Monday, April 25, 2016

That moment when you know you know what you know

Ever had that moment when you knew you nailed it? When you had the skill, understood what was happening, anticipated results, made it work?

What does it mean to say you're a professional anyway? I don't know if the answer is the same in every profession. Probably not.

When I was an occupational therapist I pretty much knew that if I could manage to keep a head injured combative man from punching me, transfer a 150 pound quadriplegic by myself, and not break down in tears when I had to clock out and still had two hours of paperwork to do at the rehab hospital all in the same day, I was a professional... or at least had done it long enough to avoid the tears part.

Later in my career when I got smarter and left rehab, I did things like help moms learn to facilitate movement in their low-tone babies, teach calming techniques to grandmothers of drug-exposed infants who screamed all day long (those women are going to heaven, no questions asked), and get an autistic kid to follow a one-step command with a smile (!!!). Professional.

But what does it mean when you work in your studio which is in your house and you wear your home pants* most of the time and some days you feel that if you don't at least get to the grocery store so you can chat up the employees (always pick your checker carefully on those days) you might go a little crazy. I think being a professional artist has many definitions. I saw it just a moment ago when I went out to the garage dye studio to give the yarn on the stove a poke and knew just by the feel of it that it would come to temperature in about 40 minutes, that the dye was taking up evenly, and that it was going to be a perfect hand-dye.
I get the same feeling at the loom fairly often. It is just something in your gut that knows that that curve isn't going to look right unless you add one more sequence or take the corner off that step or change that color in the weft bundle for one bit of hot pink. The fingers that know I've missed a warp thread and have started to take the pick out lest I cause a float before my brain recognizes what I'm doing.

Is that just the definition of practice? Or is there some way to actually quantify what a professional in the field of art is?

I'm not really sure that I should be calling myself a professional here... after all, we haven't decided on a definition and didn't your conservative Christian elementary school teach you not to toot your own horn like mind did? But I feel pretty good about using the word today. Even if I am wearing my home pants.*
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*home pants. What you call the yoga pants that are really just a half step up from pajamas because it isn't right to wear pajamas all the time.


14 comments:

  1. Hi Rebecca. Don't worry, between teaching classes nation-wide, creating pieces for clients and managing the business side of your art, you are a professional! And, isn't it great to be able to be professional at something that gives you the freedom to wear home pants (besides being a yoga instructor).

    Can't wait to see the unveiling of the piece just off the loom.

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    1. Thanks Traci! That piece is staring me in the face... need to find some time to do the finishing and get it to the photographer. I should look for a show deadline which would put it on the calendar which would mean it got done. Funny how that works.

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  2. I always envy folks who can claim "I am because I said so" and really mean it. Waiting for permission is something I've battled all of my life. How about we both just stake our claim and get on with making art? You first!

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    1. Perfect. I don't need permission and neither do you! Heck, after published books and a successful teaching circuit career, I'm surprised to hear you say this. I think many of struggle with waiting for permission. Great way to put it. Thanks! I am because I am. A professional that is.

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  3. This was exactly my question when I retired from teaching (for which I was certified/justified) and bought a loom. At a workshop I posed the question to some experienced tapestry weavers: "What do you do, to be a real tapestry weaver, hang out a shingle?" Received a blank look, and went on weaving as I wished, being or not being, legitimate. But still loving what I do!

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    1. Ah, that sounds familiar. I've had the conversation over and over with tapestry weavers about getting an MFA. There is no right answer (looking for the certification/justification of course). So yep, just hang out a shingle and work your a$s off! Of course you DO have to do the work. Lots of people don't. :-)

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  4. Yes, all those professionalism points are valid--do we ever stop those questions completely? Or should we? But here's what resonated with me most: "...you feel that if you don't at least get to the grocery store so you can chat up the employees..." I can so relate to that!

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    1. Great to hear I'm not the only one who goes to the grocery store just to talk about grapes or something that isn't tapestry! I don't think we ever stop asking, so from now on I'm going to focus on keeping better track of my mental health. I think if I'm desperate enough to go to the grocery for social interaction, I need to get out more. At least for a hike.

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  5. Hi Rebecca, I love reading your blog and this one really struck home for me because I struggle with the term "artist" in much the same way you seem to feel about "professional". It is nice to know that I am not alone in having difficulty accepting a label that seems weighted with so much expectation. That said, with the classes you teach, the blog that gets your work out into the world, the beautiful work you create and show - I think professional is quite appropriate for you. :)

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    1. Thanks for those kind words! See? You just gave me permission to be a professional. Maybe I was digging for that unconsciously when I wrote this (gasp). I think Beth (comment above) is right. We are waiting for permission to be who we are. Let's stop waiting for permission and just do it. I actually often try to throw away the labels completely. Hard to do when asked to define yourself as we do in this society, but we can try.

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  6. Enjoy this subject matter.....yes and occasionally getting out to talk to people at the grocery store. ;-)

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  7. Well, I know I'm not a professional by any term, but I do have the, "pants". That has to qualify for something. In my youth, I remember people saying that, "being a professional" meant you made a living at what you were doing. I know there's much more to it than that though. In the end, it doesn't matter, as long as we're doing what we love.

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    1. So true Michele! I'm grateful every day (mostly... sometimes I do wish for a nice long vacation)

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  8. Spot on. I know so many women (especially me) who struggle with a professional identity because our work is not quantifiable or traditionally defined. You are an amazing weaver and teacher and please continue this conversation. I would love to hear how others find inner confidence in an artist's path. (my dream is a studio shared with others so that I can weave but have company!)

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