Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why I Quilt and Other Musings on Art


Interesting discussion started by Amy Garro over at 13 Spools.  She tells us why she quilts, and adds an unfortunately familiar story of a teacher who basically took the joy out of drawing for her when she was in college. (FYI:  I'm having trouble linking to her site today but I'm gonna go ahead and publish and I'll add the button on here later, when I can get it.)

I read all the comments, and I was so saddened to hear how many people have gone through the same kind of experiences. I wanted to respond to each one of them myself, and I did, to a few. Because that's just not right.  Nobody owns creativity or art.  No matter what.  I know there seems to be a system set up where "experts" say why and how things are done, but the truth is that none of that is true unless we believe it.  And I just don't.  Art is creativity expressed, and while I don't personally love the way everyone expresses their creativity, that doesn't mean it's not good or right.  It simply means it doesn't speak to my aesthetic.  I actually find it laughable that someone listens to what anyone else says about a piece of art.  Now, I'm not saying that we can't learn from each other's experience and even their expertise (because if you do something long enough, you DO know how to do what you do).  Of course we can.  I just object to someone trying to tell someone else that their art isn't "done right."  It's coming from the creative universe, so whatever it is, it's done right.

 I know it's hard for each of us to distance ourselves from what appeals to us personally, and I think that's okay, too.  We don't have to love it all.  But we certainly don't need to be negative about it to the point that we actively discourage someone from letting creativity come through her in whatever way it chooses.  If what appears to be dog doo stuck on a blank white canvas don't excite me (but silly strange animals and dots do!) but you think it is beautiful and it makes you happy to look at it, that's totally fine with me.  Pay the artist as much as you think it's worth. There are a lot of people in this world and all of us, though connected, have different viewpoints and that's what makes life interesting.  I say, Vive la difference!

The second part of the discussion is about why I quilt, the question Amy poses to the rest of us in her blog.  Unlike Amy, I have no training in art whatsoever.  I did want to take an art class in high school, but my mom told me that art wasn't for people who are going to college (one of the few mis-steps she made as a parent, in my opinion).  But being a pleaser by nature, I let it go at the time.  In college, even though I was an education major in school, there was not one art class in my curriculum.  As a former teacher, I find it difficult to believe this, because creativity and art played such a huge role in my teaching career, both in art and non-art ways.  But I didn't recognize it or even think about it for a long time, to be honest.  At the time, I was just doing my thing.  I didn't realize how big a role creativity played in it.  Looking back now, I see that creativity was overwhelmingly part of being an effective teacher.  And I reveled in it - sometimes I couldn't believe I was actually getting paid to do something so wonderful!  That's how much I loved it.  (Until standardized stupidity  came along and took that all away. But that's for another day, another blog, another discussion...that could last for days!)

It wasn't until I had my son that I felt a strong (irresistable) pull to create what I'm gonna label "art."  It started when my friend Claudia found these amazing watercolor bugs that she hung in her childrens' bedrooms.  I was so enchanted by them.  But when Claudia remarked that they were quite expensive, but well, we couldn't possibly make them ourselves, I distinctly remember thinking to myself "Wait a minute - why not?"  That very day, I could not rest until I went to the art store and bought heavy watercolor paper and watercolors.  I literally could not wait to get started on them, even though I had never painted a thing in my life.  And an obsession was born.  I painted first, bugs in the style of the ones I had seen.  

Here are some of my very first attempts - can't believe they are 16 years old!  Wow, time flies. Heh Heh.

Then I went to lizards.  Then more bugs, crazy, colorful, un-natural ones that made me so very happy.  I had a bunch of them crawling on my classroom walls, even.  I became so obsessed with them in the next couple of years that my three year old son was heard to say "I liked it better when Mommy didn't paint."  (Nothing like good old mother guilt to put a damper on art...but it is good to keep it in perspective...)  

The main thing that strikes me here as I write is how completely overwhelming was the urge to create welling up in me - a drive emerged that I truly did not know existed in me...until it happened with a vengeance and I was forever changed.

When we moved to Texas from California in 2001 I was still on the painting kick, with a little writing also emerging.  Both of these continue to a lesser extent.  The most recent things I've been painting have been farm animals like these:

 and dots like these (I woke up in the middle of the night a few years ago and absolutely HAD to paint the dot paintings!).


However, it's quilting that dominates my creativity at the moment (a fifteen-year "moment")  My excellent mother had taken up quilting about  twelve years before and I admit it never interested me in the least, except to receive them as a gift from her.  Until. Those simple, colorful flannel rag quilts that were all the rage back then - I simply HAD to make one.  My mother, naturally, was thrilled to help.  With her encouragement, and cheerleading I made that one easy quilt and would you believed that's all it took to get me completely hooked?  Mother was also obsessed, so she was a serious enabler.  She shared everything she had with me and taught me everything she knew.  Then she really sealed the deal by taking me to the Houston Quilt Festival.  I will never forget my first one.  It opened up an entire new world for me, and I would never be the same.  

I can't say I regret it, even though it may seem crazy.   After fifteen years of quilting, I feel more like the real me than I ever have before.  I don't teach school anymore so now all my creativity goes into creating, making.  I can't wait to get up in the morning and get going on my art (although real life still interferes, but that's also another lesson I had to learn - balance - and another discussion as well)  

I have yet to take one art class, however.  I'm not necessarily proud of this fact, by the way.  I want to, really I do. In fact, I think I'm going to add it to my list of goals for this year.  But one thing holds me back - there is such freedom in the way that I create now.  I call myself an experimental artist, and I just figure out a way to do whatever comes into my mind.   I don't follow any rules because I don't know them and it's So. Darn. Awesome!  Because, you see, being a rule follower and pleaser is (or at least it used to be) my nature, so I'm scared if I learn the rules, I might be compelled to follow them and it might not be a good thing. 

 On the other hand, I have always believed that learning is a good thing, and I know I have much to learn, always....Too, I'm not sure anyone like that dumb professor or all the BAD teachers people talked about could convince me at this point that the way I do things is wrong at this point.  Being an art outsider has allowed me to develop a kind of thick-skinned confidence that I'm not sure can be taken away as easily as it used to be.   I think there is more to be gained than lost, in this instance.

But does that answer the question of why I quilt (as opposed to other art forms, that is)? No, and I don't know if I can truly answer that question.  I quilt because I love it and I find endless inspiration in it.  I am a maker, and I feel the creativity coming through me, driving me.  I can't honestly say why quilting is the overwhelming pull, though I do love the endless possibilities in a piece of fabric.  Too, there is a practical side to quilting that also appeals to me - a warmth that comes even from a wall-hanging made of cloth.  I also love the community, and it sort of feels wide-open to me.  And while the practical side of it has been around for hundreds of years, it's still sort of emerging as an art form; there aren't too many critics or rules, and the quilting community is so full of generous, lovely, TALENTED people.  

And not to diss men (I love them too) but quilting is female-dominated, which makes it unusual, too, especially as an art form.  Here is one place where the men can't tell us what to and not to do.  Because women created this art form.  Yeah.  I'm gonna boldly say it.  I'm not saying men can't or shouldn't quilt, I'm just saying' is all.  Women created quilting.  (You go, girls!)

So that's my long-winded response.  I hope you guys will pardon me for it, but this passion runs to the very core of my being, what can I say?   And I promise to listen and read all of your reasons for why you quilt, too.  Not because I have to, but because it's fascinating and fun, and we can all learn from each other, and being connected - well I CAN say for certain that THAT'S a truly beautiful thing.  

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