Art Thoughts

Here, Now, Beginning

Journey. Pt. I ©2014 Janet Maher
Journey. Pt. II ©2014 Janet Maher

Invisible and visible, the world does not exist without both. – Rumi

I recently had two back-to-back solo exhibitions, the second of which I called “Trusting the Process.” This is by now a well-worn phrase that I chose with a tip of the hat to Shaun McNiff, whose 1998 book has long been part of my studio library in the group of “books I think every artist should read.” Until this moment I didn’t realize how many other books McNiff has written, including a new one, released last year – Art As Research – which I’ve added now to my list of must-reads. Perhaps I already live what his book blurb describes.

Every bit of my world seems to revolve around process. It is the means by which I usually juggle too many things at once, all needing the same amounts of attention and dedication. By fully engaging one, I invariably neglect the others, back and forth, over, under, sideways, down. Process is also 90% of practically every creative project and work of art that I produce. Resting, another necessary process, also gets its share of neglect.

Artists and writers, makers of all kinds know about process. It is where the best part of anything resides, the real stuff of the matter. It’s why I always feel that my art exhibits are residue, frozen moments arranged neatly in a logical visual narrative. They were never that way until all the elements came into that particular space at a given time. I find that part of the process to be strange, yet it is how things are done. Something very important for me is over once the work hangs in a room for a month or so waiting for people to come and see it. An intangible trajectory had evolved in me while I worked to reach each result, notwithstanding the moments of bliss that also occurred when I experienced the feeling of becoming empty while the work seemed to make itself without my effort. Lewis Hyde wrote so well about this aspect of the creative process in his book, The Gift, which has also lived on my studio shelf for more than two decades.

A simultaneous transformation occurs when one attempts to form something beautiful, that others will desire, from worthless scraps, snippets of personal meaning or a blank support. Nurturing, responding, wholly communicating with the materials over stolen hours ensues as is possible until something resolves in both the work and in the maker. The process and the transformations are entirely hidden from the viewers at the exhibition, even as we might attempt to express them in a gallery talk.

Between August and November this year six works of mine sold, and I am thankful for the people who now live with them. Having made my work theirs, the works have come back to life. They now have a larger reason for being. This time after taking the show back to my studio I had the urge to bring some into our home. I would have admired certain pieces if they had been in someone else’s exhibition, and perhaps would have wanted to add them to the collection of mostly other people’s art that surrounds us daily. Why these works, why not leave them in the studio, are questions I will need to ponder more about. Within days of bringing them home, however, I entered them into a competitive show somewhere else. (Maybe they will get in and leave me completely, as the other works have.)

It is almost the end of another year, and here I am beginning a new blog, instead of apologizing on my other one about having to drop the series of essays I had started there in the summer. My hugely productive sabbatical was coming to an end and deadlines for my new book loomed on the horizon. I will instead point from that one, tied to a particular kind of topic, to this one, which I hope will allow all of my many engagements to co-exist, as they somehow manage to do in life. Irish research, current explorations in encaustic and assemblage, the tending of bees, worry about the Monarch butterflies, the art and soul of gardening, meditation and inspirations from so many disparate sources may all find their place here, as writing helps me find my voice through considering each of them.

Everything matters. Everything is process. There will be time for everything, somehow, until the last breath. If not, who knows? Our souls may get to keep all we have learned along the way and build that work further within another persona, getting done what we couldn’t in a single lifetime, given the circumstances that were put in play for us at our births. Like Henry Miller I feel that, “Someday I will die, and all the [projects] I dreamed of…will die with me. Therefore, what…must I complete to die satisfied?” Moreover, what must be addressed, in a way that only I can, given the knowledge and experience I bring to the topic? What will not happen, what will be lost unless I step in and take the topic on? At the moment that is a book which will wrap up a project that has engaged me for several years—now with only a few weeks left to finish it.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for all the people who have been and are part of my process. I will attempt to write as regularly as I can in a way that allows accountability to my projects and may be interesting to others. With this first post I send good wishes to the virtual world and welcome subscribers and comments.

©2014 Janet Maher

All Rights Reserved




By Janet Maher

I am a visual artist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Art from Loyola University Maryland. My longstanding interest in the history and culture of the land of my ancestors accompanied my work in the studio for many years, and I have written two books about that.

5 replies on “Here, Now, Beginning”

Looking forward to keeping up with this new blog … since I missed out on your last one! I have been thinking a lot about process while I’m on my own sabbatical and have learned so much from you already, from your supportive comments as well as these longer, immensely thoughtful posts.


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