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Roberta Wagner: Does it Make Your Heart Sing? 

After years of corporate work, Roberta Wagner felt a calling to a more creative life. Fibre Arts Take Two talked to Roberta about her work and her book. 

Roberta’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.

After working years as a corporate bank examiner in an office with white walls and fluorescent lighting, Roberta Wagner felt a calling to a more creative life, and the universe answered when she least expected it. Through unexpected friendships, mentors and love. 

Roberta’s life has been full of creativity, colour, writing beautiful artwork and conversations. Beginning as a potter moving to watercolour, and then textile art, Roberta has realised that art and life aren’t dissimilar. In fact, her artistic practice runs parallel to her life and sometimes can be a harbinger of times ahead. 

We were lucky to spend a few minutes catching up with Roberta to discuss her work and her career. 

Leaving the rat race

Roberta spent much of her life in the corporate world before leaving it all behind to turn to art. “I had been studying pottery and that had been opening my mind to other ideas. I was trying to make a corporate move from New York City to Washington DC but I couldn’t sell my little walk-up studio in New York. I loved New York and I was kind of tired of DC. I had lived there for quite a while already and I just couldn’t sell. It was just feeling impossible and I just thought, ‘You know what? I’m just not going to do this. I’m going to try something, if it doesn’t work I’ll figure it out.’ So I left without another job and it was a pretty dramatic thing because I had kind of an important position. 

I spent six months in New York, kind of wandering around. I finally went back and took a second job as a very senior US Bank regulator, and did that for a couple of years. But the whole time I was thinking, what else do I really want to do?” 

Come Walk With Me

Roberta’s underlying desire was to share her experience and her knowledge of art. 

This culminated in her stunning book Come Walk with Me: Exploring Why Art Matters. “It started almost 10 years ago, because I was just looking at my life as you sometimes do in your 60s, and saying, why have I spent so much time and money and effort making art? Why? Why did I do it? Because for the past 20 years, I haven’t shown it very often. I think that if I had been selling art on a regular basis, I might not have been quite so impassioned to really explore what it was that prompted me to take this path.”  

Putting a book together is hard work, as Roberta explains, “It really was much harder to do than I thought to pull the whole thing together because I had all of these disjointed essays and trying to pull it together into a story where it felt honest to me. That it was really my honest reaction to why I’ve made art my life.” 

At Fibre Arts Take Two we believe Roberta achieved this and more with her beautiful book.

Does it make your heart sing?

To Roberta, creating art is about asking yourself the right questions. 

Do you like it? 

Does it make your heart sing? 

Do you just fall in love with it? 

“I think those questions are better than ‘Is it good?’, especially when you’re first starting out. There’s so much to learn in terms of ‘is a piece of art good’ and the definition of ‘good’ changes. You have to just say, Does this make my heart sing? Am I happy with it? Do I love making it? because that has to be part of it. Making art has to be a process that you like.”

Of course creating art isn’t always a smooth and easy process. It is all too common for frustration to set in, “Getting frustrated while making art is a little bit different than working too hard or not asking the right questions. I think the frustration comes as you’re trying to explore new territory and go in a new direction, which is so important to the creative process. There are times when you’re doing that, that everything you make is going to look really ugly to you. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that you’re going in an area that you don’t know exactly how you want it to resolve.”

Overcoming frustration as an artist also means embracing the ugly. Roberta says, “For myself, if I find a piece is really ugly, I stick it in a drawer, and maybe look at it in six months and I am shocked at how many times when I come back and look at it, I think ‘oh, first of all, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. And second of all, that’s a really interesting idea I was playing with.’” 

Frustration is all part of the process and creating art is a valuable way to grow as a person. “I think making art is very complicated. You’re always juggling with, ‘do I like it? Am I being true to myself? Am I being honest? Is this really me? Or is it some idea of what I think it should be?’ At the same time that you’re pushing boundaries and doing things you might not like. Sometimes making art forces you to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Because you have to keep asking yourself, is this right for me? And so you have to start really trusting yourself to make progress. 

Art is teacher and solace

Roberta left us with her thoughts on the importance of art. “This practice just teaches you so much about life. It’s taught me how to pay attention to intuition and how to know when I am really in touch with something larger than myself, or when I am tangled in some earthbound story. It teaches me how to work and how to play… and the difference between the two. And it gives me great solace. Art is a way to get lost in time and space. In times of great sorrow, there is nothing better than to go into a studio and just get totally lost in what it is that you’re doing with your hands. And all of that stuff has informed my life.”

About the artist

Robert Wagner has been making art in different mediums for 40 years. In her 60s, she began to question why making art was so important to her. She has always used writing as a way to answer questions and that resulted in a book – Come Walk with Me: Exploring why Art Matters

Roberta also blogs in a fashion that is often a little like the book – thinking about the creative process and how it relates to life. To learn more about Roberta, to subscribe to her blog, and to buy yourself a copy of the amazing Come Walk with Me: Exploring Why Art Matters head to her website now.

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