The Art of Hiking

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Last night, Sam had to remind me that I’m an artist.

I know how this sounds. You’re probably picturing a delicious melodrama, complete with mascara-streaked cheeks. But the reality was tame—boring even—with the crescendo being the point in the conversation when Sam said my Pet Portraits and Critter Collages “show technical skill,” but aren’t really art.

Oh no he didn’t!

But I know this. And after dumping a boatload of excuses and misbegotten online business theories into our conversation, I realized that the best course of action was to just sit there and take it. Sam’s concern was real. Is real. And while he didn’t go as far to say that I’m wasting my time worrying about Etsy sales, he did make it very clear that I’m not realizing my true potential; that I’m not experimenting enough; that I’m afraid to make mistakes. And, he’s right.

In art, I strive for beauty, simplicity, and economy. I prefer to keep things tidy and controlled, and look for opportunities to re-use or re-purpose objects and materials. I surround myself with the things I do well, and ignore the things I don’t. The result: I’m not making real art because I’m afraid to make the mistakes that make art real.

On a recent hike, my conversation with Sam followed me up a mountain, and back down again. Mishka and I were nearly back to the car when she spotted a cow, gently chewing and staring (as cows do) by the side of the trail. The cow watched Mishka intently as the dog picked up speed. My first instinct was to call Mishka back to me, but for a fleeting moment, my curiosity (or mischievousness) got the better of me: I wanted to see what would happen.

There is something about dogs being allowed to be dogs—the complete, uninhibited joy they express running, full tilt, nose to the ground through thick grass, or (in this case) chasing a cow. There exists an almost perfect pleasure in observing something being its truest self, free of control.

When we lose control (or the illusion of control), we are usually disoriented or entertained, frustrated, enlightened or frightened. But, the moment before we take action is also one of the few instances in our crazy, modern lives in which we’re fully present and capable of seeing a variety of possible paths.

This is where art happens.

I’ve gotten so wrapped up in my control of the artistic process that I’ve forgotten how to trust the materials, and my talent. I’ve been so focused on economy and efficiency that art-making has stopped being a form of meditation, or a means of discovery. Tragically, I have distilled art down to its component parts: technical skills and end products.

Sam, during one of several pep talks, told me, “You don’t need to shit diamonds all of the time. Sometimes it’s diamonds, but sometimes it’s just shit.” Right again, husband. This little bit of wisdom reaches beyond art, too. Making mistakes is messy, expensive, and downright inconvenient. But ignoring the process (of art, of life) means missing out on some of the richest parts.

This is what I’ve decided: My art-making process should be more like my hikes. When I hike, I move slowly and steadily; I keep all of the things I need within easy reach; I take time to stretch, to breathe, and to look around; I find extreme joy and satisfaction in seeing how far I’ve come, but always feel motivated to push myself a little further; I focus on the process, not the goal; I turn back when I’m tired; and every time, nothing makes me happier than giving Mishka a few extra minutes off the leash.

Photo courtesy Sam Kraegel

Photo courtesy Sam Kraegel.

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