Walter

I spent two years out of school between undergrad and graduate school. For one of the years I drove around the country and into Mexico living out of my truck, periodically crashing on the couches of friends and family. The other year I lived in Los Gatos, California and worked in the after school program of a small grade school in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I did art projects with all of the kids there from kindergarten to 5th grade. Right away I noticed that the kindergarteners were all interdisciplinary artists, and that they were very fearless and motivated. There was a slow regression that took place as the kids got older and by the time they were in 5th grade there was usually only one kid in each class that was considered an artist and that was because he or she could draw realistically. The rest of the kids were convinced that they had no artistic abilities at all.

One of the kindergarteners I worked with was named Walter, he was the smallest kid in the whole school but he was clearly very intelligent too. Somehow he had learned to multiply and divide in his head and the other older kids loved to throw complicated equations his way and wait for him to come up with the answers, which were almost always correct. I'd had bad experiences with math as a kid, and like the 5th graders who had lost their artistic sense of themselves, I'd lost any concept of myself being able to do anything but rudimentary math. But Walter wanted more math to tackle and it wasn't being supplied in his kindergarten class. So I asked my mathematician friend Cleveland to explain some simple algebra to me. Cleveland is a thoughtful and patient instructor and soon I actually found myself learning and being excited about math with the primary motivation of being able to pass on what I was learning to Walter.

When it came to the art projects for the kids I tried to keep it simple, I liked making books and so I showed them how to make books too. Walter was particularly excited about this activity. Every day he made a new set of drawings on a specific subject of interest like insects, dinosaurs, ghosts, monsters, animals found in Africa, etc. He would then dictate to me the text and title and staple the whole thing together. Then he would run around the little campus and make everyone look at his book. Kids would stop basketball games and gather around to flip through Walter's latest creation. After he had shown everyone, Walter would discard the book, with total disinterest (I rescued several from the trash) and started speculating on the next day's book topic.

It occurred to me that Walter was fulfilling a whole little system of parts which are crucial to the artistic process. He determined a subject that was of interest to him, insects, etc. expressed his feelings on the subject through his drawings and text, and then went out to share his product with an audience.

There were no other factors or motivations, no hope of using the work to get into grad school, or to get a gallery show, and no desire to make something that looked like something else he saw in Art Forum.

It occurred to me that I had started similarly to Walter when I first was interested in making art, but that somewhere along the way that system had been corrupted. I decided to stop making art for a while and then as projects slowly started occurring to me again I tried to compare them with Walter's process to determine if I should pursue them or not. It has been difficult to maintain Walter's level of simplicity and integrity, but it is always a goal of mine.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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The test is this: do you produce because you feel an urgent compulsion to express certain ideas or feelings, or are you actuated by the desire for applause?

In the genuine artist the desire for applause, while it usually exists strongly, is secondary, in the sense that the artist wishes to produce a certain kind of work, and hopes that that work may be applauded, but will not alter his style even if no applause is forthcoming.

The man, on the other hand, to whom the desire for applause is the primary motive, has no force within himself urging him to a particular kind of expression, and could therefore just as well do work of some wholly different kind.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.82

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Active imagination is not an artistic endeavor, not a creative production of paintings and poems.

One may aesthetically give form to the images - indeed one should try as best one can aesthetically - though this is for the sake of the figures, in dedication to them and to realize their beauty, and not for the sake of art.

The aesthetic work of active imagination is therefore not to be confused with art for exhibition or publication.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.78

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I had a professor in grad school who told me that he was addicted to the art world, and that he was never satisfied. Once he got into one show he just wanted to get into another that he perceived as more important, he also scanned Art Forum every month to make sure his name was mentioned somewhere in it and if it wasn't he felt depressed. I think he told me this as a warning.

Mostly what I'm trying to do as an artist is to live an interesting life. At least that's what I keep telling myself. It can be a struggle at times, but I think that is pretty much what I am doing.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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