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Illusions

I remembered something else about the NBO biennial. I wasn't taking a class, but it was loose enough that people could and would drop in just to see what other people were doing and so Friday afternoon I stopped by Lissa Hunter's class. I don't remember the title, but it was more about process than production, no one was going to leave with any sort of real basket. When I came, they were going over the one actual thing they had made: a set of large (8"-12"?) "beads" strung on a rope across one wall of the classroom. Each person had brought a meaningful token from home, and had written down both physical terms (soft, round, blue-green, shiny...) and emotional connotations (grandfather, sailing, winter,...) for it. Then the descriptions were given to someone else who created a "bead" based off what they'd read. At the point I came in, each person was showing off what they'd made and what words they'd used and what they'd used in their interpretation, and at the end the other person would come up and show them the original token. And then that person would talk about their own work.

It was an exercise off Lissa's very sound description of how sometimes you might start with the ideas (or in this case, another person's ideas) and sometimes you might start with the materials (or even just a technique you want to try) and how you merge them.

But she also told a story that stuck in my head. Her father was a stage magician (? at least knew the magic) and often used the skills elsewhere, the sort of "pulling the coin out of the waitress's ear" that utterly embarrassed her when she was a teenager. When she was little, she kept asking to learn the tricks, but he said her fingers weren't able to handle them. She kept asking each year and when she was about 11 or 12, he taught her a basic trick. She did it, she did it well, but was disappointed. "This is just an illusion. Where's the magic?"

Of course she was old enough not to believe in real magic. But there's still that difference, that understanding exactly how something came to be takes away the "magic" of it. That's what we do as artists, she said now. We're making illusions for others, so they can see magic.

I already knew it's hard to critique my own work. I see too much of where I had to compromise, where something went a little bit off, where I could have spent more time and effort and maybe made it better. But now I can put it more succinctly why even the works I'm most pleased with will never quite have the "oh wow" factor I see in other people's works. They made magic. I only made an illusion.

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