Stoneware clay work in progress with finger rings.

I love finger rings in clay. So much of clay work is performance art for me, but I’m the only audience. Some things, like wet clay, are transient. Their beauty only exists for a short while, and may be noticed by only a few.

Art is still long, and life is no less fleeting. My husband and I have come through a long difficult journey in the last few years. We cared for his parents and my dad in hospice, lost them along with another beloved family member who passed unexpectedly. And in the midst of our losses, we also moved from our home of 11 years for me, and 30+ years for Craig. It has been a good move, but change nonetheless, and change takes adjustment.

During these past few years of transition, time in my studio was often, “Hi Studio, I’m still here…” A short visit…. “Goodbye, Studio. I love you. I’ll be back soon. I promise.” I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t honoring my work. I knew I was in a season of saying goodbye to some people I loved, and that my studio would be waiting for me when the goodbyes were over.

As I find my way back into my studio, I am entering an interesting phase. The first aspect of this new phase is about the unity of art with life. Back in 2019, I started taking free workshops from Nicholas Wilton who has an art coaching organization called Art2Life.  The underlying premise of his work as a creativity coach is that Art and Life go hand in hand. As you are free in your art, you become more free in your life, and vice versa. I’ve recently joined an online community with Art2Life that I hope will hold my feet to the fire to go deeper into this idea.

This premise that art and life are unified is not new to me. It is the underlying idea behind Muddart.  I first used the name Muddart for a blog I started  in 2004 about creativity and the creative process.  The blog was called Muddart, not because of my lifelong love of clay (though clay was the inspiration), but because I saw clay as a beautiful extended metaphor of human formation. I saw myself in my creative work – not only because my work was an expression of me and came out of me, but also because the very process that the clay went through in forming, altering, firing, recycling, and so on was the same process that I myself experienced as I formed as a human being and an artist. This process of forming and unforming and reforming was happening continually in me, and happens in all of us if we allow it. So muddart describes not only my ceramic art, but also me, and perhaps the human condition as a whole.

The second part of this new phase is inspired by another creativity coach, Eric Maisel, whom I have read since the 1990s. I first ran across his book Fearless Creating at the National Gallery gift shop shortly after it was published.  At the time, I was sharing my studio with a painter, and we were both trying to get unblocked. The book was all about that. It felt like magic. Every time either of us got stuck, we’d go and read the book, and promptly get unstuck. We started just referring to it as “the book.” It opened us both up to the possibility that getting unstuck was within our grasp.

I’ve read a lot of books by Maisel since then. He gets creativity. He gets what holds us back. And his advice for getting unstuck is immensely practical. The book I am exploring in this latest phase of my creative life is The Magic of Sleep Thinking. I first read about Maisel’s ideas on sleep thinking in an article he wrote while he was writing the book.  I found his concepts insightful, and also strangely familiar. I realized I had been “sleep thinking” my whole life. So have many people. We have a big decision, so we sleep on it. We are working out a problem, and the answer comes to us in the middle of the night.

While we all do this process very naturally, there are some challenging parts to it. For instance, the more important and pressing our questions, the greater likelihood that we will worry about them rather than gently ask questions about them, and thus give ourselves insomnia or anxiety dreams. Maisel’s framework helps with sleeping on problems in a way that is relaxing and productive. It’s a way to ask oneself big questions, and trust that the answers will come.

The big question I’m asking as I navigate art and life is What is next for me in my creative life?  Inside that question are many other questions: What holds me back? What do I fear? How do I work through a specific issue I’m facing in one long-term creative work I’ve been working on? I don’t know what I’ll find on this journey, but I’m excited to enter my next chapter as a human being on this planet.  I am the work in progress.  I am the piece of performance art.  I am the transient work that changes from one stage of formation to another. Muddart is me.

What about you? What are the big questions that you are asking yourself in life and art?