An Enduring Drumbeat: Joyce Dibona

January 26, 2010

"If you’re marching to the beat of a different drummer, it can be a very reassuring thing if the drummer is always strong, always on beat, and doesn’t just stop playing or run off at the first sign of trouble."

When I'm writing or painting, I forget myself. Everything and everyone seems to dissipate into a peaceful void that's somehow filled with words, color, and emotion. There's a script or vision in my head that continues to move forward, telling me what to do next. It feels like a Vulcan mind meld, like something beyond who I am has taken over. My guest today, artist Joyce Dibona, likens this phenomenon to "channeling."

Who or what are we channeling, I wonder? Who are we hearing? Where do the mental images come from? I tend to think it's still me; the things deep inside that can't seem to jump out any other way. Joyce suspects it's something divine. Whatever it is, hearing others describe it helps me continue to accept who and what I am.

On top of this, Joyce also mentions our capitalist society with all it's norms and expectation. I've told my children that you can't always play to the crowd because the crowd may be filled with a bunch of mediocre, average people whose power and influence simply grows with size. If you lack confidence or self-esteem, you can feel overpowered, as if you're the one who's wrong, weird, etc.

Maybe there's absolutely nothing wrong with all the folks in the crowd but you owe it to yourself to be authentic, even if you're one-of-a-kind in a huge, pulsating crowd of all-the-same. It sounds like Joyce recognized this concept at an early age.

I wish I'd been equipped to pull that off. I was way too much of a "people pleaser." It's a gene I have that conflicts with a few others in my bucket. The conflict of desperately needing to march to my own loud drum while somehow still pleasing everyone has caused me quite a few aberrations. What a recipe for passive aggression and subversive behavior (especially when I was younger)!

1 dominant "people pleaser" gene
1 "adventure-seeking" gene
1 incessantly loud and creative drumbeat
1 pinch of low self esteem
1 pinch of family dysfunction
1 good intellect
1 sin-focused environment
1 million digested books

Mix well.

Pow! Bang! Wham!

OUCH!

Pain.

However, like Joyce and some of the others we've heard from, thinking outside the box often helped me navigate those situations, emerging stronger and wiser. My creativity saved me.

So whether we're in the zone, channeling, or out there channeling through a crowd of folks who may or may not see the world as we do, Joyce reminds what she calls "Creatives" to be true to ourselves, show up, and keep driving forward.

Whether you're creative or not, it's great advice.

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be an artist, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I knew I was an artist from a very early age. Quite honestly, from as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a professional artist, i.e. someone who made her living as an artist. At three years of age, my parents considered me precocious; at seventeen, misguided; at forty, demented; and when I reached fifty and was still pursuing my dream, they finally accepted it.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I’m a closet writer and sometimes poet. I have a “streak of the geek” and am interested in the possible creative applications of ever changing technology. I am also very interested in the healing arts and alternative approaches to health.

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I think self-referencing can be a difficult task. Creative people certainly seem “different,” but different compared to what? Social norms and expectations? I have at times felt myself somewhat put off by the stereotype of “different” in the same manner that I’m put off by the cliché of “starving artist.” On the negative side, I think Creatives are frequently viewed through a capitalist lens in our society. If you’re making money, you’re held in regard, and elevated socially. If you’re not, you are suspect, often considered a misfit, possibly lazy, and frequently counseled to “go get a real job”.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Good question. I would have to answer both. My creativity, particularly at a young age, often left me feeling a “gap” between others and myself. In my early ages, five to nine years, it was almost like feeling a little autistic. It seemed that I had a language for interpreting life around me that most of my peers and elders, didn’t quite get. I could sense that I was often viewed as rather strange. I think a lot of creative children experience this as they try to integrate into society. In that sense, my sensitivities probably created some aberrations for me: a sense of loneliness, an inability to communicate as directly as I longed to, and a general inability to form more than one or two significant friendships.

On the positive side, my creativity has definitely helped me to not just cope with, but also navigate life’s aberrations. If you’re marching to the beat of a different drummer, it can be a very reassuring thing if the drummer is always strong, always on beat, and doesn’t just stop playing or run off at the first sign of trouble. I’ve always been able to count on my creativity. I consider it to come from a wellspring of inexhaustible energy that flows from the Divine. In my darkest moments it is still there, and it has real worth to me as I go through time. I feel creativity and a sense of reverence are closely tied. I’d rather be an artist and maintain the ability to see with new eyes, than a hard-core materialist that sees life as something to be dominated at any cost.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I think the primary difficulty with this in my early years was in my relationship with my parents. Although supportive somewhat of my creativity, they certainly did not want me to embrace the life of an artist. They were Depression-Era people, and needless to say were deeply impacted by that experience, and were fearful for my economic stability. They weren’t always wrong, lol. The way I dealt with their fears was to plunge in, plod through and keep on going, regardless. I stayed committed to my work. It eventually worked out.

I think the next area where people perhaps failed to understand my creative drive would be in my relationships. I think many men in particular have a difficult time with the amount of time it takes to be seriously involved in creative work. It’s an act of balance to have a good relationship and an artistic career. If you’re an artist, and you’re not working, you’re miserable and it impacts the relationship. If you are working, inevitably it is sometimes resented that you are not available to them in the manner they hope for. This could be a contributing factor as to why I’m no longer married, and haven’t felt inclined to ever remarry.

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

I honestly have never wondered about whether or not I was creative. I think this is one of those things that are imposed on us from the outside. I think humans are naturally curious and creative. Some of us however, are more compelled to maintain and develop our creativity. How does one quantify creativity? Certainly we can measure it by production, but that’s only one way.

To me, creativity is a natural flow. In a way, it’s like having a “problem-solving mind” without all of the preconceived notions of what is the appropriate way to proceed with the problem solving. The mark of creativity is the freedom to explore. I hold this freedom paramount. This state of mind has led me from painting to explorations in three-dimensional painting to sculpture to combining all these as in my tattoo sculptures. I simply follow my nose and don’t doubt my hands. If I have a strong idea or impression, I tend to leap. I often have to figure out how to do something while I’m actually doing it.

I think it is absolutely important to remain FEARLESS in your creativity.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How do you cope with disappointments? What motivates you to keep going, to not give up?

Well, this is a HUGE one. As for disappointments I’ve found the rebound from them gets quicker. After awhile, if you’ve been doing this for a long time, you realize you’re a “lifer,” that being an artist IS the way you will spend your life. You have to believe in yourself, it’s absolutely vital. If you don’t, the world will eat you alive. I find true value in the creation of my work.

Everything in life eventually passes away. If my work touches one person, it was worth it. I keep going because I feel compelled to communicate, and often communicate things of a spiritual nature. I also know, on some level, that this is the work that I am meant to do in this lifetime. Like other artists, I have had my bouts with significant sorrow and depression associated with being an artist, but I’ve never lost my love of doing the work. What keeps me going is how right it feels when I am working. It truly feels like love energy. I will never leave it. My creativity, unlike a lot of things in life has intrinsic value to me.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of though processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

I have thought about this a lot. As I’ve watched myself over time, I’ve come to realize that there are actually two different modes or processes I tend to approach my work with. I am either completely spontaneous, and almost feel as if I’m channeling, or I am very structured in my approach.

My mind seems to function in the creative process in these two distinct ways. Sometimes I have visions, literally, where I “see” an entire work of art. When this happens, I have to dig in, and get very practical about how to best realize my vision. This type of work usually entails a great deal of physical and intellectual work. The tattoo sculptures and my newest sculpture, Atonement, are examples of this.

On the other hand, works like Spirit and Soul, Industrial Junkie, or The Last Dog are examples of sculptural work approached in a spontaneous fashion, where I’ve just dug in and started working. The painting work seems to exist within the same dichotomy. Some works are born of complete abstraction. If images are present, they often arise out of the painting process itself rather than pre-planning. This type of painting work is very enjoyable to me. I also will pursue painting in a more thought out manner, particularly when I have a particular concept or something I’m trying to convey.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

1) Awareness: An open, exploring mind

2) Passion: Love for all life and ones work

3) Integrity: To thine own self be true

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Hey, it takes work! If you don’t develop a strong work ethic, it’ll never happen. Many people don’t understand the discipline it takes to create a significant body of work. You have to show up even when you’re not doing your best work, because that’s the way you eventually break through. You also have to know when you’re stuck and getting away for a while will allow you to come back with fresh eyes, just don’t use that as an excuse for staying away too long.

I do think drive has a great deal to do with this. There is no question that some people are just more driven to produce than others, and it definitely makes a difference. If you’re not producing good work, you’re still probably more likely to produce some good work if you’re producing consistently than the person who just works when the mood hits them.

Focus comes into play during this process as well, but in my opinion you have to show up in order to have something to focus on. I suppose some people suffer from a lack of organization around their work, but for the most part, if you have discipline, and you’re showing up and working, the organization is a secondary issue.

To learn more about Joyce Dibona and her work, visit her site.

Comments

Kathy Ostman-Magnusen - Dennis Magnusen

Kathy Ostman-Magnusen - Dennis Magnusen said:

I was just looking at some of Joyce's videos of the process of her outstanding work, “Atonement” and felt so stunned by it. I think that when an artist reveals so much of themselves, as did Joyce with that piece, that one must take pause and connect with their own being, lest they be swept away for not hearing its message. I want to understand that piece more because as an artist, I feel if I don't see, don't hear and taste the generosity of this piece, surely, I will blow away.

Pat

Pat said:

It isn't that “ignorance is bliss,” but that “dreaming one's way through life,” to account for the distinctions between fiction and reality as the only way to live provides the inspiration for art for people who have no other way to cope with the inconsistencies created. Dream states that are cosmic in nature may well be the definition of schizophrenia but who would expect an entire society to become embroiled in it?

Kathy Ostman-Magnusen - Dennis Magnusen

Kathy Ostman-Magnusen - Dennis Magnusen said:

After reading this part: “In my early ages, five to nine years, it was almost like feeling a little autistic. It seemed that I had a language for interpreting life around me that most of my peers and elders, didn’t quite get. I could sense that I was often viewed as rather strange. I think a lot of creative children experience this as they try to integrate into society. In that sense, my sensitivities probably created some aberrations for me: a sense of loneliness, an inability to communicate as directly as I longed to, and a general inability to form more than one or two significant friendships.”
I just thought WOW.. that is me too! Always feeling a bit on the outside. Once I have told my “stories”, I tend to dismiss myself from settings emotionally. There is another world that feels far more comfortable and that is the world inside of art and creativity.
Thank you both for such perfect honesty in this interview. ~Kathy

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