One CD and a Million Colors: Kathy Ostman-Magnusen

“The dark side embraced can bring a million new colors.”

You slip to the dark side,
Across that line.

Makes me feel crazy,
Makes me feel so mean.

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band

I’ve crossed that line a few times. Those who have seen me there will agree that it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Or so we all thought.

My guest today, artist Kathy Ostman-Magnusen, suggests that it may be there that we find a million new colors. This is my philosophy as well. Sure, we’re not waiting for the dark side bus with excited sweaty palms and thumping hearts but somehow we occasionally find ourselves riding it.

In my case, I’m usually sitting on the bus alone trying to figure out if I should wait for the next stop or smash my way through the emergency exit. And sometimes I do look for the bus. I watch for it as if it might take me somewhere better even when I know from experience that it only moves in never ending circles.

Over time I’ve learned that there is value in riding the bus to nowhere. For me, the value is movement. I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter where I am as long as I keep moving. At times when I feel stuck, when I feel like my feet are buried in mud and my heart has gone sluggish, I need that bus to remind me who I am. It always seems to dump me right back where it picked me up but when I emerge everything looks different; sometimes it even looks new.

Maybe those are the colors Kathy talks about.

As a child, Kathy spent hours and days riding in the backseat of her parents car. She watched the life outside whiz past as she wondered where she might land next.

Not knowing where you’ll end up can be scary. I often plan and project, write lists and goals, and then constantly adjust it all, always trying to see where I’ll be, how far I’ll get. As a freshman in college, I mapped out on paper every class I would take over the next four years … and then I did it again and again and again. It was like a bizarre obsession that gave me pleasure.

People have told me to slow down, don’t be so obsessed, figure it out as you go, etc., but it’s akin to Kathy’s desire to play only one CD over and over for an entire year, or to play a CD and a DVD at the same time. Even if it seems chaotic to some, it works for us. It moves us. That’s the beauty of fine-tuned individuality. But sometimes when we embrace it, all the here’s-how-you’re-suppose-to-do-its in life put us on their radar.

Kathy doesn’t seem to care these days.

I’m working on it.

Interestingly, a Facebook friend of mine, Douglas Morton, recently wrote (paraphrased),

“Reality, as I understand it, is an agreement. This action of agreement solidifies the picture of the world around us, making it easier to understand (more secure) but also thicker and more resistant. Therefore, there is a resistance to going against the perceived reality, like the increased resistance encountered when moving through water … or soup. The resistance created by the thickening makes everything very slow (change takes time).

“I could move quickly despite the resistance but to do so creates ripples, which may highly influence others who simply float through the soup. It would get a lot of attention (and does) whenever I unintentionally move outside the agreement and just do my own thing. This is where I move into very uncertain territory–beyond creating ripples, it appears that it may be possible that someone could step outside the agreement in a way that becomes a catalyst for drastic change. If this happens, it may create something more akin to a shock wave thus having an effect on the soup itself. (Think of people or events who changed the world–overnight.) Moving so quickly could have painful effect on the people near this movement.

“The conundrum is two-fold: Does the possibility of hurting those nearby with an act of radical side stepping the agreement or the fact that the agreement is self healing (and therefore acts to resist or minimize change) negate the value of the action? Is there a point in doing so?”

So what the hell does this have to do with Kathy, buses, and the dark side?

Well, I like Douglas’ metaphor for reality. I like the soup thing. I wonder if my tendency to jump on the bus (whether through depression or secretly acting out) has been to avoid messing up the soup. Has the bus cocooned me away from the others just floating through?

Maybe we all need a mechanism that enables us to experience our dark side and find the colors we need. I was raised in an environment that screamed, “Don’t you dare cross that line!” I was told what to say and how to say it. What to think and how to think it. My dark side may be much brighter than yours. Who knows?

It’s all relative.

As creative spirits and as human beings, I think we should experience all that life has to offer. I’m not sure how we can do that without sometimes making waves. History has shown us that upsetting the soup can be beautiful.

I admire Kathy for what seems a lifelong desire to discover who she is, and experience, appreciate, and express that. If I’d learned the value of that quest at a younger age, I may have saved myself a few rides on the ole’ bus.

But now I’m surrounded by a million colors. I have no regrets.

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be an artist, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

When I was a little girl (from age 2-6 years old), my parents traveled the countryside. They were adventurous people who looked for prospects not found in Minnesota or North Dakota. Maybe their daring was because of the Viking in their Scandinavian heritage. They longed for a sophistication not found in those states back then. They just got in their car, with me in the backseat, and drove. Sometimes they stopped long enough for my dad to do some jobs, go to school, or whatever seemed to be their whim. I sat in the backseat and did what little there was to do. I looked out the window as the world flew by and drew pictures.

My parents remind me of the Fitzgerald’s, F. Scott and Zelda, without any parties. Much like Zelda, my mother had a propensity towards that creative edge that sometimes causes havoc with the mind. With that said, if you have ever read anything about the Fitzgerald’s, like them, my parents relationship has always been volatile, yet blended with quick wit. Intelligent people discuss “ideas,” and with my parents many ideas became quite confrontational. Yet I do indeed love that history of them. It’s where I first decided that conversation must be contemplated, actively reviewed, and absorbed with prudence by its consumers. I remember them well as ideas flew with heated words as I drew and drew, and imagined myself inside those pictures. I think it was there that I was gifted with the spirit of creativity and the need to form a soul out of my own missing words–to coax them into another view.

My feeling about creativity is that everyone is creative–they just apply it in different ways. For some it’s merely how they set their dinner table or line up their day. Others choose to become more involved with their inner being and convey what stirs inside (motivated by a mood that often feels a certain anticipation for something new to come into existence.) I always say that “talent is desire and the rest is practice.” I’m sure that I was born with a “desire” to convey my heartstrings without words and thus … all my drawing.

Creativity is robbed from children though, and so there must be something else in some individuals that causes them to feed off of the energy that flows through artistic rhythms. I tend to come alive when I create. I can’t say that it’s always a positive experience though. Sometimes times it’s torment and I cannot decide if I love it or hate it. I’m trapped in the bubble of having no where else to turn because art is my soul and who I am. No matter where I run when I’m frustrated by my latest creative project, I’m acutely aware that I’ve been stung by that spell.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I write poems, stories, songs, and ideas. I find that the more I write about my art, the better I understand what it is about–where I’m going with it and who I am within its nebulous parameters. Writing causes a floodgate into creativity itself it seems because the more I write, the more visible the crumbs on the trail towards new ideas become.

For 20 years, I owned and operated a pottery studio with 6-8 contracted workers. We specialized in the souvenir market designing products specific to wherever they were going (Disney World, JC Penney, Busch Gardens, most National Parks, and over a thousand mom and pop stores). It was there that I learned discipline towards the arts. While production pottery is a “craft,” the day to day responsibility of shipping wares out within a tight time frame set a pace that is still useful.

I’ve done design work, prep work as well as the actual sandblasting for a company in Kauai for a couple years. I spent a good deal of time doing silk painting and still think of ways of implementing it into other things. Glass etching is the same in many ways when doing design work. I worked for an Italian sculptor as a conceptual drawer, creating what was in “his head” for a complex to be build Baja. Drawing in Italian Baroque was completely outside my ability as it was very architectural and out of my comfort zone. Did you know that drawings can be drawn completely with numbers and math? I never did and never reconciled to that part of his conception either, much to my very expressive Italian sculptors chagrin. I have carried on with some elements that I adapted to though, finding romance in pillars, capitals and sculptural elements found in that era.

I’m the illustrator for Anne Wilson Schaef’s “Words of Wisdom for Women Who Do Too Much” Cards. I did them in watercolor and worked with Hayhouse Inc. Publishing to create all 52 cards. The originals were done in watercolor and ink. That was a great gig.

Right now I am back to clay between my fingers, doing sculpture. Clay and pottery being in my background, I know that medium very well. My new series is called “Bleeding Wings.” I’m on to number six now. I write about each one in both poetry and thoughts. The series is about the battle of meeting and understanding who we are. No one meets who they are when the lights are turned on in total comfort.

There is a stereotype that creative people are “different,” which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I HOPE to be different. I’m different in both good and bad ways I guess. My senses become overwhelmed easily. If I go gallery hopping I can only see a few; once I am filled and must go home and bask in it.

I always hope that artists will get past the competitive edge that feels abrasive to me. I need them. I need fellow artist to confirm that I am safe within my mind’s wandering sometimes. I seek out the inner wonder that is so tenderly under the surface of each artist. No matter the artists perception drawn from their work, be it angry, playful, even poorly executed, there is an inner child I need to meet in them. Being an artist is often just jumping off into an abyss and that is darn scary but exciting at the same time. It takes courage and so it is helpful to relate to others who understand that.

I can be embarrassingly overconfident or pathetically unsure. It all depends on how well my art is going really. It keeps me awake at night because of imperfections or because things are coming together well … either way I don’t sleep.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life’s aberrations, or both?

I chose the other path. Sometimes with regret, I have kicked and screamed inside deploring that path, but it is who I am and there is no protest that will be adhered to in me for that. Ultimately I brake before crossing but I always cross over. The older I get the more I realize that the people I thought I had things in common with, common emotions, were not who I thought. I only imagined them a certain way.

I’m a drama queen. My moods are volatile but I try to keep that part private as much as I can. I met a woman once who had lived in the same house for 30 years. She raised her children there, prepared her husbands lunch for work each day, and watched TV with the sound so low that only she could hear it. If it was too loud her husband would get mad at her and cut off the plug. I say, “No, not me!” to women like that–the ones who say, “These are the rules set before me and so I follow them without question.”

Yet because I can be a drama queen I think small issues would have been simpler to deal with if I had been a rule follower. Drama creates a sensation that sometimes evolves into unwelcome reactions, true, but thinking it over in depth as I write this, I don’t think its all that bad. I’ve had a lot of crisis in my life. By a certain age most people have developed a history of some consequence and hopefully have entertaining stories to relate. It is in those times of crisis, no matter how I’ve handled them, I’ve realized that after the dust clears, the road leads clear, and there is no line to stand in unless I chose to adhere to those rules. I don’t.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you’ve dealt with it?

My husband seems to be the happiest when I’m creating. Being a creative being himself, he thrives when those energies flow. Creativity is contagious and seems to infect any medium it touches, no matter how different the expression. I am fortunate to have that. However, in my life I’ve had few who understood the complexities of an artist’s spirit. I paint or sculpt, write or see things in a different way because I simply have no choice. Past those closest to me, my husband and daughters, I’m not sure it matters to me whether I’m understood or not.

I often wonder, “Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?” Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they’re creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

I think everyone is creative. We’re all born with it yet from day one it has been continually robbed from us. I like what Picasso said about that: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I try to appreciate something, anything, about anyone’s effort to create something new. I think creativity IS GOD. When I look at a sunset or sunrise I have met with God. When I pick a leaf and see that it is unique unto itself, I have met with God. A simple crayon drawing done by a five year old has something to say to us if we listen. I try to see that, embrace that, and in that I know I have the very same opportunities as that five year old to express myself or not. Am I more amazing than another artist? I don’t know, I only know I have to opportunity to create and am enriched each time I do so.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How have you coped with disappointments?

I go back and forth with all of that. Do I need a star on my worksheet from time to time? Of course I do, I’m not different in that respect. I do a lot of self promo online and toot my own horn with the anticipation that I will in fact develop my own fame. Like it or not world, I’m here and I’m singing my own song with the gusto of a mother. I deal with the pitfalls by telling myself that home is actually in the depths of creativity itself and that by sheer volume of my efforts I will only be better for it.

I think the best way to get over disappointment and failure is to prove the critics wrong. The loudest critic is the sound of our own voice echoing back at us and that is best conquered by the continual process of doing even more art.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

I’m deeply affected by music. I normally pick out what I’m going to listen to for each artistic effort. I play the same CD over and over and over. Sometimes I hit replay on the same song over and over as well. I set that mood and apply it to what I’m working on. I actually listened to Pink Floyd’s “Momentary Lapse of Reason” for one full year (nothing else) as I did a sculpture series. I just couldn’t get enough of it.

I also turn DVD’s on at the same time I have a music CD on. It’s total chaos. I only just recently realized why I do it. It’s because of the voices. Not in a schizophrenic sense. Thoughts creep up that haunt me and creating chaos is a way of dismissing them. When I paint I’m not really in that zone until I’ve gotten to the point of a dance. It’s in that dance that I hear “them” breathing. “Them” being figures and faces … as I am a figurative artist.

I almost always ask Matisse to show me the colors when I paint. Matisse said you need to “feel” the colors. I’m a self taught artist so I have come to rely on feelings rather than structure. If whatever I’m working on isn’t working, I can’t sleep and feel physically ill. It’s a lot to go through sometimes. I often exhaust myself emotionally and see only what I’m working on no matter where I am. It takes over everything, and either calms me or stings.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

1) I hope for sensitivity in artists and am disappointed when I come across one who seems shallow. I don’t mind egotists, only ones who don’t warrant notoriety. I think to be a good artist one needs to be a “noticer.” In that sensitivity, I believe artists meet on a common ground where words are not necessary to have a meeting of the mind.

2) Obsession. Everything smelled, heard, seen, touched, tasted, and understood becomes an avenue for the dance of questions that can only be answered through art.

3) The ability to step outside of themselves and become someone or something else.

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I’m not sure if it’s because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

There are a zillion reasons why people don’t follow through with things. Artists are no different. We all have dreams that we long to pursue. Some do and some don’t. Some don’t want to know that they can’t; they don’t want to try lest they fall. One step in front of the other leads to eventual mastery of anything, but some people never see themselves that way. Many sabotage successes and find a certain pleasure or relief in failure.

The element of laziness is a real factor despite protests that one is waiting for inspiration.

Depression comes easy to the artist in my opinion, so that is an element that can’t be ignored either. However, depression can lead to some of the artist’s best work if they can muster up the effort to pull themselves out of those moods. The dark side embraced can bring a million new colors. I find my own colors or lack of them in all of these examples. Sometimes I shine and sometimes I can’t find one single hint of me at all. I continue to pursue it though. I have no choice in the matter.

To learn more about Kathy and her work, visit her site.


Up Next on Aberration Nation: Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls.

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