Art in difficult times

Email by E Steinebach on March 9, 2009
Categories Filed Under: NEWS

Art in difficult times Image

Looking back to the double headed serpent temple - Tikal

I wrote this shortly after my trip. I wanted to sit with it for a while to see if it still resonated with me. In the last two months I've seen some sad trends, the least of which is the "tucking" in of the glass community. Rumors of closings, trimming staff, changing business operations, decreases in forum traffic, fewer emails, to the reality of finding another job for many, to help carry the rent/house/family.

January 13, 2009 - I have just returned from a week long cruise to the western Caribbean. This trip was with a teacher/healer. I have participated in these kinds of trips for over ten years now and each pilgrimage offers its own new lessons and growth. I am still in deep process and may not have evidence of anything new in the way of my artwork for some time, and I know that everything has changed.

I flew out of Tampa Sunday morning and could not help notice the numerous for rent - for lease - for sale signs that were as common as the palm trees along the road way from the port to the airport. It reminded me of how many in the United States were struggling. And how daunting it must feel trying to keep the dream of stained glass alive in such treacherous times.

Traveling for me now is more than a few days away, regardless if I am in the sun or not. It is an opportunity to expand. It helps prioritize what is important and what can fall away, in a way that just never seems to happen when one is at home, in the thick of sameness, safety and the routine of family life.

I am sharing this photo of the temple of the double headed serpent, in Tikal, Guatemala because it struck me that often I am of two minds. The place of twixt and between, where making the change of moving forward is struggling with the logical, practical and the vice like grip of predictability and why bother. Even after numerous trips like this, with lots of practice and support, some changes are still taken on reluctantly, hesitantly or tepidly despite every fiber in my being wanting to know more, experience more, grow and expand into someone new.

The day was easily over 85% humidity, sunny, and as our tour guide Edgar explained, rain without rain, that is, the moisture was actually being sucked out of the ground, enveloping everything in constrictive wet. Simple walking was labored, never mind the ten story flight of rickety wooden stairs that needed climbing, to reach the top of the temple. I had a choice point. Do I risk dehydration, muscle cramps, heat stroke or worse or do I say firmly planted on the ground, taking refuge under a shady bit of jungle?

Being a creative person is just as risky a business. The possibility of wasted material, special resources, time, the cost of new equipment could still all result in failure. A piece so poor that it is best left hidden in the studio to remind us just how bad it can get. Not to throw are hands up in despair in the thought that we can never do better, but rather to learn from and encourage improvement. I still know exactly where that piece is in my studio. And I learned a lot from it.

Then there are those most rare and elusive transformative moments, were something truly new and wonderful occurs. That A-Ha moment when we just know we have done good work. Few and far between, it is these works that drive us on through the difficult times. In these moments wonder new ideas and understanding occur firing the creative process for days and sometimes years to come.

So did I climb to the top of the double headed serpent temple? Yes I did. It was hard work, I took a break at almost every platform, where room permitted for some standing and gasping of breathe. The climb looked manageable from the ground, but as I climbed a realized that more stairs were hidden from the view from ground level. I refused to quit. At the top, nearly delirious with heat and the rubber exertion in my knees, I walked out to the front of the temple, there were no guard rails here, only a narrow platform of irregular stone, barely two people width wide, with nothing less than a shear drop over craggy stone into the jungle abyss below. And what a grand view.

So in the end, it is easily said that nothing ventured is nothing gained. And I think that is even more relevant when times are difficult. It is too easy to let slip memberships to any or all of the various stained glass associations including here at Artists in Stained Glass, give up on a favorite glass subscription or rationalize the expense of attending a conference. The just tuck in and ride out the worst fo the storm. Here is your choice point.

Truly - are you willing to stand safely planted on the ground, hiding from the unknowable and unpredictability of the economy, believing you are protected by withholding your talents until the time improves? Or are your willing to take whatever risk to grow and enrich your artistic development, regardless of the cost?

I hope you consider your choices carefully. First is believing that there is always a choice. For me, stained glass is more than just pretty windows. It is beauty and wonder and an art point created in time to help transform it's surroundings. This might not be the case for every stained glass window, of course, but it the reason I get up in the mornings. Art, in all it's forms, including music, dance or drama are integral to the human experience and need constant dedication and support.

I hope your glass work deserves no less.

A grand view - looking to the temples in the grand plaza