Over the past couple of months I have serendipitously stumbled upon a couple of artist talks while visiting galleries. They have reminded me how important such events are for my own artistic development. Reading is great, but there is definitely something to be said for unmediated observations direct from the artist.
Two of the artists I heard talk were in the zenith of their careers. Irma Blank is in her 80’s and hearing her speak about her practice was fascinating. She is not at all concerned with how her work is perceived by audiences, as her motivation is the achievement of a meditative state through making (be that through painting, writing or some other means). I was struck by her conviction and asked if she had always been so strong (hoping that maybe I could be so confident one day) – her response was, “People don’t change.” Not the answer I wanted to hear but perhaps the truth I needed; as much as I admire Blank’s work I do not share her motivations and can only make my own work. Applying this to my practice, I am trying to examine my own purpose for making art and assessing my studio production based on whether I am achieving these goals.
I also attended a talk by Walter Keeler, one of the most eminent potters in the UK. He spoke eloquently about experimentation in his work and maintaining a studio practice for so many decades. His was an engaging talk with plenty of gems of wisdom such as, “if you aren’t making mistakes then you are not trying.” This may seem obvious but it is so easy to forget and I was grateful for the reminder. Keeler spoke of working on multiple series at the same time (one audience member accused him of “pottery schizophrenia”). Experimental and challenging new works fulfil some of his artistic needs but he also likes working on a series that he had been creating for decades. This series is like “returning to an old friend,” with whom he is able to let his mind relax and take pleasure in the making. With my current residency at Ruthin Craft Centre I have two rooms, one I have designated for experimentation while in the other I have been building an installation based on a longstanding series. I felt validated in this approach after Keeler’s talk. It is not that I needed permission but it is good to hear someone with much more experience has taken a similar approach.
Sometimes it feels difficult to find the time to make it out to such events. Taking the time to hear other artists talk, whether or not their practice is similar to you your own, is amazingly valuable and I have resolved to give it greater priority in the future.