Monday, January 26, 2015

Enrolling in Artistic Dreams

Germantown, NY 2015

Hudson, NY 2015

Making & Mailing Love Letters, 2015
In two days I will be headed to Vermont to begin an MFA program at Goddard College.  In the beginning of last year I wrote my 2014 goals with red ink on white paper--I wrote them with a feather.

One of the goals was to take classes or workshops.  I have always enjoyed learning and have felt very thirsty for it for quite some time.  Late spring I took a poetry workshop series with poet Rebecca Woolf.  This was a most stimulating experience, to be creating alone but with group feedback was wonderful--Rebecca even called one of my poems successfully postmodern (whatever that may mean).  Taking this class, I recognized something in me had changed.  Historically, I have been very distrustful of what others suggested to me.  I think I have always interpreted criticism as unjust authority and not as potential for my personal reflection, to pick and choose from, and make my own however I want to.  In fact criticism is generous--if it is non-malicious.

With this new found confidence in criticism, coupled with an openness to both receive and share, I ventured onward to more classes at the local Community College. Within just a months time I was sprinting towards the question of why and what do I really want from a college education?  Answering this question lead me to pursue the MFA--which was a high-jump considering I didn't (and still don't) have a BFA.

I've decided to attach my essay written to Goddard College, describing why I belong in their MFA program.  There are many ways for us to see and share our stories.  This essay is just a speck of of my education story, but it illustrates a history and desire to be and become.  I am taking this next step of enrolling at Goddard just one-day-at-a-time, otherwise I can convince myself why I shouldn't, with a million fears lined up to be heard.  Graduate School has been a longtime dream, wondered and whispered about to my friends for many I said in my last post--it is tremendous to actualize a dream!

Why I Belong In The MFAIA At Goddard
by Dawn Breeze
Reflecting on my reasons for attending graduate school--and particularly Goddard--many words stream through my mind, each carrying uniquely weighted significance.   But one word remains ever present: acknowledgement.  This word doesn’t leave center stage, and as it stays strong in its posture I begin to recognize its truth, it’s significance to me.  It signifies admitting the true value of my inspired purpose as an artist.
In her 2014 commencement speech at Goddard, Christine Brubaker speaks about acknowledgement:
Acknowledgement is one very small action, but a very powerful takes time…it also takes courage.  When we acknowledge someone, we are creating a space for them…allowing the unknown and sometimes the uncontrollable in.  And this can be scary…When we acknowledge we gain understanding. We seed the potential of another possible deeper connection where more discovery and learning can take place.”
Brubaker speaks of the acknowledgment of a person.  For me, the acknowledgment I am making is self-acknowledgement to my purpose and value as an artist.  As Brubaker mentions, this type of acknowledgement may be scary.  For me it has been fraught with doubt and insecurity for well over twenty years.  I have struggled with the value of art and self-worth, an inherited byproduct of a heteropatriarchy imperialistic capitalist society that values commoditization, material wealth, masculinity and normalcy.  I was born into privilege as defined as a special right or advantage, but my privilege is not often recognized by this society’s standards.  As a child I experienced poverty, mental illness, stigma, as well as creativity, matriarchy and intelligence.  While these may not seem like privilege to most, they enabled multifarious perspectives and empathic sensitivity to grow in me. However, as a child I felt cursed rather then privileged because I was notably different--an attribute which is socially frowned upon in youth culture.  Growing up, my goal and plan was to escape the cloak of familial shame and become “successful”.  How I envisioned success was na├»ve and dwarfed by false consciousness.  My vision of success was not my own, but rather ‘The American Dream’ involuntarily force-fed through social learning, institutions, and the media.  Success looked to me like popularity, fiscal stability, and prestige--none of which I associated with art or myself.  Thus, I forsake the deep yearning to know and value my artist self, and quieted it with destructive youthful folly and misdirected creative ambition.  I turned my willpower in a direction that ensured being “acknowledged” as successful in the glamorous world of fashion. 
In a brief summary of my path thus far, I withdrew from Pratt after transferring my sophomore year from Mass. Art to work directly in the field I was studying, fashion.  I was employed with a top fashion designer and quickly elevated my professional ranking in the NYC fashion world to that of Fashion Editor at Trace Magazine.  My successes in fashion grew quickly to include styling for editorial, music videos, ad campaigns and T.V. presentations.  Most notable was a presentation I did on Good Morning America. But as time went on, I recognized a vacuous feeling in me growing towards the Fashion industry, alongside a desire for more creative autonomy.  With sudden certainty my husband and I decided to leave NYC, and move to Hudson NY to open our own lifestyle boutique.  At this time I didn’t identify with being an artist.  I still had an underdeveloped idea of what artists were and saw them as primarily oil painters or perhaps draftsman, with perfect perspective capabilities.  Both of these forms of aesthetic expression were dull to me, un-alive. Additionally, I still wanted to exhibit ‘normalcy’ in society with a position of value and respect, which I didn’t yet associate with living artists.
 Immediately, the natural Hudson Valley environment infiltrated my psyche and I began to feel compelled to play with paint and materials.  When I began creating artworks I called them “collages” rather then “paintings”, because I was using candle wax, fabric scraps, and transferred images on to canvas.  Because I had such limited studies of the arts, my work was without external influence; I had never seen anything like I was making.  Initially it was through other people’s perception of my work as art and encaustic painting, that I learned it to be such.  I was encouraged by friends to begin to show my work publicly at my shop.  As I began to open my work to the public I simultaneously began to open to the possibility that I was an artist.
The more I learned about artists and artworks, the more I recognized myself as one too. In 2007, I closed my store and became determined to focus my attention on my life and career as an artist.  I began a regular studio practice and quickly gained professional trajectory as an abstract expressionistic landscape painter, successfully showing and selling, all of which was about to change.  In 2008, everything I thought I knew about everything converted within a 3-month frame of time.  I gave birth for the first time and my beloved sister committed suicide.  The death of my maiden self and loss of my sister instantly transported me to the impenetrable darkness of grief, a place unattached to the paradigm I constructed before.  This was a time of rebirth for me.  I feel this was “The Call to Adventure,” as Joseph Campbell would put it, or the third stage of my Hero’s Journey.  He says, “The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.”   When I emerged from the darkness in 2009, I made a commitment to rediscover and cherish my authenticity of experience and expression and encourage it in others.
The first outwardly visible sign of this metamorphism was my move away from abstract landscape paintings on canvas.  I did a body of work titled ‘Bird Girl’ referencing my sister’s life, plight with bi-polar disorder and death.  The new artwork included performance, installation, and sculpture.  These works became deeply personal, unabashedly exposing the rawness of my true experiences and transforming it creatively in to art.  My life’s sorrows and joy now became the prima materia for the alchemy in my art.  I had a very profound and spiritual experience with this alchemical artistry when I created ‘Free Now’ in the summer of 2009.  ‘Free Now’ was an extremely large (approximately 20’ high and round) roadside sculpture created on site, in a farm field atop a hill, built with thousands of clothing garments, a ladder extending towards the sky and a pair of white human sized wings falling from the ladder without any detected attachment.  This artwork was about the ascension and return of spirit to the sky, leaving behind the material objects that shelled it.  Additionally it referenced the Greek myth of Icarus, which for me describes the treacherous experience of mania associated with bi-polar. 
Around this time, a friend saw ‘Free Now’ and had recently seen a film about Mongolian shamans; she mentioned to me that she recognized something unspoken but familiar in my work with the shamanism in the movie.  I immediately watched the movie and sensing the similarities between my sculpture and the shamans, I researched Mongolian Shamanism.  I was shocked to discover that my sculpture looked very much like a shamanistic ovoo.  After reading about the ovoo’s spiritual purpose, I recognized that without previous knowledge I had replicated this Mongolian Shaman symbol.  I had replicated it visually in the materials, in the type of locale and had constructed it at the same time of year it would traditionally be exhibited.  The week after I dismantled the sculpture a small plane crash-landed in the same field and the pilot survived, which I believe in someway was synchronistical and cosmically connected with the spirit in my artwork.  Additionally, after I completed the sculpture I brought a pie to the farmer who had given me permission to use his land.  I expressed my gratitude and explained to him why I had created ‘Free Now’.  He broke in to tears expressing his tragic loss of his daughter and that he too shared my experience of grief.  I believe that this art making experience for me was most profound because it demonstrated communicating with what Paulo Coelho calls the ‘Soul of the World’, in The Alchemist.  This piece of art was given to me to create because I courageously opened my heart to inspiration.  I co-created something that went beyond my conscious knowledge. 
Over the years, my interests in art have become directed towards this process of co-creating and sharing experiences of being and becoming, rather then aesthetic representations of finite moments.  My artwork has grown from abstract expressionistic landscapes into actual pieces of landscapes.  2011 was a notable year in my development as an artist, as I was one of four international artists awarded a month long residency in Iceland.  I had been dreaming of going to Iceland prior to my sisters passing, because I had seen a photograph of the landscape and it looked like my paintings, which were strictly imaginary.  I was curious to physically see what I had imagined.  When I first arrived in Iceland I was hit with a tidal wave of artistic doubt and insecurity, so strong that I interpreted it to signify that I was not worthy of being there, that I was a fraud.  I didn’t know how or what I would make with the landscape since I no longer painted landscapes.  Most likely because of the strength I gained through my previous experience of grief, I recognized my thoughts were based in fear.  I lit a match in the darkness asking, “What if what others see in me is true?  What if I am a worthy artist?”  The only way for me to answer that was to begin being an artist there.  Once again, I stepped out into another unknown experience of creating.  This time I began with searching for myself, reflected in my experience of the place.  The art that I made in Iceland was a process of truly surrendering to process as art.  The artwork would be the artwork, with the active participation of being in the landscape, and whatever physical component was created would be more of a remnant of place and personal history then a replicate of an experience.  It was in Iceland that I learned that actual materials told story if I allowed them to, they where not simply tools for my will to yield an egocentric vision; instead I could listen their voice and co-create with them.  It was in Iceland, in the vast solitude, that I found my expression reflecting back in ocean gleam, that I found my sister in the sound of waves crashing on rocks, that I found my artistic wings in a pair of purple oyster shells. 
My art making has since continued to follow similarly inspired trajectories of understanding or recognition, post assemblage.  I allow my artworks to become during process, rather then pre-identify what they are or will be.  I move freely between artistic disciplines, materials, and practices without hesitation. I trust in the questions and the process to guide the work.  The questions I am always investigating are often ontological and examine interconnectedness, transformation, and spirit--all of which are reflected in nature.  In many ways I appreciate and am grateful for not having an art education, because I think my creative innocence gives me the permission of self-discovery without comparison or concrete learned answers.  However, it is at times lonely, lacking the encouragement of example and collective wisdom shared amongst colleagues and professors.
This is precisely why I am choosing Goddard’s Interdisciplinary MFA Program.  To continue to reference Joseph Campbell, I am ready for step 4 of the hero’s journey.  I am ready to meet the mentor who “who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.”  Goddard’s program is tailored specifically to the unique calling of each individual, rather then cookie cutting “Goddardonians”.  Goddard believes in the value of the artist, a value I need to entrench for myself.  At Goddard I want to learn how I define “art”, and I want to find a way of clearly verbalizing it within the context of my work.  I want to strengthen my practice and voice as an artist.
Additionally I believe in the Creative Praxis as defined by Goddard and want to further develop mine.  I now see that I began the Goddard Creative Praxis three years ago, when I developed Creativity & Courage™, a kinesthetic based communications program that emphasizes authentic self-expression, generous self-compassion, and strengthens individual’s empathic abilities. I translated my process as an artist in such a way that I inspire self-discovery, provocative insights, and life-changing self-concept redevelopment through creative visual exercises.  This has been my professional heartwork for the past three years.  Creativity & Courage™ continues to expand and I now teach weekly at the country’s oldest 12-step, dual diagnosis recovery center.   I also facilitate private groups that run through the year, as well as corporations such as Etsy, the leading online global Bcorp.  Most recently, I received a cultural grant to travel to Martha’s Vineyard to teach my program to the local community.  One of my goals at Goddard is to translate my teachings into a book and online platforms, so that the knowledge and experience of Creativity & Courage™ can be shared with others in a format not dependant on my physical presence.
Initially, when I considered returning to college it was to further my teaching practice.  Yet recently, through deep meditation, I have recognized a subterranean truth.  I acknowledged that I couldn’t divorce myself from being an artist to be an educator.  In fact, I acknowledge I first must learn to believe in and strengthen my expression as an artist to be all that I am, and can still become. I acknowledge I must truly believe in my personal value as an artist in order to genuinely install the belief of unique self-worth in others, which is my mission as an educator. 
When considering the question “what I will do with the MFA degree,” my answer is that I cannot answer that now.  Like my art, I believe the process of learning and discovery at Goddard will determine the resulting use of the degree.  I am choosing Goddard’s MFA program because I belong there—as an artist.  I know that with the mentorship at Goddard I will grow as an artist to bring new knowledge to the world.  I choose the MFA Interdisciplinary arts program over any other discipline because I choose to be acknowledged as a valuable artist who also acknowledges that for herself. 

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