CAF #3: Making Progress

Obstacles and Lessons Learned

Aside from what I am learning through my cohort and my research, one of the biggest educational aspects of this fellowship for me has been figuring out how to actually do a long-term self-led creative project. Going into the fellowship, I did a lot of planning, and had a pretty set vision of how I wanted my pieces to turn out for each specific poem. In general, I am a serial planner and love having everything mapped out ahead of time. While this is helpful for managing time and staying on track for upcoming deadlines, I found myself struggling to keep this model for my project because I realized I can’t predict and plan how my work is going to progress. I set out thinking that all of my translations would end up as multimedia collages in a very traditional digital sense, but have found myself drawn to video, narration, text, and material throughout the creative process. I struggled with this since I thought it meant I wasn’t focused and on task, but reflecting on my progress with my cohort and mentor helped me realize that I should lean into these things more and let myself explore different avenues as I work.

Surprisingly, a lot of the ideas and work I like the most so far has come from not having a set intention in mind. In this process of experimenting and going with the flow, I’m learning to trust myself more and am reminding myself that there are reasons why I feel drawn to certain things. It’s actually been pretty empowering and therapuetic to learn that intuition is often where creativity and individuality as an artist lies, and that I am capable and knowledgable through this intuition. There were many times where I didn’t figure out the meaning behind why I was doing what I was doing until after I did it, reflected, went back and did it again, and many times where I had to go back to my original blueprints to re-brainstorm, sketch, and plan. Sometimes the work and material gathered during making can come to inform or reshape the plan entirely, and sometimes the process of experimentation within the work comes to take on meaning itself.

As cheesy as it sounds, a central theme for me has been learning to “trust the process”. For instance, the calligraphy work in my project wouldn’t have developed into what it is if I only stuck to my original plans. What began with me randomly weaving Chinese characters from grass as I took a break from taking photos has now developed into a large part of my project. It isn’t something I could have planned since I had to physically engage with the material and act of weaving to construct meaning out of this performance (repetitive action that reminds me of learning to write in Chinese school, tenderness in physically holding the grass and its relationship to the care and fragility I associate with family and memory, nature as a point of connection between me and my heritage). Even after I dove into this process, though, I came upon the new obstacle of not knowing how it would fit within my original vision. I felt really worried and unsure of the work I was producing since it felt less like progress and more like veering off track. However, I recently had a breakthrough moment where what felt like were random unconnected pieces of work (including the woven and performance calligraphy) were finally coming together. That moment felt so relieving and exciting when seemingly disjointed things made sense as a whole. Looking back, I think the process of feeling confused and all the thoughts and emotions that brought up was necessary for me to have that epiphany.

Creative and Academic Approaches

Since my academic work within the studio arts major is also creative, there is a similar process of reworking. But, because I am giving myself my own deadlines in this project, sometimes I feel more flexibility in being able to explore, start over, or stray from original plans. I’m definitely still figuring out that balance of leaning into this and trusting intuition versus staying on task and meeting deadlines. For my classes in other disciplines like anthropology, Asian studies, etc., there is a lot more of a straightforward approach. There is a similar introspective aspect since much of the content in these classes is also very humanistic, but the literal completing of tasks in much more to-the-point. 

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