"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.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Loving in the New Year

Last Thursday I shipped 48 pieces to Louisville, where my work will be installed at the Hite Art Institute (University of Louisville) this month. If you live in the vicinity, come and join me on January 26, for the lecture and reception. It’s free.

On Friday morning I woke up thinking about what to do next. I won’t start right away, as I believe a certain closure is usually needed when a body of work or a project is completed. For me, closure doesn’t come until I breathe a sigh of relief seeing the work installed in the gallery space.

But I was already living in the future - imagining how similar images and formats could employ saturated color and the entire color palette. I guess I missed vibrant color while I was working with the achromatic scheme I chose for the recently completed work.

I’m also reading Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Wow. Highly recommended. And the inspiration for this essay because of how his ideas segue with my own experiences of making.

Lots of artists work because of what they think will happen if they can only be good enough to get some attention. Most people have a scenario playing out in their heads when they imagine where their art might lead. Winning a major prize in a juried show. Getting a book deal. Being approached by a public television producer interested in filming an interview. Our culture sets us up for this. Don’t you want to be in a tabloid at the grocery store so everyone will know your name?

I digress. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that we usually put the cart before the horse. This is true in many domains – not only within the domain of art making. We imagine what we hope to achieve as part of the impetus that inspires us to keep working. The thing is, without building a knowledge base so that we can be really good at whatever we do, and without choosing to do what we do because we find it endlessly fascinating - a practice we must do, as opposed to a practice we find mildly interesting – we easily lose the desire required to keep the practice going.

In Meg Cox’s fine anthology on quilters and quilting making,The Quilter's Catalog, she quotes one young woman as saying quilting is something she must do – it is as important to her as breathing. That’s the kind of attachment to a practice that will keep it going, no matter how busy life gets and no matter how many other “to dos” come pounding on the door.

It’s not a bad idea to visualize where you want your work to take you. A five year plan is a good thing. It’s important to know how to write an artist’s statement, and to acquire the self-confidence it takes to approach a gallery. But those are learnable skills. Loving something enough to want to do it whenever you can is less tangible. And not negotiable. It’s what wakes you up in the night, thinking into the future about color.

If you are struggling to stay focused or to find time to work, use your new year energy to take stock. What do you love? Haven’t found it yet? Keep looking.

Maybe you’ll find Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lyrics encouraging:

You might still be searching every face
For one you can’t forget
But love is out there in a stranger’s clothes
You just haven’t met him yet.


  1. Thanks Jane because this rings so true for me. I am on this journey simply because I love to touch, dye, and stitch fabric. I love the feeling of holding fabric and needle and thread in my hands. I love pulling a piece out of a dyepot. I love learning new techniques of surface design and more about color. I love trying an idea and finding it makes me happy. When I worry about where this will lead me I get side-tracked. I need to stop and remember that I am doing something I love to do and have faith that if I keep working on it I will figure that out.

  2. You are so right about needing to do these things. If I didn't *need* to create I'd have a much better paying job! :D

    Enjoy your reception. I'll be thinking of you on the 26th.

  3. Congratulations, Jane. What time is your lecture scheduled at the Hite Art Institute? I live less than 4 hours from Louisville; I will try to attend. If I finish my first three of the series, I will reward myself with a road trip.

    Hope to see you and your exhibit,

    Diana Angus

  4. Jane, wishing you a very happy, love-filled 2011. Your piece looks amazing! Do you have a title for your exhibition?

  5. Your sentences about creating simply to explore rather than to produce a product certainly ring true for me. After making a zillion traditional quilts, I realized that result had taken over process. More recently, I have given myself permission just to sit at my art table or in front of the sewing machine with no particular goal in mind. I might have the germ of an idea floating around in my brain, but there is no pattern to follow, no absolute to recreate. As a surprise by=product, all my jealousies about quilters who are more talented than I have disappeared, and I'm having such a good time just doing what I want, and learning in the process.

    I'm enjoying your blog, loved your book, "Complex Cloth" and look forward to many more happy hours making what feels like art (at least to me).

  6. Dear Jane,
    Congratulations on finishing a body of work and for the solo show as well!Bravo! The holidays have been taxing with two sets of new banners for the church, a baby quilt and wonderful family time. It has calmed and slowed now and I've already assembled a new small piece--it feels so good to be working on my stuff! I just ordered the book you recommended, it will help to guide my journey. Thank you!

  7. There is no doubt that my primary goal and purpose in life is to create. This inner drive is a given for me. But in addition to that I used to be more interested in recognition, showing my work in galleries and museums. Now I'm only interested in getting paid for my labor and experience. I find that making a sustainable living from my art is deeply satisfying. I don't care a hoot about publishing or exhibiting, if I don't get paid a decent wage for my efforts.