Saturday, June 6, 2009

On experimenting and risk-taking

Last night my husband agreed to go with me on the monthly First Friday Gallery Walk. The Unexpected Dog show was opening, so I was partly there for that, but I also like to wander around the other galleries and see what inspires me.

There's a gallery around the corner from mine that has an artist who does some extremely original work with pastels, weaving them together, so I got inspired to come home and see how that might work with photos. This is my first experiment with this -- it's a buddha face woven into the face of one of my daughter's friends. I don't actually think it worked very well, but I learned a lot from doing it, and I'm looking forward to exploring the technique some more.

Which is what experiments are about, if you think about it -- at least the artistic ones. You have an idea for something that might work, you try it out, you learn from it, you refine it, and you try again. If you're lucky and the idea is a good one, you'll eventually emerge from the process with something that is uniquely yours. It's also possible, of course, that the idea has potential but your efforts never quite realize that potential. Or, if it was a complete failure, you might decide it was a bad idea in the first place and scrap it altogether.

It reminds me of something my husband said when he started a company, way back when we were first married. It had the potential to be wildly successful, and it had the potential to fail miserably. But the worst case scenario, he told me, was that it would just be moderately successful, just barely limping along, enough to pay salaries and keep going, but never really going anywhere. Sadly, the worst case scenario came to pass, and after a few years we just extricated ourselves and moved west; the company finally bit the dust about 20 years after it started, taking with it all the money we'd invested in it.

It seems to me that much of life is like this -- an experiment, or a series of experiments: try this job, explore this relationship, move to this neighborhood; see how it works, and react accordingly. All of those experiments involve choices and risks; some fail, some succeed beautifully, and others -- maybe even the large majority? I'm not sure about that -- just sort of limp along, providing the bare minimum of support but never really nourishing the soul.

Those are the situations that sap our energy, the ones it takes extraordinary courage to leave, because they look acceptable from the outside, and it's hard to convince both ourselves and those around us that "okay" is not enough, that we deserve more -- at which point more courage is required, because you're not only separating yourself from the comfortable and familiar, but you are risking both the possibility of failure that comes with change AND the disapproval of any friends and family who choose to stay or do not understand. And, of course, when you do leave, and encounter the inevitable difficulties that come with change, the past, however enervating it may have been, begins to look almost appealing -- safe and secure, even if it wasn't particularly pleasant.

Which is why, in the first few months after I left my first husband, life seemed pretty scary, and I wondered if I had done the right thing. But when I thought about how I felt in that marriage, with him sleeping around and claiming it was because I was boring, I realized I couldn't go back. I had no choice but to keep moving forward, even if I couldn't see around the bend to the good that lay ahead. And having made the choice to leave, and sticking with that choice, has brought me innumerable blessings over the years -- my current husband, our two daughters, our home, our travels -- and also, because (so far) it's all turned out so well, I guess my attitude is a lot more positive than it used to be: I'm a bit more of a risk taker now, a bit more trusting that it's okay to follow where life leads me.

When I took my pieces in to be hung at the Unexpected Dog show, I brought in some experiments, too: a quilted dog, a dog done in pastels, a dog done in encaustic (because I had just taken an encaustic class). The gallery's curator laughed sort of amazedly, and said something about how I don't let any grass grow on me, that I'm such an intrepid explorer. And I suppose, at one level, that's true. Having survived a few previous risks, however minor, I'm willing to take on more. It's all part of the learning process

... and you know what's cool? Not only did the gallery hang all the pieces I brought -- even the experiments -- but by the time we left that reception last night, three of the pieces had sold -- including the encaustic dog. I was thrilled.

6 comments: said...

I received this comment in an email, and wanted to share it:

"This morning's blog reminded me of that oft-quoted, probably mis-paraphrased comment attributed to Edison about how he felt about trying unsuccessfuly to invent the battery; he felt he'd discovered 700 ways not to make a battery...

And more personally it reiterated an idea that I think is Neville Goddard's.....there's a law which shapes outer circumstances in harmony with our inner nature....our conception of ourselves frees or constrains us, and often uses the material world to achieve its purpose...."

This comment makes me think of one of my husband's reactions to this post (he had several) -- that a lot of what defines "success" has to do with the attitude you choose. I think he's a good example of that. Most of the other folks he knew who got laid off that day left in a huff. He, on the other hand, stayed til the end of the week, tidying up loose ends and saying goodbye to friends, and his boss actually threw him a going away party. He sees all this as an opportunity, though we both realize that would be a harder attitude to maintain if we were less financially stable than we are. Who knows how it will play out, but there's no sense in stressing out about it; we just keep moving forward.

Anonymous said...

1. I'm so excited to hear about the sales! Woo hoo! Wasn't this exhibit a hopeless cause for sales? *g*

2. Reminds me about something I read in Centering Prayer this morning...something about walking around in an attitude of prayer. Sounds like your husband has that attitude.

KimP said...

This is a great post and I love your observations about the courage to make a change when something isn't working our lives, and then being nostalgic for that old, imperfect life we left behind. But if we can weather the uncertainity and pain of change, it opens up new opportunities for God to work in our lives. I just wish I could remember this when I'm going through the pain of change. I ALWAYS forget!

Congrats on the selling the pieces - I know that must be very gratifying!


Experimenting and risk taking - what a provocative post title and terrific post content. Having begun "creating" works after a loooooonnnngggg time of not and a looooonnnnngggg time of wanting to - the risk taking is in me everytime I have a brush in my hand or squeeze the tube. I plan one thing, another comes out. I try duplicating a small piece of mine into a larger scale and it won't reproduce itself. I find that both a little frustrating but very esciting in the terms of creating. Your husband's contribution to the content in regard to case scenarios is a great story - a risk deserves either a huge success of just a bellyflop! It's sort of like the destination theory - it's not the end of route that's important but the journey.


How gratifying to sell 3 pieces of your art - congratulations. Do you have a flickr account for viewing your work? said...

If you check out the link list on the left of the blog, you'll see a link called "My photos." That will take you to my Picasa account, and you'll actually see an album there called Unexpected Dog...