"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, January 30, 2011


In 2001, I was still the chair of the Surface Design Studio at the Southwest School of Art and Craft. Complex Cloth was selling well, and I was getting invitations to teach in other locations around the country. I struggled with leaving a program that was near and dear to my heart, but my job had turned more administrative than artful and I finally decided to go solo. It wasn’t an easy transition, but it did feel right.

Almost ten years later, I ran into a former colleague at a dinner party. “Jane,” he said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you how sorry I was that you got fired.” I looked at him in disbelief. Fired? Huh.

I called up a close friend the next day. “Hey,” I said, “Did I get fired from the Craft Center?” She laughed. “Of course you did, Jane!” She paused and continued, “Everybody knew that.”


I had the same feeling this week when I read the headline to an article describing my current exhibition and visit to the University of Louisville. The headline in the Louisville Courier-Journal read Repairing Textile’s Tattered Reputation. Huh?

The article was fine. Elizabeth Kramer, the reporter, was fun to talk to, and she definitely got it. Where the headline came from, I don’t know. But seeing that headline certainly made me stop and think. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Is this just another indication that textiles are getting a bad art rap?

The corner of the world I occupy is lively, inventive and challenging. Just as it never occurred to me that I'd been fired (gee, I could have collected unemployment...) it has never occurred to me to think of my textile world as one with a tattered reputation.

On the other hand, I talked with a guest at my lecture the other evening about just this issue - why textiles aren't more MAINSTREAM - and we agreed that it wasn't technique or quality or message as much as it was marketing.

What can we do about that?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Discharge! The Emperor's New Clothes

Last time I wrote an essay, I offered up the question Why do you make? I was delighted by the heartfelt responses you’all shared with fellow readers. Thank you, thank you to everyone who took time to write.

We didn’t determine anything definitive when it came to addressing the gender issue - which was a subplot in my previous post. It’s too big an issue to settle in a blog essay or two. But I’ve continued to ponder gender bias this week as I finished the text for my lecture. (which I’ll reprint here after I’ve presented it to the public on January 29.)

Serendipitously, a friend sent me a link I have to share with you. The Gagosian Gallery in New York City is currently showing the works of Piotr Uklański, in an exhibition titled Discharge! I read the description of the artist’s work, and could feel the color rising – or was it the hairs on the back of my neck? Or maybe my pulse?

Delight that a surface design process has gone mainstream?
Or the usual pissed off reaction I have when the “lowly” techniques I employ to make art are simultaneously appropriated and marginalized?

The review states,
“As with the crayon- shavings paintings, torn-paper collages and ceramic-mosaic tableaux, Uklański opts for low-fi, household wares — in this case, commercial bedding and bleach — over conventional, codified art materials with which to make his art.”

And don’t ask me how we could possibly go from the aggravating (as opposed to the ridiculous) to the even more aggravating (as opposed to the sublime) within the framework of one web link, but here goes. On the same page where I read about Uklanski’s Discharge! there was a link to an image of a textile piece entitled: Woman Recreates da Vinci's 'Last Supper' with Lint. Of course this piece isn’t displayed at the Gagosian Gallery; it’s offered up by Ripleys Believe it or Not.

Am I crazy? Is there a disconnect here?

Does anyone else think it's maddening that these two artists could easily be swapped, if only we had a magic wand handy? I can picture the lint pieces on the wall of a famous gallery, commanding top dollar, if only the artist knew how to work the gallery scene.

I can just as easily imagine the bleach paintings on a wall at Ripley’s - because there are loads of folks out there who would never believe that art can be made with chlorine bleach.

Is it the luck of the draw? Ambition? Asking the right questions and getting the right teachers? Gender bias?

I just hope he neutralized those rather large investments before they went public.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why do YOU work?

Why do you make? And why do you make what you make?
Have you spent time thinking about these questions?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot – partly because as a working artist you have lots of alone time, and although I adore audio books, I’ve recently chosen solitude over information. I need time to think.

Today what I really want to know is why other people do what they do, but specifically why people/women/men make art quilts or art work with a textile component.

Here’s why. I’m writing a lecture to be given alongside the current art quilt exhibition, Form Not Function, at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana. As preparation, I looked at the quilts in the show. Then I started looking at all kinds of art quilts in all kinds of places. Famous quilts, not so famous quilts. All of the Quilt National shows since 1999. Fascinating. Genres have definitely emerged. More on that later, after I have introduced my classifications in the lecture.

My original plan was to draw conclusions and propose goals art quilters could work toward into the future. But although I’ve worked on my ideas for several weeks almost nonstop, I find I have only observations to share.

There are some intriguing oddities in the art quilt movement.

For instance, it’s a field populated by women. There is only one man in the Form/Not Function show. In the last issue of the Surface Design Association Journal, which featured the art quilt movement, four men were included alongside twenty-four women. Neither SAQA (the Studio Art Quilt Associates) nor SDA knows for sure how many male members are enrolled, but it’s not a very large number.

This is the reverse of almost every art movement to date. Men have dominated painting from Romanticism until Now, with women making inroads, but not definitive or speedy ones. From Mary Cassatt to Georgia O’Keefe to Lee Krasner, women were the exception, not the rule. Feminism influenced this of course, but the movements associated with women who acted partly from a Feminist stance are still subjected to faint disdain as far as mainstream Art is concerned. Maybe the playing field is finally leveling among young, aspiring artists, (I haven’t researched it – anyone have personal experience with this?)

But what’s going on in the art quilt world?

I guess it’s not surprising, since sewing has always been a girl thing. But it just feels odd. On the one hand, quilt making is huge because it gives so many women a context in which to be artistic. But quilt making still isn’t mainstream art – could it be because it is primarily a female arena?

Women are by nature supportive and encouraging. Quilt guilds have flourished in part because they provide connection. Organizations like SAQA have harnessed an incredible female energy, one that continues to rise – generating shows and exposure for the membership.

That’s good. But also problematic. If we get our own little club going here, then maybe we aren’t as inclined to venture out of the comfort zone. Do we care if we never make it into the mainstream art world? Are we happy here in the textile ghetto? Would we rather not compete with each other, or with other media?

It feels itchy to me. It’s too easy to ignore the fact that some of the issues we face might be rooted in gender inequalities that aren’t yet resolved. But maybe we’re at the best party in the world, with lots of women we like, so it doesn’t matter if we’re not invited into major galleries on a regular basis, or that often our work doesn’t sell for the price a comparable painting would command.

Disclaimer: Some art quilt artists DO command comparable prices to paintings and get them. Is it unreasonable to ask whether these numbers are lower than they could be, were quilts to be more widely accepted by the art buying public?

I’ve got some observations about steps that could be taken to move more aggressively toward the mainstream market. But that’s another subject. What I really want to know right now is all about motivation.

Another concern: If art quilters are content existing in the lovely world they’ve created for themselves, will challenges to refine, strive for quality, question design, color, innovation, and/or presentation be embraced? Maybe that’s an individual decision rather than a group one.

Do you work just because you love the work?
Do you aspire to exhibit and sell your work and what does that look like? To friends? Through a gallery? Through exposure at exhibitions?

I welcome your thoughts.

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.