By STEVEN ARMSTRONG, MFA student in the Writing and Consciousness MFA program
This post was written as an assignment for professor Cindy Shearer’s Aesthetics of Value course. In Aesthetics of Value, students explore their arts heritage and inquire into the values that guide their creative work.
Arts heritage: What is this and what does it mean? The term alone sounded interesting enough to warrant a closer look. At the end of my first year in the Writing and Consciousness program at CIIS, I was presented with a taste of the notion of one's arts heritage (or as faculty member, Anne Bluethenthal, called it, one’s "spiralage”) by asking the question, What do you love? This question allowed for a fun way to explore what interested and influenced me as an artist, and to share that proudly.
The Aesthetics of Value course with Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts professor, Cindy Shearer, offered another doorway that lead into a deeper space for the exploration of my arts heritage. The process of digging into the trunk of my arts heritage felt like doing an extensive search for my earliest known relative on Ancestry.com (which I have tried, in case you were wondering). Beginning at the beginning, I charted the path that led me to where I am today. Drawing was where it all started for me, as a kid in elementary school. I often daydreamed, and relished every opportunity I got to unleash my imagination and pour some of what I saw in my daydreams on to a sheet of paper. During that same time period, I was also introduced to writing as a way to express my thoughts and feelings. I resisted writing at first, feeling that it wasn't as interesting or as fun as drawing. However, it wasn't long before I was using both drawing and writing as outlets for my creativity. Going through and reliving the accomplishments and heartaches of my formative years regarding my arts endeavors, I was brought back to that place of past joys and discovered the how and why of what I do. It was about finding the simplest, most uncomplicated reason for making art: it made me happy, as cliché as that may be.
After having stopped drawing for a number of years—with little dips back into drawing, my “arts mother"—I focused most exclusively on my “arts father,” writing, which led me to CIIS. I've now returned to drawing while still using writing to express and also challenge myself. I also picked up other forms of expression along the way to CIIS, in music and film, and discovered the love affair that writing, music and film can have. Inquiring into my arts heritage took the question of What Do You Love beyond the fun factor: that is, it reintroduced me to what I am interested in with a more analytical and curious eye, in order to understand why. Merely identifying what I love doesn't go as far as figuring out why I’m drawn to what I love. For me, that's what Cindy Shearer’s Aesthetics of Value course has been about, too. Yes, these pieces of my arts heritage make me happy to explore, but they also test me, both consciously and unconsciously. In the end, I think that this is the task that artists choose in creating their art.