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Two months in Ecuador. Hundreds of interactions with murals, graffiti, sculptures, wood work, music, paintings, interior design, garden design, architecture, parks, and artists. Through all this I heard the creative soul of the universe loud and clear – “You are all artists. Please, I need you all to go create.”
And so with that, Ecuador helped me to remember….
I met a man at an artist’s studios open house once. He asked me if I was also an artist. Normally I would just say ‘no’ and continue with what I do for work -for money- but, in that moment, I looked at him and said “I should say yes, right, we are all artists?” He smiled. A knowing of sorts. And said “yes.” He is a widely respected artist. I am not.
In the States we are conditioned to have one skill set. Once we start a profession it is easy to feel stuck in it – changing is not encouraged or accepted and often seen as a threat to time and money. We are also led to believe that we can only do something if we have trained professionally for it and then practiced it professionally for a certain amount of time under certain conditions. We cannot possibly have two opposing skill sets.
This post is not to undermine the professionals in the fields I will mention. To discount the training or experience they have. The fights they might have had to fight. But rather to highlight what they contribute and what I have been able to contribute to other people and places as a result of my relationship with them. It is a post to encourage more people to step out of their own professional training, seek inspiration, and start creating more.
In a world where stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD are seen as ‘normal’. And only the wealthiest have access not only to the best healthcare, but also the best art, architecture, interior design, and landscaping, it is imperative that all of us create and design more. That we consciously observe how we feel when we create, and think about the spaces we live in, and how they influence us everyday. To a large extent, our spaces are the molds and medicines that allow us to be healthy and thrive.
I loved art in middle school and high school. At some point, I came to believe that if my art wasn’t good enough to pursue it professionally, than I should quit. I was also conditioned to believe that choosing to be an artist was ‘not a smart or sustainable way to make a life.’ Never was I led to believe that just like moving our bodies or communicating, creating is innately a part of all of of us.
So I dropped art. But, you can’t not create – it just looked different – and felt different – because I wasn’t doing it professionally or as a serious hobby. So it looked like spatial communication classes- how we arrange furniture and layout surveys does matter! I lived with organic gardeners and weeded a lot, and with interior designers and worried about cleanliness a lot. I was attending and eventually teaching sustainable design and landscaping courses. I was acquiring books, wandering warehouses, and co-designing and building a house. I was traveling and working on organic community gardens and permaculture sites. I was occasionally doing mosaic and tile work and learning to cut rocks and make jewelry. I was learning about yoga. Regardless of what any one person thought of my ideas or my work, I was constantly reminded in my professional life that I was not an architect, interior designer, permaculture farmer, landscaper, or artist.
Although I am not those things, I am, however, an energy worker and a communicator and a teacher. Those things I feel comfortable claiming. And, it is because of those things that I became passionate about art and design. It is because of those things that I have spent energy and time engaging in all of the things mentioned above. It is because of those things that I am highly sensitive to how public and private spaces feel, how people use those spaces, and the energy and intentions of the materials in those spaces and the artists and tradespeople who created them. If we want healthy, happy, [and productive] people, we need to design for that.
It was with these experiences and the list of things I am and am not professionally, that I ended up in Ecuador after a year on the road. Traveling. Living. Working for trade, working for money. Where once I was saying “No I don’t paint, make jewelry, work with wood, design gardens or rooms.- I just help.” I realized I do those things – and no one is waiting to judge my professional training- they just want to see the work. It was with those experiences lingering from the past that I felt every artist and piece of art talking to me- reminding me of the creative details embedded in my humanness.
I know where I stand in the professional art world spectrum. Trust me – there is space for me- for all of us- on this spectrum. This world needs a lot of art and design love. More often than not, I find myself making chaos not feel like chaos. Trying to retain the value and energy that other artists and designers have poured into paintings, sculptures, gardens, and spaces. I spend equal amounts of time working with the spaces as I do teaching the owners and managers about the energy of those spaces, the value of materials and artists, and how to appreciate all of it.
By living and working on the road I have been forced to build confidence in skills that for many years of my life had been suppressed or challenged by the constructs of the professional culture I have grown up in. I am more creative now than I was a year ago. I am now more of an advocate for the arts than I have ever been, and I have increasingly more appreciation and respect for my friends who have chosen to be professional artists.
I take notice of every mural and sculpture I pass. When I see school teens painting murals I stop. I take pictures. I validate them. I continue to love live music – whether it’s my preferred genre or not. Different art and different artists have different values – but all have value.
Many feel threatened by the idea that ‘anybody could learn what they know.’ I know this. I have felt both sides of this. This feeling, this reaction, is normal, but also necessary to move beyond. So for those times when we feel threatened by the new artist, new yoga teacher, new landscaper, could we instead embrace it as an opportunity to share, to exchange? To make each other and our human experience better, richer? This world has a surplus of humans making things we don’t need – that clutter our spaces and minds and take from the earth. If all that human energy was being spent to make our world more beautiful – to clear and design spaces, take care of gardens, recycle materials, and make art- what might happen?
My experiences with artists over those two months made me reflect on the people who have encouraged my creativity. The ones that created spaces and time to create with me, gave guidance, introduced new tools and materials. The ones who have said ‘check this out’ and shown me something ridiculously inspiring. The ones who instigated Black and White social media photo projects and posted messages alluding to ‘not making boring art.’ The artists I have lived with – who had homes that magnetized other artists. Artists who assumed that I was at least part artist because of what they saw in my spaces. They didn’t challenge or diminish my work- they commented on it and by doing so were subtly supporting my ability to create. To all of those people: I now try to consciously emulate the example you set for me. Thank you.
Reloaded with the perspective, appreciation, the reminders, and hours spent working with paint, rocks, plants, metal, and wood it feels more important than ever to remind all of us to create – consciously and frequently. For all who have felt ‘not creative’… Please go inside yourself. Find that part of you that used to create – that kid with sand, dirt, toys, play dough, crayons, paint, legos, makeshift musical instruments… Go find that kid. That kid was creative. Somehow, someone or something, at some point made that kid believe they couldn’t create. That what they created wasn’t ‘good enough.’ That was bullshit. Let that go, and start fresh. Walk into an artisan market or an art supply store, see what you gravitate to. Or find that miscellaneous box of art supplies or that instrument tucked away in a closet. Open it. Play. Surprise yourself with what might happen.
Absolutely I believe that we all are artists. And, not only are our spaces more beautiful and interesting when we create, but our minds and souls are also happier. As I have witnessed phenomenal street art, gallery art, architecture, parks, and hotels while traipsing through cities and pueblos in this small South American country, it felt like the artist soul of the world was speaking loud and clear. Forcing me to think about the artist in all of us. The materials and intentions we create with. Recognizing that every time we design, create, build, and organize our spaces we are also shifting our energies.
What specifically inspired all of this? Below is my ‘Ecuadorian ride’ of art ‘ that I interpreted as the creative soul of the universe…