Advice for an artist from an 84-year-old AA sponsor

Throw Pots Not People is a fortnightly column about life, creativity and the world we live in, written by Taranaki artist Marita Green.

During my twenties I lived in Madison, Wisconsin (USA) for six years. I never intended that, but it happened, and it presented me with untold opportunities I had no way of anticipating.

One of the things that happened was I got sober (over a period of time), and eventually stayed that way by immersing myself in Alcoholics Anonymous.

My AA sponsor was a fierce and loving woman named Martha, who led me through change with equal amounts of uncompromising compassion and brutal honesty (before she herself got sober, she had been Wisconsin’s first female Court of Appeals judge).

One day, towards the end of my six years there, Martha took me to meet her own sponsor, an 84-year-old matriarch by the name of Peg.

Peg had been a monied, well-to-do Chicago lady (Chicago was two hours southeast of Madison) before her own sobriety, and she carried with her an aura of sophistication and class that was palpable.

Peg lived on her own, in the old State Bank in the town of Spring Green (population: 1400). And Peg was an Outsider Artist. Martha said she started making art later in life, after she got sober. I had never heard of Outsider Art, much less seen any.

The entire bank part of Peg’s home was packed to the gunwales with it (Peg actually lived in a tiny lean-to bit of about 10 square metres tacked on to the side of the stately brick structure).

Peg Miller, Found Object Totem Sculpture

Her art was weird, primitive, colourful. It was paintings, sculptures, there was an amalgamation of tiny plastic rubbish pieces glued together in a mountain, a miniature roofless house Peg gave me a torch to navigate through, cobbled-together creatures of doll-parts and food packaging… my head exploded.

After a while we went in to the little lean-to part of her house, and Peg sat down. We made polite conversation and then Martha told Peg that I had been making some art of my own. Peg asked me about it, and I self-consciously told her about my collages and drawings, and things I had started to make, and I told her I thought they were “bad” and “weird” and she let me ramble…

And then when I was done apologising for my creativity she said to me: “Marita: Don’t stop”.

Don’t ever stop.

She said, no matter what you are making, or what you think of it, how bad you think it might be, or how much of an artist you are not, do not stop.

What you are making now is infinitely important because it will lead you to the next piece you make, which will lead to the next and the next, and so on forever. But without the piece that you make today (regardless of its success), you will never progress. So don’t stop.

And I haven’t.

Throw Pots Not People is a fortnightly column about life, creativity and the world we live in, written by Taranaki artist Marita Green. You can follow Marita on Instagram.