FREE ADMISSION. A conversation with Jeanne Beck. Jeanne, a writer turned artist in her 40’s, has spent decades learning to understand the creative process. Being open to change and recognizing that fear and resistance are lifelong companions in creative pursuits can deepen our connection to our creativity. In this conversation, we'll talk about the changes we choose - and even the ones we don’t - and how the way we respond to them can strengthen the very best qualities within us.
Description: TRUSTING CHANGE
Invention and reinvention are natural parts of human existence, whether we embrace or resist them. The physical world we live in changes over time naturally, although we humans seem intent on accelerating that process.
Deepak Chopra writes in Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, that even the human body we inhabit completely reinvents itself over and over during the course of our lifetimes. First we live in a baby body, then a child’s and so on. If we looked at a series of photos of ourselves taken at different ages, we would observe how different the bodies we identify as “me” look over time.
We are born to grow and change. As artists, we transform our daily observations and insights into visual responses. Where the desire to create art springs from is a mystery to many, perhaps even to artists themselves. But to make this choice to create visual art invites exploration - and that leads to adventures, challenges and a lifetime of invention and reinvention.
My own growth as a spiritually focused creative over the past two decades has been full of self-discovery and reinvention.
First Artistic Expression: Writing
My first creative tools were pens and paper. Simple tools and yet it can be unbelievably challenging to put thoughts and ideas on paper.
During the first part of my life, I kept a composition notebook and a pen nearby. I wrote almost daily. I was an avid journal and short story writer from the time I was 12. This writing practice helped channel some of my innate creativity. My elementary school offered no art classes or instruction; my small town junior and high schools did not allow college-bound students to study art.
When I became an adult, being able to write creatively and well provided a livelihood for me, first writing commercials for a radio station, then as a development and PR director. I even ran my own small publications company for eight years, writing for many different corporations.
Since writing was such an intrinsic part of me, I studied and received my MFA in creative writing in 1990, planning to settle into a life writing short stories and novels.
But several years passed and another major life shift happened when I decided to take a drawing class at the local community college.
I Discovered Visual Art!
I was in my early 40’s, newly remarried and empty nesting when I took that first art class. After that experience I was hooked. I took various classes, traveled to workshops and made a commitment to a daily art practice. I knew absolutely nothing about art, didn’t even know the difference between a #2 pencil and drawing pencils.
By 2001 I moved out of my small basement studio in my home to share a tiny studio with someone in a converted fruit syrup factory building in nearby Rochester, NY. At the time it was the boldest investment in my own creative growth I had ever made in my life. I never regretted it and within a few months more, moved into my own space next door.
With space to work I spent every possible moment absorbing and learning and practicing. I learned a variety of techniques and processes, one leading to another and another, and discovered I loved combining mediums and using materials in innovative ways.
I screen-printed, dyed, painted and machine and hand stitched on textiles. I also began to combine my love of texts and cursive handwriting by screen-printing using collected handwritten letters, diaries, and journals– anything with wonderfully old-fashioned cursive handwriting. I completed a body of new works when I was invited to do my first solo exhibit in 2007. The university library gallery where I exhibited purchased one of my constructed language pieces for their collection. That was wonderfully affirming and exciting.
By 2010 I realized another change was on the way. I was ready to say farewell to textiles. I had a huge “end of an era” sale in my studio and sold or gave away almost everything related to surface design. I was making way for the new but I didn’t yet know quite yet what that would be.
The Fluttering Pages Pieces
I woke up one morning early in 2011 with a dream image of an open window on a windy day. Sheer white curtains billowed and flapped against it. On top of a chest in front of the window sat a large, heavy book, wide open. The stiff breezes were catching the pages and causing them to turn rapidly. The phrase “fluttering pages” formed in my mind.
The idea arose from that visual to create a series of dimensional 2-D installations based on book arts. With lots of experimentation and trial and error, I discovered gold leaf application to spun polyester and made a prototype. When I showed the first piece in 2011, the response was wildly enthusiastic. So I made others. I called the series “Book of the Ancients”, plying founds texts as well as my own memories for words and phrases from my childhood. These works were well received. They won several awards, a gallery contract and a sale by an art consultant. A local university purchased three works for their student union in 2012.
When the first gallery closed, I kept working to create more fluttering pages so I could seek gallery representation, but the lengthy process required to make them reduced my ability to produce new works fast enough to supply galleries.
The works also seemed to be asking to come off the substrates and have more movement. By October of 2016 I had designed and made a first Fluttering Pages installation prototype. Displaying it first at a monthly First Friday open studio tour, it was a hit – I had to put up “please do not touch,” signs for the next First Friday open studio event because so many people couldn’t resist touching it.
Once I realized the installation idea would work, I knew I could make a shift I had been longing to make, to larger scale gestural paintings. It was not a matter of giving up the fluttering pages, but finding a way to make a large-scale installation slowly over the period of a year while providing time to invest in painting.
A New Chapter (Yes A Book Metaphor Again!)
I woke up the first week in January of this year and felt it was time to move to a larger studio space closer to home. With road construction and traffic, my daily commute in and out of the city was taking an hour each way, eating up precious working time.
Within three days of making inquiries and seeing first and second floor spaces, I chose a second floor loft space behind the Main Street business district. The new space is 1350 square feet, close to twice the size of my previous studio, with 10.5-foot high walls, hardwood floors and aged red brick on three walls, drywall on the other.
I held another huge sale, divesting of everything but what I would actually use in my new space. It was emotional to leave a studio I had loved for 15 years. While part of me grieved, another part of me felt strong and assured I was doing exactly what was right for my life and career right now. Like a hermit crab, I had outgrown my shell and needed a larger one.
I moved everything into my new space March 1, with construction still finishing up there, then packed up again and left April 1 for a four-week artist residency at Vermont Studio Center (my first residency experience). While there I worked on new paintings and started a larger fluttering pages installation.
Relocation to a new studio has spurred other changes. Many people can’t afford my art, so I’ve been making a collection of small original works that I can sell at affordable prices. One lady recently purchased one of these and said she was thrilled she could afford to buy something from me. That was a great validation for the idea.
I’ve even started a line of original art cards made from my mark making practice to sell for $15, so even someone on a minimal budget can enjoy owning a small work of original art. It feels so good to be able to offer this that I know this choice is right for me.
In my life, I have never been daring physically. I’ve never dreamed of climbing Mt. Everest, running the Boston marathon or navigating the Amazon. But I have always had a creatively adventurous spirit.
With new projects and plans and a deeper understanding of how to welcome change, I am releasing resistance and trusting more each day in the wisdom of the universe to bring exactly what is right and perfect for me to my door.
I am practicing being present, appreciative and compassionate to myself as well as others. I know the rest will take care of itself.
Jeanne Beck was born in Pittsburgh, PA and has lived in Canandaigua, NY in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region for 25 years.
Jeanne has always been creative. "My childhood was filled with colorful characters," she says. "It taught me everyone has unique stories to share." As an adult, she earned an MFA in creative writing and then transitioned to visual art.
Twenty years later, she is now a full-time experimental artist who creates mixed media paintings and large installations.
Her new loft gallery and studio in downtown Canandaigua NY’s historic business district opened in June 2017. Canandaigua is part of the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York State.
Jeanne’s works have appeared in many publications, invitationals and juried exhibitions and are part of private and public collections. These include University of Rochester’s Gleason Library and the MacVittie Student Union at SUNY Geneseo, New York. Beck also exhibited and lectured at SOFA Chicago 2009 and won a Niche Award in 2013.
In addition to art and writing, Beck’s interests include yoga, journaling, travel and cooking. She loves creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans, and collects river rocks, minerals and shells.