"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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Creativity of Street Performers I

I encountered amazing street performance during my five week teaching trip. Here are just two of my favorites. The young man in the second post was juggling crystal balls about five inches in diameter. Sorry the video isn't crisper.

I can't say enough about seeking out these artists when traveling. I've watched them in cities all over the world. Often living on what they make from the hat, they are a gorgeous witness to the power of doing what you love creatively.

The Creativity of the Street Performer II

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Power of Limits

Last week I spent several hours studying the Impressionist paintings in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay, in Paris. It was thrilling.

Manet’s pastels were especially thought provoking. The subject matter included his requisite dancers and nude studies. Being so close to the surface allowed me to see how each painting evolved. Which strokes were first, and which strokes came later. Where the addition of soft pink enlivened the curve of the back. How a few dashes of white brought light to a tutu and set the music playing in my imagination.

It was curious to realize that Manet frequently added paper strips to a composition in order to expand the composition in one direction or another. Was he drawing spontaneously – and realizing once the piece was underway that he hadn’t judged the space accurately, so that he needed to add more paper? Or was the paper enlarged before he ever got started – an act based on limited resources? More than one pastel was worked on simple brown craft paper. Whim or limitation? Is that something you can Google?

I realized these works of Manet’s required only three things. A sheet of paper, a box of pastels, and the ability of the artist to put the two together. Which of course he did, magnificently.

When was the last time I worked so simply? Just cloth and dye, for example. Those materials get a piece underway, but I have an embarrassment of techniques and tools at my disposal. I love layers. I love complexity. I pondered the possibility of achieving these goals by using only two components. I am sure it can be done, just as Manet first sketched with pastels, and then worked to add the details.

This is a reminder of the power of limits; a topic I am going to keep pondering.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's All in the Details

I’ve been on the road for three weeks, and one of the things I miss about home is the quiet time for writing. Right or wrong, it’s hard to choose writing alone in a hotel room over seeing the Alps or strolling the streets of Paris, especially on a first visit. Maybe one answer to the no writing time arrived in the form of Quicktime Pro – a download that will allow me to post short film clips of the amazing street actors I’ve witnessed everywhere. I’ll work on those posts next week.

In the meantime, a quiet afternoon to myself on a sunny balcony in Bad Sackingen, Germany, just a few miles from Basel, Switzerland. What am I learning? What observations are carrying me into the last weeks of my itinerary and beyond?

One is the importance of looking small. At details. You can walk into a cathedral in any town in Europe and be blown away by the width and breadth and gloriousness of the space. And by the heavy weight of history. But it’s the play of light on the wall above the altar I’ll remember. And the worn center of each step leading up the hill to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur – smoothed by an endless stream of pilgrim feet.

My details range from the ridiculous to the sublime. The young trickster in Georges de La Tour’s painting – which I teach from, but had never seen! The perfection of a single white braid. A life-sized rhinoceros statue with the horn duct taped in place. Every detail catalogued into the internal filing cabinet otherwise known as my brain.

How will this load of disparate visual stuff mix and eventually manifest? Hard to know, but my presence will be known by the details, because that’s what makes each of us unique. Maybe we all have eyes and hands and feet, but it’s the blueness or brownness, the curve of the toes, or the strength of the grip, that sets us apart. Maybe artists share dye recipes and paintbrushes, fabrics and format. But it’s the details that make an artist’s work unmistakably her own.

I think that’s why eventually we have to get away from other people and focus on working alone. How can you discover your voice if you are always singing with a choir? Your timing, the phrasing, that lilt at the end of a line – you need the courage to go solo in order to unfold.

So enjoy my details and then go find some of your own. Details are one place where it’s healthy to make the exploration all about you.