The Conversation You Have With Your Work

Creative / scholarly work is actually a conversation between yourself (your ideas, emotions, perceptions) and your materials and influences. Or, as glass artist Davide Penso recently put it in an interview in Glass Art Magazine:

“I didn’t and don’t presume to work in glass, but to support it and assign it the task of molding me. Glass enhanced my best characteristics and emphasized its own. In silent agreement, with respect, we use each other.”

It’s probably the best encapsulation of the creative mindset I’ve read.

Perfectionism can get in the way, however. If you start…

  • trying to control the outcome (“I’d better do fabulous work!”)
  • rushing (“It’s going too slowly!”), or
  • instrumentalizing (seeing the work as a means to an end, as in, “This should get me an A,” or “I really want this to be the Great American Novel.”)

…then you derail the whole process.

Now it’s true that we often do want to do great work, meet our deadlines, and impress our audience (teacher, editor, gallery owner, book readers, etc.). Whenever possible, however, you should forget about those concerns while working. Develop a good nonperfectionist work process, and you will get started on projects early and work on them steadily, which alleviates a lot of the deadline pressure. And the quality will come organically, if you trust yourself, your materials, and your process–and, once you’ve reached the limit of those, your teachers, mentors, and creative community.

As for the instrumentalizing, I think Penso’s quote also beautifully articulates how, regardless of outcomes, the creative life is its own reward.

A sweet lesson to begin 2019 with!

PS – Learn more about Penso and his gorgeous work here. And check out his gorgeous jewelry and beads here.

Image: A Penso seaweed sculpture. From Glass Art Magazine and used with kind permission.


  1. Thank you, Hillary. Among others who have written on this theme, there is poet David Whyte’s book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship. A few quotes from that book:

    “Our suffering comes from the fact that we are attached to the outer form that something assumes in a given instant rather than the movable conversation that stands behind it. Just as we find it hard to keep up with children’s growing and to address them in a way appropriate to the age they have actually reached, so we find it hard to keep up with the curve of transformation in almost every aspect of human life, including our own.”

    “The task is to shift the identity more toward the movable conversation that stands behind us, a deep undercurrent we can tap into that carries on unconcerned with the surface tribulations.”

    “Instead of asking myself what more I need to do, and killing myself and my creative powers in the process of attempting to carry it out, I ask myself: What is the courageous conversation I am not having?”

    “At that frontier we can look around and find, without too much stress or willful action, without feeling inadequate to the many challenges that each of the marriages holds, that we are already living the courageous conversation that holds everything together.”

    I can think of others who have written similarly; it suffices to say that this is an important theme: our interrelationship with work, self, other people, and everything as a conversation and a mutual transformation. Thanks for reminding us of it.

    • Thank you Nathan! I’m going to try to remember that: “What is the courageous conversation I’m not having?”

  2. Thank you Nathan! I’m going to try to remember that: “What is the courageous conversation I’m not having?”

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