To face our core being can be very enlightening although most often challenges and denial go hand in hand with those aha moments.
When I was in school many years ago I took an independent study course in sculpture. This involved stone carving. My thoughts…how hard can this be? You take a hunk of rock, use a few chisels, and da-da, a piece emerges. Didn’t Michaelangelo say that the piece was already in the stone? A piece of cake, right? But in my case, not so much. My model was a large bullrope knot, very organic, quite interesting. My stone was basically a big rock and not the georgeous Carrera marble that Michaelango so laboriously chose. My professor told me that my efforts would not be successful because of the organic nature of that knot. I believe that knot represented a lot about how I was feeling at the time, but that’s another story. Anyway, I blew off his opinion and chose to attempt to carve my knot. I lugged that rock and that bullrope around every time I had to meet with my professor. He would reiterate his opinion because I wasn’t making much progress. That’s an understatement – I wasn’t making any progress. Because I was working at home on my own, I could work on it whenever I wanted. The problem was that I wasn’t. As I was pacing the house like a caged tiger, my husband would gently suggest that I work on my rock. He knew I was avoiding that rock and so did I but I didn’t know why. Week after week this dialogue went on between me, the professor, my husband, until one day, I decided to deal with that rock.
It was a very hot summer day and I was probably sorting forks or some other benign task to look busy. Once again, my husband said that I should work on my rock. I stopped, looked at him, thought for a few seconds and said, “You’re right. I’m going to work on that rock”. Once again, I carried the infamous rock, but not the bullrope this time outside. I chose a very large hammer, gloves, goggles and went outside to finally confront my nemesis. I placed it on the ground, gave it one last look and then with Herculean strength I smashed that rock until it was nothing but small gravel and dust. I went back inside and got a broom and a dustpan and a box. I cleaned up the debris and swept it into the box. I guess my husband was watching because he didn’t say anything when I went back inside. The following day I arranged a meeting with my professor. He was waiting in the studio when I arrived and I could tell he was waiting to see that I had finally made some progress, but it wouldn’t have been successful because he told me it wouldn’t and of course he had to be right. He was in for quite a surprise when I dumped that box of dirt and told him that’s what was left of his &%*#^#% rock. He smiled and asked did I finally understand why I became so frustrated. I of course said absolutely I understood – wrong! He thought it was because I was trying to carve this very organic model into this static rock. He was talking about the difference between additive and subtractive sculpture. But in truth, I didn’t fully understand until recently.
I’m still working on my book, The Joymaker Garden, and I’m working with a facilitator. We meet weekly as I did with my professor so this is a similar scenario. I am to work on my own between meetings and then we review my progress or lack thereof each week. She approaches work gathering a plethora of data believing that one brings in all of the possible general facts and information one can, no matter what the potential direct relevance, and then pick and choose what is valuable. She calls this method the 30,000 foot view. I call it information overload, complete brain chaos and a very successful path to find new techniques to sort forks because it brought back my experience with that rock. As it turns out, I figured this out – I’m an additive! I can’t think like a subtractive! She is a subtractive. Da-da, a major aha moment as I now understand what the problem was for me with that rock as well as similar projects since then so many years ago. I don’t like taking away, I prefer adding to.
I prefer sculpting with clay, painting, building mixed media from things that surround me. I’m writing this off of the top of my head as I go, starting from nothing, comfy for me. I like doing the laundry and seeing the pile of beautifully folded, clean smelling clothes build, but I don’t like putting them away. I do it but I don’t like it.
My facilitator and I worked this out. She now works on the subtractive tasks and I get to curl up with my additive tasks, a perfect solution. I gave up that Michaelangelo notion a long time ago but I didn’t realize how often and in how many ways this has affected me or my work habits. I’m going to begin paying closer attention to my tasks and how I approach them to see which I enjoy doing and which I procrastinate because they are the dreaded subtractive method. This is going to change some of the ways I work. Why don’t you try this too? So which are you – an additive or a subtractive? You might also have an aha moment and… alas, messy forks.