Last week, I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, for the National Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art and Practices with the Bradley sculpture faculty. I’ve never worked with iron before—it isn’t easy. It requires heavy physical labor, and the furnaces used to melt the metal can easily reach over 2,500 degrees.
On the long ride home, I began to think about my experience. It was incredible to work in an environment where sparks and flames rush forth with primal energy.
I realized while we were melting and pouring the metal, that along with the metal, I was being cast.
I mean that metaphorically, of course.
I had to say I was an artist. For a long time I realized what it really means to be one. Anyone can make art, but not everyone can be an artist.
To realize that fire of human passion that so little seem to find is a daunting task. I realized that fire cannot be so easily tamed, and yet, as artists, that’s exactly what we try to do. Maybe this is why so many people scoff at hearing me tell them that I study art professionally.
It’s difficult to affirm my work when so many people would tell me to give it up, but when I was surrounded by individuals who have devoted their lives to the hard, dirty labor of art and who would gladly step into the flames to realize their passion, I felt the embers of mine begin to glow. I didn’t need to stoke my own flames here; we all burned bright together.
During the closing ceremonies after a long and rewarding week, we were told that if we’re ever working late and getting frustrated to the point of giving up, remember that there’s someone else in the world working just as hard as you. When we were told this, it began to pour. We were drenched from head to toe.
As the thunder and rain came down, we didn’t dismay; we cheered. The storms in the sky echoed the flames in our hearts. Though I had never met any of these people before in my life, they all welcomed me with open arms. They didn’t care that I didn’t know what I was doing; they were ecstatic that I was brave enough to even try.
This trip taught me to not only affirm myself, but others as well. Like the Buddha once said, “A thousand candles can be lit from one without jeopardizing the first.”
To all of those who made this experience what it was, I thank you, even though you probably won’t see this. It means a lot to me, even as someone who isn’t a sculptor, to be accepted and brought into this wonderful community.