As the owner of an art gallery, I have the opportunity to do what I cherish the most – mix and mingle with very talented artists and learn their stories. Once I learn about the artist, and maybe even the stories behind individual pieces of their art, each piece takes on much more of a life of its own, and speaks directly to my soul.
I am not sure what drives artistry, or why some people seem to have a “gift” for artistic expression while others can’t quite seem to get there. But I do know that this “gift” is rare, and it can be developed and expanded through many years of painstaking practice.
Another thing that I have discovered is that some artists are blessed with multiple ways of expressing this “gift.” My friend Debbie Lujan, an amazing nature photographer from Taos Pueblo, has also developed her skill at being a classical violinist, and often plays with symphonies. Another friend, Jeff Shetima of Zuni Pueblo, is one of today’s premier fetish carvers, and his eye for composition and motion has led him into nature photography and sketching. Yet another friend, Erik Fender of San Ildefonzo Pueblo, comes from a long line of expert potters, and he is a highly acclaimed potter in his own right, yet he is also moving into sand-cast silver-smithing.
The thing that strikes me about each of these artists is that the skills from one media are not easily transferrable to another. It isn’t like driving a Ford, and then being easily able to drive a Chevy. A better analogy might be moving from scuba diving to mountain climbing. Different equipment, different techniques, and different knowledge bases.
Science has shown us that artistic talent often develops in the right side of the brain, which is responsible for spatial orientation, music, and other intangible areas. This is the dominant side of the brain for left-handed people, and as my husband Michael and I are both left-handed, we think about this often. Michael is spatially oriented, and has no troubles with maps or directions, picturing a journey in his mind before beginning. I, on the other hand, try to throw pots on a wheel, expressing my artistic side in that manner. But both of us have a deep appreciation for music and nature, so the opportunity to continue the Dancing Rabbit Gallery, meeting artists and journeying to the beauty of the Southwest, is very fulfilling to both of us.
We’ve often heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at something. I agree with that assessment to a degree. However, I might add that artistic talent is innate in some people, and when they find the appropriate outlet, practice merely enhances the artistry that flows from their soul into their artistic work.
I think that many of the most outstanding artists in the world, in any media, are those who allow their souls to speak to the rest of us. They have a way of communicating directly to our five senses that makes an immediate connection to our own souls. So for me, at least, it is easy to recognize a talented artist or a good piece of art. Does it speak to me, does it connect to my soul?
Knowing the art and the many, many hours of painstaking effort required to create it (particularly with traditional Southwestern Native American art) fires my imagination. Knowing more about the artists, getting to know them and their families on a personal level, deepens my appreciation for their unique talents. And when I happen across an artist who expresses his or her talent in multiple media, I am in awe of both their skills and their willingness to step outside their comfort zone and try new media.
So the next time you gently pick up a piece of Native American pottery, feel around the inside of the pot and touch the smoothed coils. Feel the potter’s fingertips as he or she put just the right surface or shine in the pot, and think about how the potter had to gather the clay from the hills, clean the clay, make the coils, patiently build the pot, smooth and paint the pot, and then fire it to hardness.
Do the same with textiles. Think of shearing the wool from the sheep, spinning the yarn, then patiently building the rug and its complicated pattern over many, many hours on the loom.
Do the same with each piece of art you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell. Think about the toil and labor of the artist to bring that piece of art to life, and how much of the soul of the artist is in the piece. These artists give us each a gift – a window into their souls – and in doing so bring joy and beauty into our own lives.