Deborah S.

Exercise #3: Dismantling the Committee

Deborah C. Stearns

My first thought when reading this week’s essay and assignment is that I don’t have either voices or faces that intrude in my studio.  I can’t think of specific people who are on my Committee with regard to my artistic work.  (Now in my academic work, I am pretty sure I can name specific Committee members . . . but that is not relevant to this exercise.)

When I am stuck in my creative (non-academic) work, I have definite fears or worries.  What if this is the wrong choice (wrong fabric, wrong embellishments, wrong design decisions)?  What if my next step screws it up?  What if my skill isn’t up to the challenge?  (That starts happening once I’m in the middle and I actually like what I am making.)  I often experience decision paralysis.  So I know that I have an inner sense of judgement (this won’t come out right) – but I don’t have specific people in mind who are criticizing me.  It feels like an objective standard that I will fail (though I know it isn’t always) or like my own voice.

The other barrier is just the sense that I should do all the other tasks before going to the studio.  Everything else is a higher priority than artistic work – my teaching, house tasks, exercise, family and work obligations – those all need to be done with greater urgency than my studio work.  So months and years go by and I don’t do any work in my studio.  Obviously, there is an inner voice that makes those priority decisions, too.  But it feels like my own voice more than anyone else’s.  Of course I have a sense of the needs of my students, my colleagues, my sweetie, so their voices are in there to some extent, but mostly I just know that I have deadlines and obligations and I believe that those take precedence over my personal pursuits.

In other words, as far as I can tell, my Committee is me.  And if I want my Committee to quit getting in my way, I’d have to throw myself off.  I’m not sure what that would look like, but I guess I could pink-slip myself from my own Committee:


Dear Deborah,

I would like to begin by thanking you for your many years of service on my Committee.  I know that you believe that you have my best interests at heart.  While I certainly appreciate the time and effort you have put into working on my Committee, I must let you go at this time.  I am doing so for two reasons: Your overly rigid sense of priorities and your risk-aversion with regard to creative decision making.

I must say that largely, I concur with your priorities.  Indeed, I would say that I am morally committed to the same key principles you espouse.  I, too, believe that we should strive for excellence at work and meet our obligations to students and colleagues.  I also believe that making time for family and relationships is vitally important.  Health and wellness, too, are key priorities – without taking care of body and mind, we will not do our best work on any front.  In short, I cannot fault your core commitments.  However, I am concerned that you have left too little space for personal needs.  You are too quick to prioritize others’ needs over our own.  I wish to carve out a better balance that includes time for studio work and personal growth, even if this is only a few hours a week.

My second concern has to do with your overly risk-averse approach to creative work.  Time and time again, you remind us of the possibility of failure.  I, too, believe in minimizing unnecessary risk – I won’t be bungee jumping any time soon.  But growth requires risk.  Anytime we try something new, we must expect mistakes.  Mistakes represent opportunities for learning.  And, in general, the mistakes we might make in the studio are unlikely to be truly catastrophic.  As Q says, “satellites will not fall from the sky” because I chose the wrong fabric or made a poor design decision.  The worst that will happen is that there will be a waste of time and supplies, with no usable final product resulting from the studio time.  But if this process results in learning, the time and supplies will not have been wasted in the long run.  So your perfectionism and fearful approach to creative work has inhibited our learning and stalled our growth.

In short, you have become a barrier to getting the work done.  I can’t have people on my Committee who keep me from working – it just isn’t helpful.  Please find enclosed a gold watch, which I believe is the traditional retirement gift for Committee members.  I wish you the best in your future endeavors.


Deborah C. Stearns

P.S.  Please do not contact me in future.  I think it is best that we make this a firm break.