The Full-Immersion Art Experiment

imagesOn Friday, April 24, LifeArt Studio hosted our second annual “Art in the Garden” event, and that lovely evening marked the end of our winter/spring sessions. What a gorgeous ending it was, with the garden at its peak, Chef Dolphy at her culinary best, and Darlyn Finch in her finest raconteur form. It was so-much-fun!

And without missing a beat, on Saturday, April 25, I plunged into a six-week immersion project of making art. I closed the LifeArt Studio doors and gave myself the gift of time to hone my skills and deepen my artful practices.

I Got a Nudge

I have always considered essay writing my creative genre. But in the last two years, I’ve taken up doodling, then, drawing, and then last January I signed on for a year-long online art course, learning about color, line, design, paints, inks, drawing instruments, and more. It was becoming very clear to me: I wanted to make art. And even better, I was not hobbled by a need to make “good art.” I just wanted to draw, paint, color for the pure fun of it.

Before I knew it, I had turned my tiny loft office into an art studio and began amassing the tools of the trade. It was a mess. But so much fun! And when I learned in early March that Professor Rachel Simmons of Rollins was going to offer a four-week course in the visual journal, I knew what I had to do. I was ready to put myself in the presence of a master and learn what I could. My immersion art project was underway.

The Artful Project

The Visual Journal class met every day during Rollins’ Maymester from 1:00-4:00 p.m. And I spent most mornings applying the techniques we learned during class sessions. I bought books on watercolor, collage, design, lettering, and lots of examples of visual journals: The Couple, by recent Rollins graduate David Matteson; What to Do When It’s Your Turn, by Seth Godin; What It Is, by Lynda Barry; The Crossroads of Should and Must, by Elle Luna; Self Portrait as Your Traitor, by Debbie Millman; and more.   And while I was quite unnerved by my total novice status as a maker of art, I can honestly say that these weeks have been amazingly relaxing, and certainly expanding.

In addition to learning about art, reading about art, and trying to do art, my immersion art experiment also included lots of looking at art. At least three times a week I ventured out of my messy studio to attend a gallery exhibit, go to a museum, or put myself in a place that housed art. I went to many of the events that Snap! Gallery sponsored throughout the month in which unlikely venues were turned into galleries of contemporary photography. Bravo to the Snap! team for their innovative (and arresting) contributions to the Orlando art scene. I went to the Orlando Museum of Art, the Polasek Museum & Sculpture Garden, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, the Alfond Inn for their Wednesday art tours, the Mennello Museum of American Art, the McRae Studio open house, and lots of small galleries throughout the city, in addition to three homes that house remarkable private art collections. I was eating, breathing, sleeping art. Sometimes I’d wake up at 3:00 a.m. and get up to add a few brush strokes to a design I’d been working on the night before. I was obsessed!

It was like going away to art camp for six weeks. And I realized that this process of going away to immerse myself in a process or practice is something I’ve always done. At ten, I was sent to the Duquoin (IL) State Music Camp for four weeks, though I had absolutely no musical talent. I played no instrument and could not carry a tune. (What were my parents thinking?) All I remember of that first immersion experience was sitting on my bunk in tears writing letters to my parents to please come and get me. It was not an auspicious beginning for a young apprentice.

Evidently I was not seriously damaged by the first immersion experience, because in high school I went away every summer to a theater program in northern Indiana. When I was 20, I spent time as a bonsai apprentice with a master gardener in Japan. And at 30, I took a rigorous (and life-changing) 28-day outdoor survival training course through Outward Bound. Later came a whole series of Buddhist retreats, silent retreats, yoga retreats—all attempts to immerse myself in unfamiliar and challenging adventures to develop new skills and explore untapped potential.

What Happens in a Full Immersion Experience

So this art experiment is one in a long line of life explorations. But all of these experiments share some common characteristics: they were slightly frightening; I had to put myself in the role of a complete novice; I had to become teachable; I learned to observe and submit to a master teacher; and with each experiment, I felt the inside of my head begin to change as I acquired new skills and gained insights about myself that may have otherwise remained dormant.

So while the doors of LifeArt Studio have been closed for six weeks, I have continued my pursuit of the LifeArt mission. I wanted to go deeper into an artful process than my business-as-usual schedule allows. I’m coming to see that while it’s important to practice the art form we want to get good at on a regular basis (writers write every day; painters paint every day; yogis practice asana several days a week), it’s also important to periodically immerse yourself in the art form you’re in love with. It doesn’t have to be six weeks. Even three days of intense practice can pop you to a new level of performance, and lead to a new level of commitment to the art form that engages you.

But more important, such periodic intensives can actually create a shift in how you think of yourself in regard to your art form. There’s something about rigor and intensity combined with time that creates a shift in how you own your artful identity.  After four weeks of intense learning and practice, I certainly cannot call myself an artist. But I feel quite happy now calling myself a person who makes art.

LifeArt Studio Doors Open for the Summer

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll post more about my full-immersion art experiment and what it did for me, but for now, I want to let you know that just as I was happy to be in an artful flow for a six glorious weeks, I’m just as happy to be back at LifeArt Studio and offering ways to help you craft your own artful experiments. Please check our summer offerings here.

So maybe you can’t (or don’t want to) take six weeks to take up a new skill.   But maybe you could carve out a weekend, or even a full day, to try out an activity, a skill, or a practice that intrigues you—and slightly scares you. How many times have you said, if I just had time, I’d love to try that? (I say that about paddle-boarding!) I encourage you to make the time; create your own mini-immersion experiment and see if it doesn’t enliven you in some surprising ways.

May you have a deliciously artful day!