On Reading KEEP GOING

The book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon couldn’t have entered my life at a better time. In short, Kindergarten is killing me, and “just keep going” has become a mantra on which I now depend.

My daughter began school earlier this month and adjusted well to everything new: new people, new wake-up time, new bedtime, new routine altogether. As for me, not so much. However, Keep Going not only reminded me of the interests and passions that continue to have possibility in me, but also convicted me of some misconceptions I’ve held and misbehaviors I’ve adopted as I pursue the creative life. Through his book, Kleon challenged me to think or act differently in a number of ways, including the following:

Ignore the audience
I’ve worked in the realm of business communications and public relations for nearly twenty-five years. The concept and reality of audience is my industry’s biggest concern. The audience’s needs. The audience’s reactions. The audience’s attentiveness and current opinions.

Kleon poses, however, that the work of a true and focused creative is unfazed by audience. We should make what we make because we feel compelled in our own souls what we want to make. We should not depend on others’ positive or negative feedback to drive what we accomplish from day to day to day. We should resist the urge to monitor clicks and likes and comments as some kind of personal validation.

Uh, guilty, and point taken.

Tidying has its place
I’ve become a sucker for books and articles and blogs on cool studio spaces. The thing is I can see myself spending about ninety-five percent of my time making sure I have the best back-drop for making art, with just a nickel left for actual art-making.

Kleon’s position: Tidying has its place, namely with the tools needed to make art. Knowing where to find a brush or pen or pad of paper is definitely necessary for getting the job done, but not so much staging an environment that gets us “in the mood,” is photo-shoot ready, etc. If things get too cluttered or out-of-control, we can use tidying as a way to explore new ideas, says Kleon. The mess may reveal a collision of media and subject matter and technique that we hadn’t thought of before.

Just do it
When I resurrected this blog thanks to the motivation of Show Your Work!, another of Kleon’s books, I was determined to claim the title of artist (this was my idea, not Kleon’s). “Title schmitle” is what Keep Going got through to me (and now I can’t help but hear the cast of Meatballs chanting in my ear, “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter…”—yep, I’m definitely a product of the 70s).

Kleon puts it this way: “Forget the noun, do the verb… Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”

Along with this “doing business,” Kleon suggests that it be wrapped in playfulness, no end goal in mind. It’s okay to throw our work into the scrap heap. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to have fun with nothing to show for it. Imagine that.

Give gifts
I have also fallen prey to the glorification of Etsy and other money-making machines for creatives—that any success in these realms is the brightest jewel in the crown of creativity. I was absolutely moved and convicted by this quote from Quincy Jones that Kleon includes: “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.”

If I’m going to stay on this crazy creative course, I want it to be pure in motive. I want it to be rich in spiritual collaboration with the Almighty. I want it to be less about marketing and earning and getting ahead, and more about simply being and enjoying, and giving through and from the heart.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon—this book may be among the top five game-changing books of my creative career. Not only did it encourage my ongoing adventures in exploring and making of art, which has become more difficult in the face of transition. It also challenged my integrity, and that’s definitely something I want to maintain no matter where my artistic interests lie or take me.

Dear readers, I invite you to keep going with me! Join me in learning more from Kleon through these video links:
“How to Keep Going” (Bond 2018)
“Creative Is Not a Noun” (Scratch@MIT 2018)

Empty Bowls & Blackout Poems

In my continued quest to claim the identity of “artist,” the past few days have provided a couple more opportunities to discover and grow and imagine…

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“Emergence” (2017) & “Sensory Sampler” (2018) from Empty Bowls

Empty Bowls
It’s my absolutely favorite fundraiser: Empty Bowls. No matter the amount of their donations, all guests receive all-you-can-eat soup and bread provided by local restaurants and other food-savvy organizations (my favorite soup from this year’s menu came from a nearby nursing home), but the best prize for each person there is a handmade bowl to take home! Middle and high school students, churches, professional artisans, and citizens of all talents and backgrounds contribute to the supply. The whole effort benefits local food shelves.

For the past two years, I have attended Empty Bowls with my friend Judy. It was by her inspiration that I turned my attention toward the more unusual and less conventional bowls. Of all the bowls I’ve collected from the event over the years, these pieces mean the most to me and seem to embody so much personality.

I’ve also taken to naming the bowls I bring home: “Emergence” (2017) by R.W. and “Sensory Sampler” (2018) by Olivia. This year’s find is glazed in a beautiful turquoise color, plus I like Olivia’s experimentation with a different texture on each side of the bowl: brick pattern, fish scales, basket weave, and diamond shapes. As for “Emergence,” I admire it and its mysterious maker so much that I was compelled to write a poem last year:

Emergence
By Barbara Farland
I imagine a sitting, zitty, and somber teen
Resigned to the day’s assignment
To sculpt a bowl from clump of clay

Young fingers coil
Thumbs tug and nudge
The damp media into resemblance of prescribed form

Lumpy sides
Lopsided bottom
Endear me to it
So obviously amateur and thoughtless and rushed

Now as mine
I name it

Emergence

Its rough sides reach up in jagged uncertain stretches
Reminiscent of the awkwardness of its maker
Ever oblivious to my appreciation
And prayers for his soul
His sense of contribution
His eventual awakening
And emergence of spirit

Empty Bowls events are held all over the United States. Find one near you to eat good soup, to support a great cause, and to see and take home some phenomenal art!

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Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon & my own blackout poem “Mission”

Blackout Poems
A couple weeks ago, I shared my appreciation for Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. On Wednesday, I picked up his book Newspaper Blackout from the library and read it from front to back in less than an hour. It’s a super quick and super fun read!

Here’s how the gist of the book is described on the back cover: “Armed with a daily newspaper and a permanent marker, he constructs through deconstruction—eliminating the words he doesn’t need to create a new art form: Newspaper Blackout poetry.”

Through this deconstructive method, Kleon came up with a variety of free-verse poems that are sometimes lovely, sometimes humorous, and always clever. But they’re so much more than the words—each piece is also an interesting work of visual art.

I was reminded that I already tried this approach of “poetry-writing meets art-making” through the “28 to Make” class on CreativeLive.com (see photo for my creation of “Mission”). But after reading Kleon’s book, I’m itching to make a little more blackout poetry of my own, but instead of newspaper clippings, I think I’m going to go the altered-book route. Now if I could only find that cool little purple book I bought a few years ago for this very purpose!

Any weekend plans? Mine will include another date with my husband, this time with our taking in the “Crazy About Collages” class at Hopkins Center for the Arts. More on that later!