An insightful student recently commented on the musicality in my artwork, its rhythms, syncopation and fugue-like structures. I was so touched by the comment that it caught me slightly off guard. When she asked if I was a musician, I talked about growing up with pro musicians, but I completely forgot those whole decades of my life devoted to dancing and choreographing.
A few years ago my teaching assistant for a different filigree workshop asked me what were my earliest memories of being creative. I told her that my recollections of my toddler self, dancing around the den to Dave Brubeck records with my security blanket as part costume, part prop, are as clear to me as the memory of the birth of my son. What is so palpable still is not my toddler moves but the act of choreographing in my mind all the other dancers I saw in my imagination.
My TA had watched me balance all the different skill levels, technical problems, design questions, and goals of 12 students for 5 days. “So you’ve made part of your career choreographing what you’re expressing through metal and how other people move through learning that process from you,” she commented.
Talk about hitting a nail on the head.
Describing in words how to visualize the 5/4 rhythms and patterns of sound that permeate everything I create is rather esoteric. I’ve spent so much of my career talking, teaching, and writing about the technical how-to aspect of my work, that it’s become my default modus operandi. Articulating what my artwork is about is far more difficult.
Reflecting on my answers to both of my keen observers, I began to wonder if it’s even possible. How do you put tones, gestures, and colors into words? Sure you can give them labels, but how do you explain the color blue, feeling blue, or blues music to someone who’s never experienced them? You could say, blue is the color of the sky, or the blues bend notes that slide into pitch with a long languishing, sometimes angsting hesitation that’s a lot like feeling blue, but if you’ve never experienced these things, how helpful are those descriptions? How does one explain that looking at stars through a telescope drives me to make things that look nothing like stars?
A while back, I changed my about page in an effort to describe more fully the scope of what I do in so many different and detailed processes. “…Lansford has spent over 40 years working in the visual, literary, and performing arts to paint with fire, forge with words, and choreograph with color, line, and texture. ..” Shoving that into an 80 word byline now required by most workshop and conference hosts means people may understand even less about what I do than before my introduction, nonetheless, it’s all true. What I really am is a creative synesthete. I don’t experience the smell of a number or the taste of a word as syntesthetes might, but if I move wire into a shape, my whole being is engaged even if only my hands move. I see pirouettes in wire spirals and brushstrokes in hammer marks, and everything happens to a beat in my head that, clearly, only I can hear.
Unlike the art world that seeks in vain to create divisions between art and craft, for me brushes and pliers, songs and watercolors, hammers and pencils are all merely different tools in one huge lifelong creative pursuit that feels like making something.