Making my art

First, thank you dear friends for all the suggestions and encouragement about the last post. I'm glad we could all be honest about the closet situation. Second, I want to talk about my art for a moment. I don't often talk about it, just throw up an image on this blog every now and then, and every once in awhile, I'll find one of my images up on another blog. Apparently I am really coming to some serious terms with a lot of things lately, and one of those is who and what I am as an artist. I got a BFA in studio art, and an MFA in poetry. Both of those subjects, in the academic realm put heavy emphasis on the cerebral, as well they should. But along with that dose of the intellectual, there is a sense of cynicism or criticism of anything that is not just that. Now, I am all for art that really makes you think, that questions you, that questions what we think we know, and I am also all for poetry that takes a read, or thirty, to understand. I love things that challenge me, and I love the people who are brave enough to make things that challenge. Some of my dearest memories from the last decade involve a small classroom, a group of students and a professor, all discussing the corners and undiscovered rooms of art and poetry, both technique and theory, for honestly hours at a time. Oh, I get chills just thinking about how much fun it was. Some days, what I wouldn't give to be in a roomful of people who are totally passionate about Gertrude Stein or Henri Matisse.

So, now, here I am, graduated, independent and making art and writing a children's book that in some ways seems to be the very things that I learned is my programs as less valuable. And maybe worse, I am making religious art. For some time, this has really stressed me out. For several reasons that can maybe be summed up into one word: Kitsch. I don't want to make things that are just a fad. I worry that people will think that I'm out to make big bucks on religious material. I do love that I can have some income and work from home, but I am not out to make a fortune on religious art. For the past year, I've received countless emails asking if I've made, or plan to paint a specific temple, and I've mostly been writing back, 'maybe in the future...' without too much intent to really get around to it because I've spent so much time battling out this inner conflict about making art that is illustrative and simple.

However! Let me share a few of the things I have figured out, which in some ways has required some re-learning, being less prideful and listening to my own little soul when it tries to yell to me loudly. Here is what I have learned about the art that I am making and selling currently:

1. I love making it. I love it. I am delighted at putting down lines with my walnut ink and bamboo stick. I dreamt the other night about making drawing after drawing, and in my head, they were all so beautiful. I am giddy about putting down color with paint. It is a gift to see the way colors mix into one another to make another color.

2. I love selling my art to people who also seem excited about it. I am happy writing emails back and forth with people, or selling in person and getting to pick out and give opinions about what they should take home. I very much adore this part of the process. Much of the time, especially with portraits, people are giving the art as a surprise gift, and I love being a part of that.

3. I've had many people write me and tell me that for the first time they have a temple print up in their home, or their children's room. This means a lot to me. My temple paintings are imperfect, but I think that's why people like them. I'm so happy to be the catalyst for someone to have a reminder of something good in their home. I have to be honest and say that I have never actually had a temple hanging on my wall, until now, where I have a growing collection. My neighbors ask questions and it is nice to be able to talk to them about why these buildings are special to me.

4. I don't plan on stopping making abstract and cerebral art. I still love things like the BillboardPoetryProject and I plan on continuing to pursue these types of projects. I think that I can also find ways to continue to write poems that are more than some nice images. I am going to keep working on my children's book and at the same time continue to send poems into journals, and probably continue to get a few rejection letters a week.

5. I love kids! I feel so passionately about the art and books that I grew up with as a kid. They shaped the world for me. Images like The Alphabears, The BFG, Blueberries for Sal, Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh, are embossed on my heart. They, along with countless others, made this world a good place for me. Made me hopeful, and whimsical and believing in magic. I love nothing more than when a parent, aunt or uncle or friend buys one of my animal paintings, or a portrait or even a temple and tells me that it is going a children's room. I want to make art for kids. I want to eventually make enough profit that I can just give my art to kids that don't have any.

6. I feel like my art is allowing me in some ways to give back, even when I spend most of my day in our small house or on the grass outside. I've been able to contribute money to the temple building and temple patron fund with the money I've made from temple sales. This makes me really proud, but probably more than that, really excited that I can in some way try to help. Which also is why God is really nice, he actually lets me feel that way.

7. I've decided to take down some of my preconceived notions about what art and writing can and cannot be. For me, right now, making these images is a part of my life. I actually don't care so much what name they go by either; art, illustration, paintings. They are just what I am making. I feel compelled to continue creating. I bring the paintings as gifts and as an excuse to go by new neighbor's, and they are making me new friends in new place. I'm going to stick with my gut on this one and keep making, even at the risk of criticism or failure. I think that my worst fear is that some past professor that I respect will see what I am doing now and be disappointed that I am not doing something different. But when I really analyze that fear, I don't think it is true. I think that would be happy for me. Plus, I've been in lots of modern art galleries and read lots of fancy poetry journals, and sometimes, I just don't think that's my place. I want to be with people, talking and laughing and being happy just to be happy.


Jim Dalrymple said...

I really like your art! It is also the only religious art in my home, so that's good!

Also, just fyi, I mentioned it in a blog post I did last night. I thought I should tell you, so you'd know about it from me (I mentioned it in positive way, but I still wanted to let you know).

Heather said...

I think I speak for most people hn I say I buy your art because it WON'T go out of style. I have your rt framed and hung all over my house, and don't have any plans to take them down...ever! You're amazing! And I don't think that just because you're my cousin, although I totally brag about that!

emilia. said...

Since that time long long long ago (I can barely remember it), when we were in a writing class together, I have loved your ideas about art. I wouldn't be in an MFA program if I'd never read your work. Did I ever tell you that? It changed my life because it is gorgeous. Sometimes I think we should just make the most beautiful things that we can.

I'm about to do something crazy with my thesis project. I decided I'm just going to do this one part of it how I want to, because I know normal people will want to read it. And I want to write to real people.

There is wonder and the glory of God in your work. That sort of thing is just as important as cerebral academic stuff. Maybe more important. In the end, its why I love Emily Dickinson. She just made beautiful things to me.

Anyways, my dream is also to have a wall of all your fish.

Club Narwhal said...

I totally agree with Heather. And I think working on a children's books is the most wonderful idea. Your art speaks to so many people; combined with your words, I think it will be just plain awesome. My little brother and sister-in-law were so touched by your painting of the SLC temple. They said it was the first thing they wanted to hang in their home.

Rachel Olson said...

Ashlee! Thank you so much for this post, and for all your posts. They are so lovely.

We were just having a discussion in my Intro to English class about the snobbery of being an English major, and how many discount the importance of fantasy and science fiction because of it, partly because they're popular. I felt like your post was so applicable and beautifully-written, I had to put it up on our class group facebook page. And @emilia, that's why I love Emily Dickinson too! And Mary Oliver. Such good stuff.

Michaela said...

Hi! I just found your blog from the poetry billboard project....

I struggle with the same things - poetry is seen as so elitist and academic and inaccessible. Maybe just by myself, but still. And I want to be able to connect to people, to enjoy myself and life.

The key I think is compassion. If I seek out art and create art that at its core is compassionate to others, then I am not being stuffy or snobby or anything but what I am, which is a person who makes sense of the world around her by putting it into verse.

Thank you for your thoughts!

Deja said...

Thank you for this, in particular. It is in my heart now.