Have you ever been asked the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Or been asked to provide an explanation for something that you simply can’t explain?
I moved to Victoria from Toronto nine years ago to start my life over again. I needed to make some positive changes so, at 31, I sold and donated most of my belongings, packed my car with the rest, and headed west. Along the way, I made a quick stop in Chicago.
Someone there suggested I check out the exhibit at the Art Institute. The exhibit was “The Making of Seurat’s ‘La Grande Jatte'”. I had no idea what I was going to see but was open to a new experience.
For those unfamiliar with this painting, some might recall seeing it featured in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when the three main characters visit the same Art Institute. It’s the pointillist painting that Ferris’ best friend Cameron Fry is mesmerized by, the camera jump cutting in on the little girl until all we see are the dots that she is comprised of. It’s one of my favourite scenes in that film.
As I entered the exhibit I was led through a series of hallways with different pieces of artwork, at various stages in its development, hanging on the walls. There was a charcoal sketch drawing of a monkey, a half painted umbrella, a little girl’s hat – some paintings were small others large. It just seemed like a collection of small pieces of art created by the same artist.
There were nine stages to the exhibit with certain artworks repeating themselves as they changed form or colour, while others were joined together bit by bit – the little girl’s hat appearing on a little girl’s head, the monkey appearing with a woman holding the umbrella and so on.
I still had no idea what I was experiencing until I turned the corner to the final stage and in front of me was this massive painting of a picnic by the lake – it was nearly the size of a billboard along a highway – created using all of the images I had seen along the way. Not only this, but it was painted entirely in points – tiny dots that made up every image. The little girl, the monkey, the trees, the grass, everything was comprised of dots!
What I had just experienced was a journey through Seurat’s creative process, the small parts of his process that eventually became a masterpiece. It was truly inspiring.
You see, at that time, I was very disheartened. I was working in office jobs that didn’t suit me and had been trying so many things creatively to get me ‘out of the box’ with no real idea of how to make any of them fit together as a whole. I had written endless short pieces of prose and poetry, attempted to write some short stories and screenplays, some so similar to the next that it had always felt so pointless, so unfinished, like I had failed somehow.
But in that moment, staring at that colourful picnic by the lake, I realized that my writing attempts were just tiny ‘sketches’ from my life that could become part of a larger piece – my very own masterpiece.
This is what can be so challenging and yet so wonderful about the creative process. The fact that it takes time to build and create something, to put all the pieces together, and that sometimes it isn’t clear what the end result will be until you get there.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question we so often hear in job interviews or from family members or friends who worry or get frustrated when they can’t see clear results, only the odd sketch here and there. And many of us have ideas about where it is we want to be, sure.
I once answered that question with, “I don’t even know where I’m going to be tomorrow!” which didn’t do me any favours when it came to landing that job or relieving the stress my parents so often feel about my life. But at the time, it was an honest answer.
I was chatting with some fellow artists yesterday about this very topic, about the creative process. They asked me if I worked better alone or in collaboration. I told them about how I used to make videos by myself and that people kept telling me that if I wanted to make movies I would have to start working with other people.
At one point I was filming with no clear direction and within a matter of days had created a promotional video for a theatre festival. I honestly had no idea that’s what I was doing when I was doing it. I just did it. And this project led me into another documentary project about the performing arts which has ultimately led me to performing my own words.
I said to the guys yesterday, “Perhaps if I had known, I could have arranged for some compensation” or at the very least worked with some local broadcasters.
But that wasn’t my process.
Seurat clearly seemed to have a vision for his masterpiece and, in many ways, I do too. It’s just not a vision that I find easy to describe or explain. And I’m still not clear on how it will generate an income for me. I’m still trying to sort through all the pieces and determine how they best fit together.
I just have to continue to do the work, to trust in the process, and to believe that it will all come together even when I can’t honestly answer that question about where I will be in five years. It’s all still a mystery to me.
I just know that whatever will be will be. And whatever that is, it will be MY masterpiece.
And in the meantime – as my lovely friend Aspen Switzer sings about at the end of that video I made – I’m going to continue to remind myself that “there ain’t no way to ever know what way this life will go”, to “fall in love with the mystery”, and to “let it lead me to walking free.”