Thursday, February 07, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday-Jenny's Influence Continues

"So—base your own work on a deep exploration of your own life and times, so that you have your most meaningful continuity and growth outward—AND inward —really the other way around—from there."

Jenny's gifts continue even though she is gone. I've opened my Jenny envelope and reread her letters. Several long letters sent in the late '80s were absolutely pivotal then and continue to teach me now. She has freed me once again.

I started doing calligraphy in 1978. It took me until 1991 to be able to have the words "I'm an artist" come out of my mouth when people asked me what I did. The difficulty I have now is explaining why I don't actively sell my work or so rarely use the skills I have acquired over the past thirty plus years (calligraphy, design, bookmaking) to make money.

In 1988, Jenny wrote me:

"Follow where your passion lies. It has never been false to me. It will not mislead you. Forget about 'marketing'."

Shortly after, I made the decision to teach for money and do my art for myself. I developed my program of teaching bookmaking in schools and for years my problem was balancing the two. I always did feel that the teaching justified the art in both the sense that I made money and that I was giving to the larger community.

In the past few years, I have left that teaching behind and struggle to be at peace with the idea that I am primarily an artist and more significantly, an artist who makes very little money from her work. There are two sides to this. One is that I am not immune to our culture's way of judging people by their livelihood. I don't feel pressure to make a lot of money, but rather to contribute what I think of as my financial share. It needs to be said here that my husband believes in me and says we can manage with whatever I do. And two, I have a strong belief that I need to give to the community and the world at large. I understand how I do that when I teach, but I can't quite believe that making art is enough.

Here's something I wrote this summer:
In some ways it all comes down to how one defines success which is something I have a hard time with. I want success as the world gives it out yet I don't want to do the things that the one needs to do. I have to understand what being an artist means to me, what I can and can't do because I am who I am, what to change and what to accept and how to move forward without burdens (many of which I gather myself) into the future.

While Jenny's letters may not have freed me from my doubts and sense of obligations, they have told me what I need to do. It's my attitude that needs to change, not the world's. I am taking a deep breath and saying: You are an artist. You can be one in whatever way you need and want to be. I am listening to Jenny when she wrote "have faith in your 'rightness' and mystery."


Mo Crow said...

You will always be the questioning artist Susan, challenging yourself every day, that's who you are & what you do! I look forward to reading your book and if you ever want to sell a Spirit Book I for one and many other people from all around the world would love to buy one! Each of your books shines with your deep heart and spirit, your art!

Cari Ferraro said...

So well said, and so true to Jenny's spirit, as your teacher, and to your own, as an artist and educator. You see, now you are educating about being an artist, with all of its attendant doubts and trials. I believe we all struggle with this. Thank you for sharing it. I too have been going through old correspondence with Jenny for the words of wisdom she shared so willingly with me and so many others.

Irene Peake said...


How blessed you are to have had such a mentor...thank you for sharing.


Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord said...

Thank you Mo, Cari, and Irene. My daughter was the one who encouraged me to invest more time in the blog and it has given me the opportunity to write more frequently and to have an audience to communicate with which has led to this writing about being an artist. Also the good reception my talks have gotten. People have commented more on the reflection part than the work itself.

Mo the little book is taking shape, different from expected, as most of life is. Just a small little volume of essays called Art Lessons:Reflections From An Artist's Life. I'll be writing more about it soon.

Mo Crow said...

This is such good news Susan!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. I was not aware of jenny's passing. She came to Dallas Calligraphy Guild (Kaligrafos) in the early 80's and I was lucky enough to host her during her stay to teach us. I was struggling with a Xmas card idea...drawing holly. At that time I didn't consider myself an artist. She insisted on going to the downtown library to show me how to research holly. (this was before internet) A few years later, I'd signed up for a workshop at the Zen Center near Jenny. A family emergency happened and I had to withdraw from the class just a week before. Within 2 weeks she had shipped me all the class materials...AND 2 of her prints on nature. Her teaching was wide spread and I loved her slideshow. It ended with her in her younger days, dancing in the flowers. You are so right, she is still living in the art of the many students she impacted. She will be missed.

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