty six years old. I had already had a successful career in the US but had to recreate myself when my husband was transferred to Europe. I had no idea what to do or where to turn, but after a few years of stumbling I was guided by my friend Arzu to try my hand at creative work. I split my days between teaching English to business executives and learning the art of pottery at Keramik Art Studio in Hamburg, Germany. In the USA I had been a business person, working in the interior design industry. It was a paradox. During my business career I wasn't creative in the artistic sense, but I was surrounded by beauty and inspired people in design. It was as though I was looking at creativity through a glass wall. I could broker beauty as a commodity, but I couldn't create it myself.
Until, in my fortieth year, I touched clay for the first time.
Clay became the conduit through which I could channel the transition to expatriate life. The loneliness and disorientation. The excitement and the insecurity. I felt safe in the pottery studio and it fed my soul to be there. It wasn't easy, as it was a Master School with high standards. But it was there that I found a way to my own center.
I made a lot of bad art in the beginning. And weathered a lot of brutal criticism for even trying.
I experimented with painting while I learned pottery. Most of what came out of the initial period of creativity could be classified as "appropriate to use as landfill". I was scattered and chaotic in my thinking and terribly impatient. I tried to combine painting and photography and ceramics - sometimes with success, but sometimes with grandiose crash and burn failures. While I received approval from the general public at my first shows, I took horrific, scathing, personal criticism from other artists who came to see my work in Germany. I absorbed what I could from the "professionals" and tried not to let them destroy me. Artists, it turned out, don't necessarily like someone coming into their craft at midlife and circumventing traditional art education. Artists, it turned out, could be as small minded and judgmental as five year olds in the playground. I was gobsmacked. I was working hard to channel my energy and experiences into learning my art, and then realized that the very country club I wanted so desperately to join was segregated. No hobby housewives need apply.
So I had to strike out on my own.
I could not let people predisposed to hate my work define me. I determined what I wanted my work to say - about me, about my wider world. I did my best to stop caring about what they thought. Fuck their country club.
self portrait, sculpture, 1999
Deep inside I was so hurt and thought I would never amount to anything.
I felt I had squandered money on the lessons and that it was all very much in vein. But what kept me pushing forward was a voice inside me that told me to ignore the experts and to listen to the people whose knowledge of art was limited to "I know what I like".
Those people were my tribe.
pause, sculpture, 2001
I kept fighting.
I sculpted and molded and painted and threw and glazed. I struggled to find my own creative voice that did not reek of their negativity. When it finally came out, it was like no other. It contained joy, sadness, confusion and resilience. It said all of those things I wanted to vocalize and couldn't. It was childlike, primative, open and out there. And it kept growing. I stopped worrying so much about whether it would be good or bad. It just was.
Your creative voice is never bad.
It's yours. It's just like any other part of you. If you've never let it speak, it has to go through its infancy and childhood before it can grow and stop being scared and intimidated. It's unique and beautiful, whether it expresses itself in music, the performing arts, writing, or in handcrafts and artisan technique. It's all good. If it doesn't seem good at first, keep letting the voice come out. Don't judge it. Just get it outside of yourself so that it can stand apart from you and still be a part of you.
green man (freedom), acrylic on canvass, 2001 120x100 cm
Your creations are an expression of your soul.
Be thankful for your creative ability. Listen to criticism, if it is warranted, but don't be intimidated or sidelined by it. Use it to hone your own talent if you can. The rest you must let go, as you let go of the judgement of strangers and well intentioned friends who don't really know you.
eclipse, rice paper collage/acrylic/glaze on canvass 2002 80x 100 cm
Because if you do this, if you touch your own soul and learn to express your creative voice, your work will show who you really are.