Art Has Taught Me

 

Kristina Campbell is a multimedia artist and an intern at The Haven. 

She is collaborating with Jennifer Hilton on the Haven Video Portraits.

 

“Your muse needs to know where to find you.”

I had always attributed this quote to Pablo Picasso. Like a game of telephone I have filtered the quote through me because a Google search revealed that Picasso’s actual words were, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

I’ve always viewed art as my therapy, a way of making sense of my world and personal experiences. Art has always been my greatest teacher. When I think of the things that I have learned in my life, the lessons have often been taught best by my art practice, starting with the fact that I have an art practice… not an art perfect.

Art taught me to say yes to opportunities and to embrace the value of learning in unfamiliar territory. As a parent I tried to encourage my kids to try new things, to develop new skills and to embrace being a beginner. As I think about that, I wonder why it is so difficult for me to hold that attitude as an adult. “I don’t know how to do that” or “I’m not good at that” and I’ve quit before I even begin. As I left art school I saw how many of my most interesting projects had begun with a firm “No!”

My journey into video began out of necessity as opposed to desire. I was barely able to use a computer. I was intimidated by the foreign language of video software and the myriad keyboard commands. Art taught me to ask for help, and I learned that there is help when I ask.

When I said “Yes!” to Jennifer’s request to create some video portraits I wasn’t really sure what I was saying yes to. What has unfolded has been a project of greater scope and complexity than either of us had imagined. In our initial conversations the task seemed relatively straightforward. My art continues to try to teach me to let go of assumptions that I know where things are going and that I am in control of it. Often for me now, embarking on a creative project is like setting off on a journey without much of a plan, just an idea of what I am interested in exploring. 

Previous to working in video, my work was fully executed in my mind before I took a single external action. As I began to work with experimental film and video art I recognized that my art had far more interesting plans than I could even begin to imagine. Art continues to try and teach me that the most beautiful experiences are often those that I just allow to unfold.

My relationship with Jennifer has developed and grown as I have been willing to reveal my stuck places and triggers. I vote for quantity over quality every time and am always the first to say, “Good enough.” As much as I have appreciated Jennifer’s eye for and ability to track detail, her commitment to consistency and quality has challenged me as well. I have learned about myself, and see the echoes of lifelong patterns of rebellion and resistance when in response to my “Good enough,” Jennifer responds, “It can be better.”

I recognize the place where I throw up my hands in frustration, thinking to myself that it will never be good enough. Each time Jennifer challenges me to make it better, and I do, a solution is found, the answer presents itself and I learn how to make it better. Resilience, elasticity, stretching a little further each time; increasing my ability to problem solve, increasing my capacity to sit in the discomfort of the self-judgement of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t know how”, when the thing I have created is sent back for revision, another tweaking.

I like order. I like to know where things are. In the scale of this project the sheer quantity of raw footage, and the various versions of each iteration of these portraits that has been mine to organize has overwhelmed me. My best efforts to track and create order are woefully insufficient to this task, and I have learned to work in a messy computer with more files than I ever imagined that I would need to sort through. I have learned that I can find what I need, when I need it, even in chaos. Faith.

As Jennifer and I began to edit the video of these willing and vulnerable participants, distilling 20 or 30 minute interviews down into 2 or 3 minute clips suitable for web viewing was our first big challenge. As we sat there looking at all this beautiful footage, we were both overwhelmed by the task. Art has taught me to take baby steps, and that inching forward is still making progress. As we struggled to edit, we began the only place that we could find to start, which was to simply to remove only that which we were certain didn’t belong. With each piece of footage that was removed the essence of each person’s message began to appear, just as a sculptor removes the marble that doesn’t belong to reveal the figure hidden inside.

As this project has evolved I have evolved. As I share with Jennifer the places I get stuck, our understanding and appreciation of each other and our differences has increased. I see how powerfully affirming it is to work in a relationship where I have been able to share my difficulties, my frustrations, and to celebrate my joy in the act of creation.

To work as a collaborative artist is very different than working independently. The communication skills I have learned at the Haven, my self-awareness about how I work, and being able to gently laugh at myself as I throw my hands in the air in petulant frustration have made the creation of these videos an incredible experience. I have not enjoyed all of it, I have had to wrestle myself to my computer some days, and when I see what we have created together I am inspired by what two people, both committed to self-aware, self-responsible relationships can create, and it truly is co-creation.

There have been times where I have likened our process to trying to sculpt play-do with someone else’s hands, like in the game of Cranium. As Jennifer holds my hands, I have no idea what she is trying to make, and she is mute, not because of the rules of the game, but because of her inexperience with editing video. Her vision for this project has always been crystal clear, even when we could only begin by taking away. Art has taught me that sometimes knowing what you don’t want is a vital first step towards knowing what you do want. And we both want more; more challenge, more reward, more learning and more delight in our collaboration.

It has been an honour to create these videos for the Haven, to be a part of sharing these stories of the incredible impact learning vulnerability and curiosity has on people’s lives.

Courage is a muscle that strengthens with exercise…and it’s especially lovely when someone is holding your hands.

 

*************

 

Watch the Haven Video Portraits.