Today I want to share with you some of my creative process, not because my process is particularly special but because in my opinion and experience, the process of creating is at least as important as the final product. I do not expect to see my work in any museums, and I have zero artistic training to speak of, but I enjoy creative practice as part of my life. There’s something about the act of creating that makes me feel plugged in to the natural flow of life’s creative energy, and in that flow, I feel unconcerned about outcomes because I’m enjoying the moment.
I don’t usually stick to one medium for very long because I get distracted easily and always want to be doing something new. Recently, I’ve been excited about collage, a form of art I first encountered when I was very young thanks to a suggestion from my sister. My older sister Katie is a talented and inspiring painter, and when we were younger, I was always jealous that I couldn’t draw and paint like her. However, she taught me about collage as an alternative way to create visual art, and we used to have a lot of fun looking through art and fashion magazines for pages to make things with. Recently, I put out a call among my friends for any magazines folks wouldn’t mind donating for my creative efforts, since magazines with great photos are often expensive. So, when I was loaded up with supplies from my friends, I started flipping through magazines and comic books and finding odds and ends to work with. What follows is the creation process of a single, not-too-complicated piece of cut-and-paste work. I aspire to do work that’s more elaborate and multi-dimensional, but for now, I truly love the simplicity of pieces like this one. This level of pressure-free creative exercise is exactly enough to get my mental muscles flexing in a healthy and fun way. When I get up every morning, I spend at least an hour in my home office meditating, journaling, and engaging in some sort of art, and I’ve noticed that the rest of my day tends to feel better as a result. Creative practice is deeply nourishing for me and helps me feel a little more grounded in myself before I confront the unpredictable challenges of the day.
Today’s piece started with this gorgeous catalog for theater production companies. It’s full of great images of set designs showing off what can be done with their products. There are a lot of pages in here that got me excited to create something fun, so with several options in mind, I switched over to a fashion magazine.
I have a love-hate relationship with fashion magazines. I love them because they’re often full of gorgeous editorial design and luscious photography. Nothing is better designed than high end fashion ads. But at the same time, fashion magazines can be subtly dehumanizing to women. For example, I came across these pages in Cosmo that juxtaposed runway fashion with more practical outfits modeled by “real girls.”
I don’t want to belabor this point, but it’s an important one. Cosmopolitan is not a children’s publication, and the “real girls” modeling these outfits are grown up, professionalwomen, not girls. Also, models are real people. And in fact, many of them are girls, as in literally legally children.
Also, the label “real girl” made me think of “real doll,” and maybe it’s just me thinking too hard about this, but the resonance between these words and images seemed to be sending an unsavory message about the “realness” of women and girls. What makes a woman or girl real or valid? Is it her age, profession, body type, skin color…? Trick question! All women are real and valid, and fashion magazines need to retire this style of phrasing.
I returned to the theater catalog and flipped the pages again until I came across this gorgeous scene from the American Ballet Theatre. I do not know the actual ages of these performers, but I think of them as being young. I experimented with placing the “real girl” labels on the image and was sold. I wanted to label them as real girls because they have that particular body type that we have been told is just for models and that thin women are not real, but they are real. In addition, there is something about women whose work involves being looked at — whether they are models, actresses, porn stars, dancers, or even video game streamers. Our society (even those of us who think we know better) looks at these women and ceases to see them as human beings. Instead we see them as a collection of body parts, a piece of a scene no more individual or personal than a stage light, or objects of fantasy and entertainment. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing that entertainers disappear into their performance, but I think it’s essential to remember that behind the act is always a real person.
After cutting out the dancers, I wanted to place them on an interesting background. I flipped through the magazines again, but I didn’t just want to place them on a different stage. Instead, I turned to the stack of comic books Carrie has recently given me. There, in issue one of Maestros, I found this wild, alien world mid-apocalypse that seemed just perfect. It’s this terrifying monster death orgy that resonates pretty strongly with my experience of our current geopolitical reality.
Even though there are not very many elements in this collage, I love the overall effect. I think it speaks to the struggle of young women to cope with a dark and violent world under the constraints of enforced femininity and intense depersonalization coming at them (us) from all directions. But these dancers, these real girls, they are not victims. They are strong. They are together. They put on their dresses and fix their hair, and they get on stage and perform with all their hearts because the show must go on.
So, that’s my emotional journey through art today. I will probably give this piece away to anyone who wants it. I’ve been making a lot of things lately that I have no need to keep for myself. Like I said, for me, the value of my art is the experience of creating it. I hope you’re creating something you enjoy today, if not a piece of art, then a life you love or a moment worth remembering.