Thinking About Oeuvre

Thinking About Oeuvre

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(This is a piece my nephew made totally out of masking tape.)

I grew up among artists of all sorts. My sister was a writer and poet. My father was an inventor with a couple of patents. My brother is a musician. My brother-in-law was in the printing industry. My husband is a technical engineer and mechanical artist.

You’re thinking those last two are not really artists, aren’t you? We could have a huge discussion about what creativity is and what is art. I think printing is art. And you’d be amazed how creative my husband has to be to troubleshoot and repair electronic systems. Restoring old motorcycles requires creative skills in so many mediums.

When it comes to the creative person, the artist, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. And so when I was raising my kids, who are both artists in their own rights, I wanted to give them space to be creative, but I also wanted to teach them to have balance so that they could emotionally, practically, financially and physically have the lives they wanted and support themselves.

So, from my vantage point of having so many artists around me, I noticed, as I also learned when studying art in school, that artists have “periods.” You’ve heard of Picasso’s “Blue Period” or Jackson Pollock’s “Drip Period.” This means that they found something like a color or technique and stayed with it for a while. Usually, this period was influenced by what was going on in their lives or what was going on around them.

Image result for artist pollock period

We only know about an artist’s “period” by looking at their body of work. Their oeuvre, the French word that means the life work of a creator, has to be considered. You have to see what they’d done before and what they did after to determine if what they painted was in a certain phase or stage of their creativity. I doubt very seriously that Picasso or Pollock knew they were going through a stage while they were going through it.

One of the advantages of getting older is that we can begin to see our “body of work” or oeuvre come together. We see the stages of our lives more clearly. People label these stages as, our teen years, our twenties, married life, being a parent, or being a grandparent. We only know we’ve gone through a stage after we make it through and emerge from the other side. We can then pinpoint when it started and see when it ended.

Knowing this helps when challenging times come because we have substantial evidence that there will be an end.

I remember when both of my kids were in diapers. We were poor and I thought I’d be buying diapers for the rest of my life, having to put back food to buy them. When I look back now, it seems like it only lasted 5 minutes.

Artists have to learn and experiment. They copy great art first until they get the courage to try their own way. It’s not fair to take one piece of art and use it as the total embodiment of an artist’s life’s work. You can only attempt that after the artist is dead and you can see the whole of his/her work.

Life is the same. People go through stages and it’s not fair to make a total assessment of someone while they’re in their “Blue Period” before you’ve seen more in their “body of work.” Like an artist, they are being influenced by what’s going on in their lives and by what’s around them.

And an artist shouldn’t do that to themselves. Think about where you are and who you are. Don’t create an unfair standard to measure yourself by.

However, I do think we should consider how our “body of work” will be considered as we’re creating it. It’s called self-awareness. You have the ability to enhance or erase themes in your life. If you get stuck in a “blue period” and stay there, you could be labeled as depressed, sad, or negative. You can also emerge from that dark period with more wisdom and light. Think about what you want your “body of work” to be known for and strive for that.

Life is like improv, we have a goal, but we’re all making it up as we go along.

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