'Watching my clients, I have come to a much better understanding of creative people. El Greco, for example, must have realized as he looked at some of his early work, that "good artists do not paint like that." But somehow he trusted his own experiencing of life, the process of himself, sufficiently that he could go on expressing his own unique perceptions. It was as though he could say, "Good artists do not paint like this, but I paint like this."' -Dr. Carl Rogers, pg. 175 of On Becoming a Person.
Good seamstresses do not sew or embroider like this, but I sew and embroider like this. It has been a difficult process of coming to terms with myself through my artwork, over these past four years that I have spent completing my undergraduate at Smith College. It was not until I came upon the works of Dr. Carl Rogers, one of the founders of the humanist psychological movement and the client-centered approach to therapy, during my sophomore year, that I became concerned with the issue of being congruent with myself. It seems absurd that such an innate human process had to be intellectualized in order for me to confront it. Every person struggles to reconcile the idealized version of themselves, or the person they would like to become, with the person they actually are. For Rogers, attaining congruence, is to "be that self which one truly is," as he borrows from Kierkegaard. While this sounds like an obvious and simple accomplishment, achieving congruence is quite a challenging and ongoing personal process. Still, I found Roger's concept of congruence to be the key to my personal spiritual and mental wellness. However, with such enlightenment came the burden of a great task to not only establish congruence in my personal life, but also through my artwork.
Moving Away from 'Oughts' and Pleasing Others
Being surrounded by peers, who are predominately conceptual artists, has been quite a challenge. The pressure to justify or conceptualize what I am making during critiques, in dialogues with my professors, and in making conversation with my fellow classmates has created a great barrier to my progress with my practice. I often find myself taking a defensive posture towards my peers and my professors. Why should I justify myself to you? This process is what Rogers would call a movement away from 'Oughts.' I ought to make conceptual art. I ought to justify myself. I ought to intellectualize what I am doing. I ought not to make work for the simple reason that it is aesthetically pleasing. I ought to make work that looks like something someone else has already made. I ought to do what people tell me to do during critiques. I ought to work in another medium. etc. Besides, who am I trying to please my craft with? Myself or someone else? My parents? My professors? My peers? Do they have my best interests at heart? Are they congruent with themselves? Will pleasing them make me happy? Is their acceptance of me truly worth more than the acceptance of my own?
Trusting One's Own Awareness
I have come to learn that whenever I start to feel the obligation of 'Oughts' that emerge from the constant critiques of my work from my professors, my peers, or myself, that I should ignore this tendency and continue on my own path. This is what Rogers would call a movement towards trust in one's own awareness. This is what led me to my exploration with fiber arts, where I finally feel that my work has begun to get some traction. Not only am I pleased with the work that I am making and enjoying the process, but others have begun to respond to what I am making. The more zeal I had for the process of making my embroidered works, the greater the reaction I would get from others. It is this curious paradox that in pleasing myself, I have been able to attract others who also accept me and my art for what it is. Who cares about the rest?
Choosing to Begin a Studio Career
I am excited to say that I have chosen to open a studio, after I graduate from Smith College this May. I will be doing what I love with the people I love beside me. While I feel congruence is something that one always must be striving for and can never be fully achieved, I do feel that I am now headed on a path to become congruent with both myself and my expressive process. If you are a person who has been struggling as I have to find happiness, I challenge you to reflect on who you really are and what you want from yourself. Reach out more, and you will find the people, places, and passions that will infuse your life with the joy that you have been looking for.