"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Power of Limits: Part 2

Recognizing the power of limits.

Five weeks staying in hotels where breakfast is either served at a certain hour or not served at all. Where each morning the clothing choice is between the black T-shirt again or the sleeveless tank. Where the souvenir choices are many, but basically boil down to what will fit in the suitcase, or on the shelf above my seat on the train.

Those are the practical limits, and working within them brings order and harmony to the day. But limitations have also manifested in surprising ways – ones that will affect how I think about making in the future.

Last Spring I was delighted to be offered an exhibition space at the Festival of Quilts – which was one reason I decided to make this five-week trek across Europe. The space was modest – approximately eight feet deep and nineteen feet wide. I paced it out in my studio at home and realized immediately that the large works I envisioned hanging would never be appropriate unless I wanted to give solo exhibition a whole new meaning.

About that time I realized whatever I decided to include, I had two choices – to ship or to hand carry. I’ve shipped work to England before and the prospect was daunting. Another limitation. Hand carrying was definitely the more palatable choice.

I imagine I’m not much different from any artist when it comes to thinking through variables before I make a decision to get started. I trust my intuition, which often involves waiting. Maybe that’s the hardest part. Waiting for the answers to manifest. Believing inspiration will come.

But it usually does and this time it did. I began on a new series - envisioning linear panels that would measure 18” vertically and wrap around the small display space. I wanted to showcase my range of surface design tools, so I decided I would return to my roots – dyeing the fabrics first and then working into the surfaces with screen printing, fused elements and metal leaf.

While some artists begin working and rely on serendipity to lead the entire creative process, I prefer to work with a theme. A theme may be one I have researched, after which I deliberately prepare the tools. This time I wanted to approach the printing and surface development more spontaneously, but I couldn’t help wishing for a theme to guide me.

The theme revealed itself through the inspiration of a colleague. She arrived in the studio with an armful of clothing from Goodwill, intending to transform her finds through dyeing and printing. These would be additions to her wardrobe.

But I saw collage. Two days later, my own batch of used clothing was cut into segments, and included in the dye baths I prepared for my new body of work.

A series unfolds over a period of weeks. Sometimes a panel completes itself, and sometimes I struggle and lose. At the end of six weeks I had eight panels ready for the UK show. Each measured 18” tall, and extended between 40” and 58”. Each featured my dyeing and printing. Each included dyed clothing parts fused to the panel surface and integrated into the surface through further additions of printing, devore, and sand.

The finished panels rolled neatly around two swimming pool noodles, and fit easily into my largest suitcase. Each was finished with a Lutradur backing, with grommets in all four corners, to ensure easy mounting on unknown walls. A small case included black nails – which looked like beads when nailed through the grommets.

My Intimate Conversations series was complete.

The recap:
My pieces traveled perfectly, unrolling without a crease. The nails proved ideal for hanging, since the walls were painted wood. The eight pieces fit the space and even allowed the presentation of one piece outside the entrance – where the colors could attract viewers and draw them inside for a closer look.

The viewer reactions were gratifying and positive. Four days of explaining process and also inspiration flew by in a blur of engaging conversation.

We dismantled the show on Sunday afternoon. It only took a few minutes. I’ve been thinking ever since about limits. If I hadn’t thought about the limits and allowed them to guide me, I might have encountered any number of problems. I worked with what I had, and it worked out.

There’s a model in this that’s worth noting. What limitations can we set for ourselves as artists – in an effort to discover more about the process of our work? When I return to the studio next month I am going to limit my choices again. In the meantime, you can see some of the work and hear me talking about it at www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=156054037742093


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I've found myself traveling with a limited wardrobe and a need for small souvenirs, sometimes tdious breakfasts that sustain us just the same. As much as I love being HOME, travel is a thrill.

    Back in the studio, goodness, waiting is difficult, but it does pay off. Most often I don't just wait but watch for the right combination, images to become manifest. Serendipity does enter in, of course, but the constraints indicate which will be most fulfilling for this project and keep the remainder for another.

    And any work develops constraints, don't you think? As it evolves it chooses and, by choosing, negates other possibilities. It becomes Something, not Everything. For me, constraints lead to focus, though there is always the waiting. Thank you for the stimulation!

  2. I love this concept & can feel I will sit with this as it deepens. Thank you.

  3. great post and loved hearing you talk about your new work, which I hope to have the opportunity to see up close and personal quite soon!


  4. do you speak any of the European languages? how are you handling language (barriers)??? are there limitations?

  5. as always, Jane -- a very thoughtful post. I heard you speak about limitations at SDA last year and that thought has stayed with me ever since -- we DO have too many "toys" at our disposal. I do much better work when I decide to work with a few, rather than many.

    Congratulations on your exhibit at the Festival of Quilts -- very impressive work.


  6. Thanks for the tour of your show at the Festival of Quilts- plus the background to how these pieces were made, very interesting.