Relationships take work. They also take time, commitment, honesty and trust. They cause some of life’s highest and lowest experiences, and create questions and subsequent struggles to find answers to those questions. They require proactive attention and give-and-take, that is if those in the relationship desire it to strengthen and grow. Sometimes the work feels organic, sometimes it feels forced. Sometimes they need space. Relationships cause us to look inward. They teach us about ourselves and what we seek from life.
So does our art. Our relationship with our art – our work – demands the same time, commitment, honesty with and trust in ourselves. Artists strive constantly to strengthen and grow their relationship with their art, with art being referred to as the process through which artists create or channel their work. The process helps the artist discover the meaning of their work, their Why. The end product (a painting, recording, book, film, sculpture, poem, etc…) is a reflection of their process.
This process is personal and individual. The challenge lies in discovering your own process, what you need to connect to the meaning of your work; then having the courage to listen to yourself and follow that course, even when those around you may question it because they have a different process or simply do not understand yours.
Jazz saxophonist and 2011 Kennedy Center Honoree Sonny Rollins took two publicized sabbaticals when he stepped away from public performance and the music scene and simply practiced his horn.
Of his sabbaticals, he shares, “I did something that something inside of me told me I had to do….I don’t care what it takes, get right with yourself. That’s what life is about…You have to know yourself…Never mind what people say…Do you know who the man in the mirror is?” – quoted from his interview with Tavis Smiley on 9/26/2011. Watch the interview here for an extraordinarily clear and eloquent description of an Artist’s process, his relationship with his art, his Why and How. Every second is worth listening to. (For more material on Sonny’s sabbaticals, search “Sonny Rollins The Bridge” or “Sonny Rollins sabbatical.” The New Yorker published this article when he emerged from his first sabbatical in 1961. Here’s also a short 5-minute video about his reemergence.)
I happened to be reading “Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING” by David Bayles and Ted Orland at the same time I saw Sonny’s interview. If you want to strengthen your relationship with your process and better understand yourself, read the book. Here’s a review if you need coaxing.
There’s that mirror again referenced in my last post and a perfect example of someone with the courage to look it straight in the eyes.