The other day I was having an Issue with the project I was working on from last time, so I emailed a jpeg to my Clayville California Polymer Clay Artists Guild and asked for advice. The first part of the response that I got startled me: “What is the purpose of your project; it makes a difference.”
I was stuck at that word purpose. What purpose did I have when I sat down to work with the clay? I rarely set out with a purpose. And why should it make a difference?
Anyone who has sat in my writing classes or been coached by me knows that I am forever haranguing them that Purpose is the underpinning of all that goes into making a piece of writing successful. So why hadn’t that occurred to me as necessarily transferable to a piece of art? The answer to that is, I realize, why my students and clients so often had trouble with the concept of Purpose. It’s the wrong word.
Purpose implies product. Product implies a plan and the expectation of succeeding at that plan. But that mindset can often be antithetical to both writing and the making of art as it sometimes works to eliminate discovery, happenstance, sheer creativity. No, the right word is not Purpose; it’s Intention. Intention is an aim, a direction, a willingness to explore.
Pursuing a Purpose often leads to an entreprenurial urge, and I’ve seen the entrepreneurial urge suck the life out of writers. That’s exactly what happened to me in my early days of my taking up polymer clay as a medium. I was all about Product. I was Creating Jewelry To Sell. How else could I justify the time and expense I was putting into the stuff? Like an assembly line worker, I needed to know that my efforts validated the cost. Except–it didn’t take long before I was face to face with the harsh reality that no one wanted to buy my work. Without that Purpose, what was the point?
That turned me deeper into exploration. So maybe it wasn’t Purpose I was missing so much as Intention. I moved away from the How To’s for creating jewelry and into just looking at, seeing, and wondering about the work of those who are artists first and craftspeople second. Why were they doing what they did? Where did their creative impulse come from?
That has led me to question my response to art and the way it may or may not impact on the work I do. Basically, then, I’m trying to get a bead on myself as a receiver and producer. What do I like? Why? What turns me off? Why? I’m looking at everything visual through those lenses, and trying to understand myself. So the answer to the Guild’s question “what was the purpose of the project” is, my intention is experimentation.
Specifically, I’m drawn to birdseye views of nature, and the way they manifest as geometric patterning. When I saw that the piece I was working on last week seemed to be turning into some sort of nature scene, I decided I would try to create the foliage using mini-circles of clay. Sort of a pointillist technique. I experimented with using old canes and veneers and tried some of the new texture techniques I’ve learned, most recently from Sage Bray’s Virtual Art Box.
I had fun; I increased my understanding and ability to do more with polymer clay. I did not create a work worthy of anything but my own admiration. Okay, and maybe yours. There are flaws galore in the piece, but I did achieve my intention. Even if I didn’t know it until after I had to think about it long and hard.