Object Dar't

August 9, 2010

MONDAY'S MUSINGS: Creativity Interview with Artist, Joyce Rettstadt

This is the first of what I hope will be a weekly interview with someone I consider an artist. While this week does in fact feature a traditional artist, my goal is to select people who have taken whatever they do to the level of a "craft", be it programming, financial planning or painting. It is my hope that readers will not only understand the creative process but recognize it in themselves. It is the starting-off point of becoming who you were born to be. :) 

This week, I interviewed artist Joyce Rettstadt. Mrs. Rettstadt was actually my elementary school art teacher and was someone who set me on my path of creativity. She was through and through a Yankee; tough, capable, talented and a no-frills, honest-to-god artist. She ALWAYS had a pencil stuck in her bun and her baby, a gigatinormous weaving loom, sat in the back of the classroom. That room might as well have been a crack den with me as the addict. 

Hollyhocks by Joyce Rettstadt
Mrs. Rettstadt currently spends her time creating beautiful watercolors that of course she handles in her own unique way. She's 74, still full of vim and vigor and shared what I feel is such an honest, straightforward account of the active process of creativity. Give it a read and leave your thoughts in the comments box:

OBJECT DAR'T: for anyone not familiar with you and your work, can you give us a brief description of who you are and what you do?

JOYCE RETTSTADT: I studied at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, PA., majoring in Textile Design. I have a M.A. from Clark University. I taught art at the elementary level in public schools and also at Clark University. I was a professional weaver of liturgical vesture until 1999. In 1997, I took a watercolor class at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA, which opened up a whole new beginning for my creative life. I retired from weaving and am now painting whenever I can! I think that my joy is reflected in my paintings. Another important aspect to my life at 74 is the fact that I have become a foster parent to a young refugee from Liberia. Willy is an orphan and has witnessed some terrible things in his life, but he also is an artist... a musician!

OD: how do you define someone who is "creative"? 

JOYCE: Someone who is a problem-solver but creates their own problems to solve rather than solving problems posed by others.

OD: do you consider yourself "creative"? 

JOYCE: Absolutely!
Thompson Harvest by Joyce Rettstadt
 OD: how do you experience inspiration? 

JOYCE: Inspire means to "breath in". We take breath from all around us. Everything has potential for motivating us.
OD: Have you found any rhyme or reason to it? 

JOYCE: The muse is fickle. She only visits when she wants. It can't be forced.

OD: So, how do you handle it? 

JOYCE: I chop wood or vacuum. It frees the head! I am reading a wonderful new biography, "CHUCK CLOSE LIFE" by Christopher Finch. In it, Chuck Close is quoted as saying, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just go to the studio and get on with it." Close had a very difficult youth with learning disabilities etc. In addition, he had a traumatic medical event that left him paralyzed. He was able to overcome all of these issues to become a premier American painter. Very good role model for those with issues and an excellent read.

OD: please describe your creative process and some of the challenges you experience.

JOYCE: My greatest issue has always been the centering process. This is a quote from a talk that I gave in Boston several years ago to those who were using art as a therapy to recover from breast cancer:
"In the creative process, there is a centering that must take place. Writing or painting or composing is NOT usually a group experience...it is solitary. And at first there are all those distractions. Things to do, plans to make, bills to pay, dinner to cook and on and on. The mind will not shut up but we must be patient and work to still that blabbering voice that is always trying to get our full attention.
Craftsmen, artist. writers musicians and even athletes speak of the experience of 'liminal' moments when they are apart from time, when they are so focused that time ceases to exist. The self is absorbed. It is a wonderful place to be!!"

OD: do you ever feel obsessed about projects you are working on and if so, how do you handle the emotional aspects of it? 

JOYCE: Obsession is the active part of the creative process. When the project is near completion, the obsession subsides and the displeasure with the final work is the germ that begins to form the next project. The "Oh, if I had done thus and so, it would have been so much better". That is not to say that you are displeased with your own work...but realize the impetus that will propel you forward.
Peepshow by Joyce Rettstadt
 OD: do you ever run out of ideas or fear your creative well will run dry? 

JOYCE: No!!!

OD: If so, how do you handle that? 

JOYCE: Be assured and be patient. You can't help a butterfly out of a cocoon. If you try, you kill it. Transformation is patient.

OD: how has your "creative" self evolved over time? What growth do you see? 

JOYCE: I have applied the creativity to several disciplines. It doesn't matter what medium you are working in, the same principles apply. As I have aged, I have felt more and more comfortable in my own skin. I no longer have to earn a living with my art/craft so the pressure isn't as great.

OD: in closing, many of my readers are afraid of rejection & criticism and can't see themselves as talented or creative. What would you say to encourage them? 

JOYCE: I was fortunate to go to a professional art school where the "critique" was the backbone of the learning experience. On a regular basis, my work would be tacked up on the wall and constructively pulled apart by my fellow classmates and finally by the instructor. At first, it was a crushing experience but the learning you derive from it is substantial. Having work rejected from a show is also difficult to accept at first until you realize that the decisions were made by a human being who might have totally different sensibility. Get over the fear of failure. Sin boldly!!!!

Potting Shed by Joyce Rettstadt