"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, November 21, 2010

Sunday in the Studio

Funny how it goes in the studio. This week was Week 8 of my Daily Practice Series. Although I have always been good at getting to the studio for regular work time (since it’s so much cheaper than therapy) this series requires my attendance as part of the design of the whole project. It’s based on the premise that I will go to the studio, day in and day out, if only for a short time. Inspired by the talented musicians I know, many of whom still practice scales every single day, my visual etudes are in part about what I can discover if I renew my commitment to being present. Whether I feel like it or not.

I may have written previously, that I have also challenged myself to think of filling linear space. The gallery consists of three rooms. The total running space, as close as I can figure, is approximately 290 feet, allowing for doors and the various odd air vents, security devices and thermostat panels. In an effort to work within limits, my pieces are long, rectangular works – meant to mimic the style and presentation of scrolls - musical exercises, perhaps, or penmanship samples. So I am working not only from the inspiration of refinement – selecting each element to be included or discarded even more carefully than in the past, but also from the new angle of practical logistics. Can I produce enough panels to fill 290’ of running wall space? It’s a gamble.

But I have the Gambler archetype so it’s within my comfort zone. Especially with my Judge holding court – monitoring rigorously whether my work is up to snuff on any particular day, or not.

Darn frustrating today, though. I dyed gorgeous pearl gray silk backgrounds this week, but spent most of the time spinning my mental wheels. Too much going on, between Family and Great Big Life in general. I couldn’t focus. Nothing I did felt right. My Judge was operating full throttle. And not being very nice.

For example, yesterday it seemed like a good idea to cut out stenciled letters so I could print “and the greatest of these is Love” really big as a background on one piece. Even while I was cutting out the letters I knew it was hokey, but I couldn’t stop myself. Do you know that feeling - when you might as well be driving 90 miles an hour toward a cliff? The accelerator is stuck and Fate is driving?

Sure enough. Sprayed the paint. Tried to keep it soft like the image in my mind. Oh boy. Peeled off the mask. Totally wrong. Immediate response? Cover the whole thing up by gluing rice paper over the entire surface, obscuring the lettering. Punch the time clock in my brain and hope to have a better day tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived. Today. Energized by the cool morning and the promise of recovery, the studio beckoned. As I worked to devore’ the paper surface - allowing just a bit of the wording to appear - I felt a surge of hope. And then I thought of Zenna’s heart screen. Drawn when she was three years old, I have kept that screen for twenty years. Partly for sentimental value but partly because she’s got a good eye and a free spirit and it shows anytime she picks up a pencil.

I resisted the idea of printing her heart on the reclaimed background. I’ve been so determined to keep this series mainly abstract. Going for reverence and connection without being figurative. Wasn’t using an image that had been in my repertoire for twenty years a sell out? Couldn’t I come up with something new?

I began to write in my journal and this is what flowed from the pen:

“ Maybe this week making is leading me to a more literal, heartfelt response to the world around me. Perhaps wanting to stick with abstraction is a defense mechanism I’ve been using to keep my heart from breaking. I’ve wanted to abandon the figurative imagery I’ve used over the years but now I see it emerging from the past and inserting itself into these pieces in new forms. This Etude series has abstracted, textural backgrounds, and a use of new materials, but the birds on a line, Zenna’s heart, and various other images have wound their way through the series connecting me inextricably to previous work in a way that is comfortingly grounding.”

“Will a viewer know whether an image is old or new? Will a colleague, smarter or more intellectual than I am, dismiss my work because it is too figurative/decorative or not up his or her alley? That’s my fear; but not necessarily reality.”

“ In the meantime, I can’t choose to use or not use an image that still exists as a tool in my repertoire. I can only pay attention when the rightness of using an older image asserts itself. And then I can choose to listen. Printing tenderly or fearlessly. I must trust that my making will also be my healing.

That’s the value of developing your visual voice. It is a unique and personal language. With it comes the profound ability to express anger, tenderness, indignation and beauty – all in forms that will touch your viewer as surely as you were yourself, changed by the making.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is Art Cloth, Anyway?

What is art cloth, anyway?

The question took me by surprise, and since being asked more than a year ago, I’ve had some rather startling realizations.

For instance, I ran this project I called the Art Cloth Challenge. I dyed twelve lengths of fabric more or less the same way – color and pattern, that is. Then I invited anyone who read the Complex Cloth list to put his or her name in the hat. I drew twelve names and sent each person a length of cloth, along with a few simple “rules”:
The cloth had to stay intact and could not be cut.
Any surface patterning technique was ok and layering was encouraged.
The pieces had to be returned to me so that I could share the results with my readers on the list.

You can see the results for yourself at http://artclothchallenge.blogspot.com.

The whole premise of the project was that any twelve artists could take the same length of cloth, work it, and produce twelve unique pieces of art. And the premise was absolutely right! The finished lengths were unique. Some of them weren’t even the same color anymore. It was fascinating.

BUT. I couldn’t believe it when I opened some of the packages upon the cloth’s return. Artists whose work I knew and admired had approached the challenge not from the perspective of what they did best, but from the perspective of what I do best. The use of imagery and layering looked more like me than it did like them.

Then it hit me. If any approach to an art form is too narrow, eventually the form will choke, wither and die. If artists in this field define art cloth as what I make, and carry the thought through to the logical conclusion that anyone’s art cloth must mimic what I make, then we’ve got trouble. We’re choking on the definition instead of making art.

My experience with the Mastery Program groups confirmed this narrow definition. My 2008 group was the first to struggle verbally with what art cloth should be as part of considering what it could be. I shared a conversation I’d had with Marie-Therese Wisniowski – Australian artist and curator of an art cloth exhibition. Marie-Therese suggested that while art cloth could be a length of cloth cascading down a wall, it didn’t necessarily have to be a specific length, width or format. The length of cloth was just one way of organizing visual information. Maybe, she suggested, art cloth was a term capable of replacing older, parochial terms, in an effort to move toward wider audience understanding and appreciation of art that begins as cloth.

The 2008 group eventually settled into a comfort zone where each artist refined the methods of working that felt most authentic to her. By the end of the program, we had twelve artists working in twelve authentic voices. I still considered it all art cloth.

One of the ironies of this whole thing is that twenty years ago fiber artists were embroiled in an ongoing discussion of what was art and what was craft. I felt sure we were going to talk that one to death, and I could hardly wait. Once we were worn out talking about it, maybe we’d be able to go back to the studio and make. But here it is again in a new, updated version – what is art cloth and what isn’t? Can’t be digitally printed? Can’t have sand on it? Can’t be square instead of one long panel? Can’t be backed? Has to be one length and not pieced?

We’re getting awfully close to choking on our own restrictions.

I’d love to know what you think.

And thoughts another time on the need for limits! Because as with all things, there’s a paradox to explore - unless we don’t use any words at all, we keep returning to the desire - may I suggest even a thirsty need - for definitions. We’re human. We can’t resist it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Protecting Artistic Energy

Well, let’s get back to art and creativity since that’s one arena where - believe it or not – I think I have some inkling of control. Or is it the illusion of control? No matter. Let’s keep going.

Last week my Mastery Program students (2010) met for their second session. One topic of discussion was how to share what they are learning. Some folks want to post to a blog and others just want to know how to share what they are accomplishing with artist friends or family. Every group I set wants to establish a presence on line where they can share images of their work as it develops. Each group is very surprised when I say NO.

Isn’t it something what we do to ourselves if left to our own mental devices? I never used to mind the sharing of unfolding work – after all – isn’t that the sign of a group committed to each other and the assignments they have been given?

Yikes. The reality of this sort of sharing is a gradual closing off, shutting down, a big whomp to the tenderly emerging self esteem of all participants considered.

That was several years ago, but now not sharing is a rule veiled as a polite request. Please do not share your work with others while you are still working on it.

We’re not talking about my assignments or class stuff that I want to protect. That’s another story and perhaps one worth exploring another time. How much should a participant enrolled in an expensive and time consuming program share with others? When does it become a vicarious free class for the person who is asking and when is it sweet interest borne by desire for the enrollee to succeed?

But this is different. This is about honoring and protecting the Artistic Self. I request not sharing now because I know sharing not only runs the risk of intimidating shyer students so that they can no longer engage and make…but more importantly, sharing saps the energy out of what they do – no matte what the confidence level.

Spiritual masters had the right idea when they cautioned against what I describe as the blurt – the uncontained, gushing verbal mode that wants everyone to know what’s going on. Find yourself in the middle of a blurt and you’ll find that the sharing diminishes the power of your creative act – power which isn’t easily restored.

Do you feel some responsibility to share what’s happening in your creative life? The events behind your closed studio doors? Think twice and conserve that store of powerful resource. No one should demand to know what’s going on with you. Let them wait. Savor your alone time with your art and your process. Report back when you feel good and ready.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Seeking Forgiveness

This week I was embarrassed and dismayed to discover that the post I wrote on election night and the responses that followed, upset one of my most beloved friends.

I have searched my soul to determine where I might have gone off track by sounding too critical of the other side. Because that was not my intent. My intent was to voice a concern that both sides of the political debate have resorted to tactics that aren’t civil. That we must categorically reject reactionary behavior.

I still don’t have an answer to how I could have written my post differently. Perhaps I could not have done so. But as the Pollyanna I am, I have sought a silver lining to the dark cloud hovering over me since that post.

The silver lining is the unifying, transcendent power of art, and specifically, of art cloth.

Those of use who love cloth don’t come from similar backgrounds. Some of us have had high-powered careers; some of us have never worked outside the house. Some of us are degreed, but many of us are not. Some have big aspirations, but many of us just love the work for the work, and are content to allow it to be so.

Our love of cloth overcomes varied family backgrounds, personal experience and education, and yes, political points of view. Which is a Hurray Moment.

I was on line this morning looking up the phone number for Spoonflower – that on-demand fabric printing site I’ve mentioned before. Stephen Fraser, one of the founders of the company, was featured in a UTube video, sponsored by the State of North Carolina. The overview of the company’s development was terrific, but what I loved most was Stephen’s statement that the company flourishes because of word of mouth – because of, in his words, ”community.” Community building.

I worry about how We will work through the current state of affairs in our government. I worry about our trashing of the planet and I worry about big business and the banking industry. These huge companies were not founded by a desire to do right in the community. They were founded to make a profit. Companies and banks don’t have a conscience. They aren’t socialized creatures. They are sociopathic entities and we, the real community, are paying the price for encouraging and indulging these practices in our culture.

How to translate our cloth community aesthetic into the at-large culture?

Rebuke? Revision? Restructure?

I am still asking myself these questions and I don’t have any answers. But I/we must engage and not falter. I am sorry I offended my friend. I hope we can continue to talk it out. Without the continued conversation among loving peers, resolution is doomed to failure. Please don’t be afraid to talk to those around you. Or share in away that could benefit others. All of us.

This is our charge.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Creative Governing?

I’ve been in a funk all day and it isn’t just worrying about my sister’s chemotherapy tomorrow. It’s the political climate in this country.

While I am horrified by the gridlock that has occurred because a bunch of extremist (mainly) men (on both sides) refuse to give an inch in the power struggle for our survival as a country (and also as human beings), today I am dismayed by our inability to recognize the absolute necessity of patience in this attempt to rebuild our circumstances. And not only dismayed but Furious when I witness the arrogance pervading EVERYTHING - that if we only had the right person, we would have been further along in this recovery. Jesus! Or maybe Mohammed! Or maybe the Budhha… but in any event, holy shit that we can’t find the patience required to allow the team we elected in 2008 to do the task we set them to do. And that we are so eager to cast them out now, and seek someone new.

No President, Democrat or Republican, could be expected to turn the tide of several generations of abuse, mismanagement and may I add, denial. Yes, I voted for Obama and I still think he’s the right man for the job. But it is discouraging to watch my Democratic colleagues abandon the cause because he couldn’t solve problems fast enough, or to their liking. I thought we were the party of generosity, high ideals and compromise. We’ve made progress. But unfortunately, it is going to take MORE time, and we do need to tighten up our belts a bit. As a self-employed artist with limited health insurance, I am ok with that. I am willing to do my part. But what about big business and government? Where are the cuts that don’t have to affect the average family? Who’s working on that? That's where the gridlock begins.

And I am also willing to take care of those around me. As long as I am talking about dismay, I need to address the insertion of various rightwing Christian dynamics into the national conversation. I don’t really get it. Aren’t we the most prosperous, highly idealistic country in HISTORY? Even if we approve of the separation between church and state, weren’t we founded in agreement with basic Christian teachings? I want to take care of those around me who are less fortunate. It is my PRIVILEGE. As they go, so go I.

Why shouldn’t those of us who have made good lives for ourselves PAY IT FORWARD by supporting our schools, streets, parks and communities through the payment of our taxes?

And on one other note, what about Moderation? We’re a bunch of greedy, self-absorbed, spoiled children, and if no one else is able to rein us in, you can be sure Mother Nature will do so.

Which is even more sobering.