Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
“Keep your work off balance…try to keep your work fresh and try other ways of working” advised artist Arlene Shechet, who gave a lecture on her work titled: “Building Things: Growing a Studio Practice” last Thursday as this year’s Marjorie Heilman Visiting Artist.
Much of Shechet’s work was inspired by Buddhism and is particularly reflected in sculptures, although she creates art in a number of mediums. Her story began fifteen years ago when she was trying to make art while simultaneously pregnant and teaching. As a way to combat that stress, she turned to Buddhism; that religion and her studies of Asian iconography form the basis for the majority of her newest pieces.
Shechet’s work evolved from Buddha-like sculptures to incorporate her studies of the stupa, meanwhile experimenting with various mediums such as paper, porcelain, glass and ceramics. She likes to describe the process as “following my nose.” The act of blowing glass and concentration on breathing practiced in Buddhist meditation led to her study and attempt to capture breath, to know “what it felt like to be inside the Buddha instead of looking at it”. Knowing the amount of control she had as the creator, she constructed these “Breath” pieces with liberty—painting with the glaze, firing the ceramic at what ever temperatures she desired, varying the sizes and integrating the display of the work as a part of the art itself. Shechet, as the artist, is alive in every aspect of the art she creates.
From adopting “meditative consciousness”, a state where an artist has a heightened sense of awareness, Shechet came to realize a mentality that revolved around time. As a resident of NYC, Shechet often feels the pressure of time as an omnipresent force. But when people complain about not have having enough time, Shechet counters it by saying, “The time I have is the perfect amount of time”.
Shecht offered a series of snappy personal epithets connecting herself to her artistic process: “If I feel averse to something, I feel like it has a lot of power over me,” and “Finding inspiration is just a mind set”. These are only a few of her words that capture her spontaneity and willingness to explore new grounds — her way of making art that she has shared, and encourages artists and future artists to adopt, mold, cut, reconstruct and repeat all over again.