Miranda Aisling found her passion at a very young age. She went to college at the age of 14, and by her junior year of college, two things gave her a clear direction in life. The first was deciding to open up an art center. The second was a trip to El Salvador that changed her life. In this episode, learn about her work as an artist, community builder, and creator of Miranda’s Hearth, the first Community Art Hotel.

Here are three things you can learn from Miranda:

The beauty of experimentation

One of the things artists need to embrace more is the idea of experimentation. When we look up at the paintings hanging in gallery walls, we ask ourselves how someone was able to create that. What many of us don’t see is all the effort it took to get there.

Every artist goes through phases of exploration and experimentation. We start off trying to mimic our heroes. What we soon discover is, we can’t recreate a piece of art, no matter how hard we try. So we must experiment for ourselves.

Miranda believes the artists who came before can teach us the lessons they learned through experimentation. She believes after learning from the masters, we must experiment for ourselves. “I think how you find out what works is through experimentation.”

She also believes that, after experimenting and trying to mimic other people’s work, you discover yourself. “You can try and make something perfect and you can mimic it perfectly, but it’s actually in the way you can’t make it the same that you find your own voice.”

The beauty of art is, you can both learn from others and from experimentation. It is when those two worlds collide that we find what really works for us.

Curiosity’s role in creativity

Miranda believes curiosity lies at the center of creativity. “Curiosity really is the root of creativity. Artists are the people that sit there and they ask, and they try to express what they find whether they can or not. Through expression they try to find the answers.”

She believes it is something that is missing from our education system. We don’t allow people to explore their curiosity. Instead we try to force people to memorize facts. “By playing to a test, we beat out curiosity, because we say, there is an answer. This is the right answer. This is what it is and if you tell me it back, you’ll be correct, and you’ll pass, and you’ll move on. But manifesting curiosity is actually really humbling.”

Instead of relying on people to give us the answers, we need to discover them for ourselves. We need to develop our own humble curiosity. We need to ask what if. We need to find our own expression. When we do, we will have found our connection to creativity.

The importance of art

While on her trip to El Salvador, Miranda discovered the importance of art. Her trip visiting a war torn town changed her entire perspective of what art could be. She saw the way it could bring people together after experiencing such tragedy.

The town was the site of a horrific massacre that left only one survivor. So along with Claudia Bernardi and Walls of Hope, they painted a mural with people who came back to the town. This trip is the reason Miranda does what she does and doesn’t stray off the path.

“It was at that moment that I realized how vital art is, that it’s not just million dollar pieces hanging on a museum wall behind a piece of glass. That, cliché as it sounds, it literally builds communities. It brings people back together. It brings meaning to life. And that was the moment when I realized that I didn’t want to dedicate my life to pursuing some gallery position selling artwork to the 1%. I wanted to help rebuild. I wanted to help create connection and I saw art as the vehicle. For me art has always been a vehicle. It is not a purpose in and of itself… for me art is the means, and human connection and finding meaning through life, that’s the purpose. That’s what art helps us do.”

Shownotes

  • jack of all trades, arts organizer and connecting people/things
    • experiments in a lot of different realms
    • is able to communicate with people in different mediums
    • learning by doing lots of different things
    • creative process is consistent no matter the medium
  • upbringing
    • was not a virtuoso
    • played piano, but hated it until she learned to play Für Elise
      • was no longer learning technique, but learned expression
    • everything else was exploratory – knitting, fiber arts, etc.
    • sat down with materials and saw what happened
    • went with older sister to Michaels
      • sister scoffed at her picking elaborate patterns
      • sister was jealous of her ability to work outside of the norms
    • likes exploring and playing
    • tried many different things
    • when she went to college at 14, she was able to explore different things
    • took first major art class and got hooked
    • parents were supportive of her practice in arts
      • mom told her to figure out what she wanted to do with it
      • guided her to being a community artist

7:31 “I’ve always balanced that kind of exploratory encouragement with a really practical, realistic, approach to what it means to make a living out of being an artist.”

  • what drew her to community art
    • her mother was theater artist
      • warned her it is really hard to do
    • Miranda studied painting and what she wanted to do
    • originally studied art and psychology
      • realized she would be a terrible therapist
      • works better in macro scale as opposed to micro scale
      • community art is more macro than therapeutic art

8:22 “I was leaning towards doing something else for the most part because I wanted my art to maintain it’s disconnection, in a sense. I’m really glad that I’ve never made money off of my art. I’ve sold a couple of paintings here and there, but I never needed the money that I make off of my art. And I think that’s really freeing for my art. That being said, I do think my entire career is based out of art and creativity.”

  • classes she took in college
    • was indecisive – double major and triple minor
    • majored in painting and pottery, minored in piano performance, psychology, and art history
    • took other classes unrelated to her course studies
      • these classes stood out because they created a more rounded education than going to art college
      • things she learned in medical sociology informs the work that she does as a community artist more than drawing classes
    • most influential class – materials as metaphor
      • teacher encouraged the class to experiment
      • sketchbook was an encyclopedia
        • were encouraged to destroy it
      • were let loose – melded plastic bags together
      • open-ended exploration was important
      • not a technique driven school which fit her learning style

12:14 “It was really important to my artistic development that I was in a program that encouraged me to just play around, to just try to figure out what worked best for me as far as developing my voice.”

  • experimentation vs. knowing what works
    • her experiments with drip art and rug sample sponges
    • pottery as an art form vs. oil paintings
      • pottery was made all over the world independently
      • everyone experimented and came up with the same things
    • senior thesis in pottery – people separated by time and oceans, but they still had similarities
    • Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson
    • Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist
      • “A wonderful thing about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies, and our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives and that is how we evolve.” – Austin Kleon
    • even when you try to mimic others, you still can’t create a perfect copy
    • imperfections make us beautiful
    • Good Will Hunting – imperfections are what make us fall in love with each other and the world
    • it’s in the way you can’t re-create something
    • not being able to re-create your own work either
    • it’s about the process of creating

12:40 “I think how you find out what works is through experimentation.”

13:32 “I would say that the point of learning established techniques is to learn what other people have already experimented with. You shouldn’t have to re-create perspective because people spent years and years and years figuring out how to do that well. So, they did the experimenting so you don’t have to… but I think everything is learned through experimentation.”

18:18 “You can try and make something perfect and you can mimic it perfectly, but it’s actually in the way you can’t make it the same that you find your own voice.”

  • origins of her book
    • started as her Master’s thesis
    • wanted to create creativity training program for professionals
    • 19 year old graduate student
      • who would listen to a 19 year old?
    • most people stop when they think they can’t create what’s in their mind
    • art is a heavy term, it has weight and stigmas
      • you can get bogged down before you even create

20:21 “I think re-introducing creativity and curiosity and a desire to learn is vital to just about any profession, but it was from my defeat that I came up with… the concept for the book, because what I wanted to create was in my mind a piece of art. It was this program that would train people, that would help people grow, that would contribute to the world in this really grand way. And I felt completely unprepared to do that, and I think that moment is where most people stop.”

21:43 “I find this for myself is that if my idea gets too big and weighty then there’s no way that I’m going to do it. So I always try and break things down into manageable pieces. I say, you know, I’m not going to make an art piece. I’m not going to make a masterpiece. I might not even make a painting. I’m just going to make something. I’m just going to make sure that I do something and hopefully, in the long run, you do enough little somethings that grow into other somethings, that it becomes a piece of art. But I think of you start by trying to make art, you’ll be so intimidated that you’ll never make anything at all. But if you start with just attempting to make something, whatever it is, wherever it goes, then at least you’ll start along the path and I think that’s one of the hardest parts of creating.”

  • surprising examples of people who just started making something
    • hosts dinner and music nights in Harvard Square
      • bring people together under Miranda’s Hearth to make something together
      • Ryan Bonaparte wrote Crazy Enough to Try – finding your passion
        • engineer surrounded by artists
        • mural project post – I tried to make something… and it worked!
        • made it comfortable by creating structure, then taking them away
        • being surrounded by creative people
        • taking charcoal and creating web shapes
        • someone asked how he made it
        • was happy to share experiment with people
        • was in structured environment where he was allowed to experiment
        • it’s hard to make the first step
    • labels that stop us from creating
      • natural talent in art, math, sports, etc.
      • Carol Dweck – fixed mindset
      • growth mindset – TED Talk comparing different country’s systems
        • Japan – good at math? – recognize effort vs. talent
      • Miranda did not call herself an artist in school
        • only after four years and a gallery show did she consider herself an artist
        • took years to become comfortable announcing herself as an artist
    • imposter syndrome – no one is truly an expert
      • being a teacher and giving tours at museum of fine art
      • doing research half an hour before giving tour
      • hour later, imparting wisdom
      • being an expert comes from confidence
      • wisest people know what they don’t know
      • the further you deep into a subject, the more you realize you don’t know
      • Albert Einstein and creativity

26:39 “I think labels can be incredibly dangerous. They can also be incredibly helpful. The reason they’re dangerous is… you get too comfortable, and you fall into it and you think ‘Oh, this is what I do and I’m not good at this other thing because of that.'”

28:04 “There’s a form of empowerment that comes when you finally feel ready to take on the label of an artist or a musician, when you finally feel like you’ve worked hard enough to feel comfortable calling yourself an artist.”

29:21 “As I’ve gotten more comfortable it’s meant, well, if I really am an artist, which I do identify as such, I need to make sure that I actually spend time in the studio.”

29:33 “I think in some ways labels can be helpful as long as you are aware of what they are doing and what they are constructing.”

  • asking questions and curiosity
    • develop your humble curiosity
    • what happens if… and originality
    • combining existing things
    • figuring out your own expression
    • performing the same art, but bringing new depth to it (Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart, etc.)
    • The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
    • community arts – storytelling is memorizing first and last lines
      • memorizing the bones of the story
      • performances are affected by many different factors
      • different interpretations of the same piece of art

32:57 “Curiosity really is the root of creativity. Artists are the people that sit there and they ask, and they try to express what they find whether they can or not. Through expression they try to find the answers.”

33:24 “By playing to a test, we beat out curiosity, because we say, there is an answer. This is the right answer. This is what it is and if you tell me it back, you’ll be correct, and you’ll pass, and you’ll move on. But manifesting curiosity is actually really humbling.”

38:12 “The people who you are creating for have just as much of an impact on your artwork as you do.”

  • starting up her group (Miranda’s Hearth)
    • has always known what she wanted to do in life
    • knew she wanted to start community arts program at 16
    • as sophomore she went on life changing trip in El Salvador
    • will not only be a community arts group but also a hotel
      • take run down building and revitalize it through the arts
      • renovate rooms with art made by the community
      • when people stay, they can buy art in the room, take art classes, etc.
      • make art a part of daily life and break down barriers created by art institutions
      • help people realize creativity/art is everywhere
    • Ideas Into Action class in grad class
      • spends 75% of time fundraising
      • Miranda wanted to create something that didn’t require fundraising
      • started hosting events to build community first, then the community can help make the building
      • Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
    • Music, Art, & Wine night
      • started in July 2013 with four people
      • played music, and talked about projects, etc.
      • has done them every month since then
      • has grown in depth, built relationships and histories with each other
      • now public events with a different feature of different subjects
      • creating community through creativity that is affordable, accessible, and approachable
      • growing enough to work on the hotel
      • the power of strong connections and relationships

44:41 “I started the community that I wanted to be a part of and it’s been really fundamental for my stability and my growth professionally and personally because all that really matters when it comes down to it is genuine human connection. And I think that the reason so many people are drawn to art is that it is one of the best conductors of human connection.”

  • spending much of your free time in the arts (music, tv, movies, etc.)
    • realizing someone made something in the hotel, getting to meet them, taking class with them

45:41 “Unless you’re standing in an untouched forest,  in the middle of nowhere, everything around you was at some point made by someone. We live in these fabricated worlds and yet we rarely stop to think about who made them or why or how. So the concept of the hotel is to break down those barriers and connect the people who make things so the people who use things. Connect to the artists to the audience and the creator to the consumer.”

46:33 “It’s about caring about the human behind the art that art comes to be more meaningful in our lives. What I think art really does is that it signifies a story, It signifies a connection. And honestly, the art itself is not actually important to me… To me what’s important is not a painting. It is to be painting. It is being in the room and creating and it’s a story that I make while in that room, and a story that I can then share with everyone else.”

  • not being able to express what you’re thinking when you’re creating
    • emotional vs. technical abstract art
    • artists can’t talk about what they do because if they could, they would talk instead of create
    • envying artists who can express
    • being visual/kinesthetic learner
    • not being able to express something but through painting
    • if you’re creating for everyone, you’re creating for no one

49:20 “As an artist you have to accept that not everyone will connect. You don’t want everyone to connect because if everyone connected, it probably means that it’s oversimplified and shallow.”

  • different learning styles for different people
    • Howard Gardener – multiple intelligences (audio, visual, spatial)
    • cartoon about educational system – animals lined up in front of guy at a desk asked to climb a tree
    • learning what art form was best for her (realism vs. abstraction)

50:35 “One of the most important things you can do for yourself  with growth as a human being in mind is to learn how you learn. And too often in our culture is so focused on logical based learning… we assume that that is the only way to learn, but it’s not. And so many people are lost in both the educational system and then later in their professions because we assume that everyone should communicate in these ways.”

  • best method for learning
    • test for what method works best for you
    • another method is experimentation
    • figured out the way she learns is through writing and visual recognition
    • the act of writing made her learn
  • importance of failure
    • “Being prepared isn’t a matter of how much you practice. It’s about knowing that even if you fail, you won’t give up.” – John Maeda
    • learning how to learn better

55:29 “You will always fail. You will never be so good that you are invulnerable to failure, and so the true expert, the true wise man, the true sage knows how to keep going even when they fail.”

  • next step in Miranda’s Hearth
    • building the first room (at the time of recording)
    • has a strong enough community to build it
    • tiny house being filled with hand made items
    • will be used as a hotel room
    • will live in it while searching for place to put Miranda’s Hearth
    • then start developing hotel
    • will also continue events (book club, fiber arts group, waltzing)
    • create engagement with community
    • making it approachable to everyone
    • turning the idea into a community
  • trip to El Salvador
    • led by Claudia Bernardi who runs Walls of Hope
      • paints murals across world and works with people across the world
    • 10 day spring break trip
    • had to learn the history before they went
      • had Civil War in 70’s/80’s
    • painting mural on one room library
    • visit to town on edge of guerrilla/government territory
      • was trying to be impartial
      • government officials came and massacred the town
      • one survivor from the attack
      • read her account of that night and went to the town
      • excavation from the church
      • created beautiful mural of children dancing and names and ages of victims
      • one piece was surrounded by garden
      • creating mural with people who came back
      • playing with children, weeding the garden
      • time in El Salvador is the reason she does what she does, and why she doesn’t stray off the path

1:03:46 “It was at that moment that I realized how vital art is, that it’s not just million dollar pieces hanging on a museum wall behind a piece of glass. That, cliché as it sounds, it literally builds communities. It brings people back together. It brings meaning to life. And that was the moment when I realized that I didn’t want to dedicate my life to pursuing some gallery position selling artwork to the 1%. I wanted to help rebuild. I wanted to help create connection and I saw art as the vehicle. For me art has always been a vehicle. It is not a purpose in and of itself… for me art is the means, and human connection and finding meaning through life, that’s the purpose. That’s what art helps us do.”

1:05:15 “It’s important in the darkest of place and it’s also important in the lightest of places to remember that creativity reminds us why we’re here.”

  • singular moments can have an enormous impact on our lives

“Everything you do makes an impact and it might not be huge and it might not be remembered and you might not be remembered but the concept might not be, but it makes you love much more intentionally. To be aware that everything you do has an impact on someone or something or at least that it could. The possibility of impact is there.

“I’m not a pipeline. I’m a mule, and the way that I have to work is, that I have to get up at the same time every day and sweat and labor and barrel through it incredibly awkwardly  – Elizabeth Gilbert

“We’ve created this really harmful story of what it means to be an artist in our culture. She [Gilbert] talks a lot about it in that TED Talk about how we’ve called ourselves geniuses. We talk about inspiration striking. We make it seem like these genius impulses coming from natural inborn talents. When really what it comes down to. What art comes down to. What grand projects come down to is effort, is putting in the time, and people don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to hear that it takes time. That it takes endless, repetitive, obnoxious, menial tasks to get anywhere… if you’re a good artist, people don’t see that. They see the inspiration. They read the masterpiece. They listen to the song and they don’t recognize our, our culture doesn’t recognize the effort that it takes, and one of the things I want to do in my community is help tell those stories of effort.

  • morning routine
    • writes in journal every evening before going to bed (8.5 years and 26 journals)
    • you fill up a book by writing a page every night
    • the writing isn’t important, but the act of writing is
    • remembering or learning from what you’ve written
    • the act of writing has made her writing better
    • voice has become clearer by repetition
  • creative people (met Miranda through intro from Dorie Clark)
  • books, podcasts, tools, etc.
  • advice for people who want to make more out of their creativity
    • figure out how to make it manageable

“I think habits are actually incredibly important. Routine is incredibly important as far as establishing creativity in your life… I think if you walk into a museum and think God I don’t think I couldn’t do that, then you won’t. But if you walk into a museum and you say I really wish I could learn how to draw a figure. How do I figure out how to draw a figure and then you find a class… that’s how you learn how to do it. You take some big concept and you break down into bite sized pieces.”

“Inspiration shows up, but it has to find you working. You’re not going to get struck by lightning if you’re not out in the field.”

  • definition of creativity

“I think it’s paying attention. I think it’s being curious and then following up on that curiosity. So much of creativity is just trying. It’s just combining things in new ways and making things show up in a different form. And to be more creative you have to be willing to take those risks. You have to be willing to try new things. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable and to sit with with makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“I think that’s what creativity is. I think that’s what it takes is just consideration. Just sitting down and breathing into it. And then taking the leap and seeing where it takes you.”

MirandasHearth.com

 

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