“Should" Is a Four-Letter Word.
I have only one rule in my workshop. It has grown out of many years of well-meaning souls telling me what I “should” or "should not do" with my art. "You should paint in oils.” "You should lower your prices.” “You should raise your prices.” “You should paint more realistically.” “You should….You should……"
So the only rule in my workshop is that there is no “should-ing” on each other.
The Cherokee tribe of Native Americans warned, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”
I love teaching workshops when I can. I find that an amazing thing happens over a few days with complete strangers. I can see right way which artists would be comfortable wearing bright, red shoes. I can tell which artists would never do that. I can tell which person would never let their peas get into their mashed potatoes on their dinner plate. I can easily see which personalities are bold, which are reserved. Who is extremely tidy and who is not.
It shows in their art. Their strokes, their choices.
I have two daughters with a disease called RND. Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy. For genetic disorders, we hit the jackpot. It is an extremely rare, pain-amplification syndrome that causes them to be in pain every day. A cross between MS and fibromyalgia, my girls go through every day with headaches, pain, allodynia, nausea, and on some days side effects so severe they can’t function. Somedays they can’t eat. Some days their hands and legs won’t let them write or walk. The nerves in their bodies get caught in a loop with the brain- causing pain that does not have a reason. The myelin sheath that protects the nerves short-circuits causing all kinds of pain. Imagine hitting your funny bone very hard and the pain not only doesn’t go away, but spreads to your entire body. Then go to school.
RND is called the “Invisible Disease” because they look perfectly normal. They are pretty, smart, ambitious, friendly, fashion-conscious, and well…. pretty damn tough. I am afraid this post is turning into a personal rant, but this morning was rough.
So when I see artists tell other artists what to do - judge them on what they should paint, how they should paint and expect them to turn out art in a certain way, it gets me mad. Because no one knows the inside path one takes. Ignorant kids and teachers that tell my girls that they shouldn’t miss school so much because they are trying to "get away” with not taking a test, well, I wish I could have them over at 4am in the morning to see the repercussions of this disease.
So maybe that artist in the corner of your workshop took every bit of extra money to sign up for the workshop. Maybe for another to use a bright, red stick in a painting is totally against their nature, and yet here they are- overcoming their demons.
Maybe just being there at all is a major victory. Can we encourage that? Can we respect the differences?
I have artists ask me all the time- "Should I do this? Should I do that?” Looking for the “right" answer. Typically, I answer with other questions- “What are your goals?” "What are your intentions?” “ Why did you choose this or that..?” because my “right" answers may not be a good fit. Like wearing bright, red shoes to someone who would never! Don't get me wrong, I tend to be brutally honest. I want to teach sound art practices, but I certainly don’t want a bunch of artists blindly copying me. I challenge, but I will never tell them what they “should" do.
Don't “should” on each other, people.