"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, April 25, 2011

Working on Style: Part Two

A few days ago I referred to the worth of developing a unique approach to your work, and called it style. The point that day revolved around entering exhibitions or approaching galleries, where the jurist/curators might prefer to see a body of work that reads as visually cohesive. I still stand by that point and the reasoning behind it.

But as my friend Jackie pointed out in the Comments Section, Picasso did any thing he wanted. Sculpture, painting, watercolor, drawing. Did I mean to imply that somehow we are different from Picasso, and therefore we don’t have the option of working in more than one medium or style?

I did not.

Actually my reference was very narrow. I play around with all kinds of materials and techniques and so should any artist who is seeking versatility and also personal voice. But what happens in the studio is different from what happens on an entry form. I might have three different ways of working going at once and more power to me if I can keep that many balls in the air simultaneously. But when I submit an application for a show, better to choose which style I am going to present to the world, and save the other juicy stuff for another entry form. It’s all about harnessing vision and introducing it to the world selectively.

But a couple of other considerations.

Consideration #1: I still think that there’s a lot to be said for limitations within a specific body of work. I want to be really good at dye printing. I want to know it inside and out. I can flit and flutter around other techniques and maybe come up with some ideas that will eventually insert themselves into the work I am showing publicly, but in the meantime, I want mastery - at least in a few areas.

Mediocre might be fun in the present moment of creation, but getting good at something by spending intimate hours with it is much more fun long term.

Consideration #2:
It’s the playing around that leads to the unique combination of tools and materials that is recognizably Jane. It's like a buffet. The first time you go, you choose a little bit of everything. You’re stuffed; it’s fabulous. But you almost feel sick from overindulging. Next time, maybe forget the pastries. Skip the ham. Concentrate on the shrimp cocktail, and the exquisite salads. Same thing in the studio. You try out this or that, but most of what you try ends up on the cutting room floor. It’s a special combination of process and approach that adds up to You - the artist with the recognizable style.

And once you get into a groove, you discover that the techniques you live and breathe morph. I used to use textile paint for printing. Now I use sand. Same basic printing, but working with it intimately, showed me what else it could do.

The paradox of working – old techniques become new ones – rejuvenated by an unexpected brainstorm twist. And plenty of experience.

Here are two of my play day results. I’m lusting after color as a result of all that work in black, white and gray. So the color fields are new/old. New this month, but a method I know intimately. The sand printing? Old/new. Old screen image. New material.Next? I see stitching.

Just working along on style. Working on my voice.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Working on Style

One of the essays I am reading suggests that Vincent van Gogh was actually a clumsy, rather inept painter. This would certainly never have occurred to me, as seeing his paintings in person is a highlight of being on the road so often. I get to visit a lot of museums.

Another part of the essay described how hard it is for a gallery owner to defend a painter’s work if the brushstrokes in one painting vary from those in another. Since I am not trained as a painter this was a bit of a shock.

Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime. Making all his brushstrokes alike probably wouldn’t have changed his sales portfolio much. It’s doubtful, knowing what we know about him, that he would have been inclined to play by those rules, anyway.

In the long run, we’re all a mix of trying to overcome ineptitude – at least at the beginning – and desire to please. Humans like consistency and continuity. It makes us feel comfortable. Gallery owners know this, so it is in their best interest - and by extension in the best interest of their artists - to encourage them to work in a recognizable style. That’s how artists become established in the collective cultural mind.

Last week I met with one of my Mastery Program groups. A noon discussion focused on entering juried shows. I offered the observation that many jurors prefer pieces entered by an artist that evidence continuity and cohesiveness, over the work of an artist who submits three stylistically different works. You might be good at three different methods of patterning cloth or painting, but if you are entering a juried show, it’s better to offer entries that hang together. It’s an indication that you have history, and also an enthusiasm for your process. This struck most of the class members as odd. What about versatility? What about exploring new mediums and ideas?

The fact is, artists need both experimentation and a personal style. In order to develop your skills and the ability to work meaningfully, you’ve got to play around and try out lots of ideas. That’s how an individual style eventually develops. It takes time and long hours of working to distill communal process into a singular voice.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of being considered clumsy or inept. There are always refined standards by which your work will be judged. That’s why it’s so important to love your own work. If you do, then negative comments might sting, but it won’t be for long.

And consider this: too much refinement is like eating white bread. All the texture and powerful nutrients are gone. No artist should be relegated to white bread status. It’s way more satisfying to work from the heart, even when it’s a slightly clumsy effort, because the powerful nutrients are still there. Viewers always know this. And are grateful.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Street Art

As an exercise to get back into studio mind I've been machine stitching on paint chips. There's nothing great about these, but it's a good warm up and fun to respond to the paint chip name as a way of riffing on the imagery.

The paint chips were named:
Spritz of Lime
Jackson Square (an ode to Pollack....)
Night Shift

I took these three little pieces out and hung them on the street - once again using telephone poles because they already have an embarrassment of ready to use nails. Hopefully the clipboards will help avoid the problem I had with Round 1 of my Street Art project - when a piece wasn't secure on the nail and subsequently crashed.

I put the same note on the back of these pieces - Free Art. Take this if you want it. I posted them in a different neighborhood. We'll see whether they disappear, and whether anyone calls to let me know they've claimed ownership.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Gorgeous Blogger

This morning Sherri Lynn Wood nominated me as a Gorgeous Blogger. Hmm. Wish I’d known it when I looked in the mirror and fretted about whether to cut my hair or let it grow out.

Kidding aside, this is a neat way to let people know about blogs that are different or particularly intriguing to me, and I am flattered to be in her top five, since her own blog is one worth visiting.

As part of the deal I was asked to answer a few questions, and then nominate five other blogs I think readers might like to check out.

When did you start your blog?
Existential Neighborhood started in 2010, but I’ve been blogging since 2008 when I kept the Daily Visuals going for one year as a form of practice.

What do you write about?
I write about making, art, philosophy, absurdity and basically anything that is bothering, challenging or delighting me.

What makes this special?
I’m best known for technique development in the field of surface design, which doesn’t require philosophical components to be successful. But in the past I’ve been accused of being moody, intense and rebellious. It used to be problematic. Now it’s socially acceptable since nobody has to read what I write unless they want to.

What made you start writing?
I just love to write as much as I love to make. There are certain things you can do with dye that you can’t do with paint and vice versa. There are certain ideas I can represent visually that transcend words. But sometimes words trump art.

What would you change in your blog?
Right now at least, I wouldn’t change anything. It would be great to learn how to make short videos to include, but I recognize my own limitations and I haven’t gotten to that place on the list.

You might consider visiting:
Elaine Lipson birthed the slow cloth concept and always write something worth reading.
Jeanne Beck is prolific and dedicated and I love checking in to see what she is working on.
Marie-Therese Wisniowski thinks big and deep about art and writes thoughtfully about many topics.
Art Project by Google isn’t technically a blog, but you can visit art museums all over the world on this site with its virtual tours. Let’s set a date and visit together!
Robert Genn has a huge system of links, advertisements (don’t let them get to you) and insights. I just ordered his book The Twice Weekly Letters, because my friend Liz left it on the nightstand and I was awake past midnight, captured by his good sense, humor and professionalism. Check out the link to one of his letters (I guess technically it’s a blog) below:

Here’s to the mind expanding potential of the Internet.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Guerrilla Art Gardening

Last Saturday my guerilla art action was directed toward our community garden. The garden is a public space where anyone can plant a few flowers or vegetables. At dusk I took dozens of pretend bugs, butterflies and birds into the garden, and carefully wired them to the fences, tomato cages and blossoming stalks. The silk interlopers immediately attracted the real thing - a graceful Swallowtail butterfly looking for playmates.

This morning I visited the garden again. A single yellow bird is the only remaining evidence of my garden party. Did children carry away the brightly colored collection? Did a local gardener find the phonies unsuitable and remove them? Did a magic wand transform the lot Pinocchio-style, breathing temporary life into their plastic bodies?

It's challenging to give up the need to know. So I remind myself that this is an exploration of process, not outcome.

Learning to be open to process and detached from outcome isn't a lesson you learn once and then you've got it. It's a lesson you have to learn every day. Being in the garden this morning was good practice. I'm not great at letting go, but I'm getting better.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

For My Daughter's Friend

The boy whose father died was not my son.
His father was not my friend, or lover or husband.
I didn’t know him.

I stare at the sparkling prisms on the chandeliers.
At the non-committal color of the walls.
Anywhere but at the face of the boy whose father died too soon.

I couldn’t stand to see my daughter in a casket.
Is it the only act I couldn’t undo?
When she was small, I told her I could accept anything as long as it was the Truth.
Death might be the Truth.
But it would not be a Truth I could easily accept.
And were death to come, I would want her to be somewhere. I realize this, sitting alone in the pew. I would need to be with her. I would need the confirmation of the body. It would make me crazy, but at least there would be no doubt as to the Truth.

Here, in this room, is a Father. Here is a casket. Here is a body. Here is a certain, resolute Truth.

The pastor makes remarks. It is all a pastor can do.
He’s talking about the other side.
The ship is moving away over the horizon.
We on the horizon line mourn the disappearance.
But those in the land where the sun is coming up stand joyfully and shout,
“Here it comes, here it comes.”
This, says the pastor, is Heaven. The father is the ship arriving. Everyone is joyful.
I am not convinced.

I look at the boy across the room, and love him.
I must. It is all I have to offer.
Maybe it will help him, as binding a wound begins the healing, once the nurse has arrived.
More likely, what he needs to survive this loss is a plunge deep into the immutable love of parent and child. Remembering.

This is the contract that cannot be broken.
This is the love that transcends time.
This is what the boy must fathom now, in his deepest grief.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inside the Box

Ever have one of those days when you just feel boxed in?
I started the day with a $700. utility bill, which is about five hundred dollars more than usual. Quick, indignant call to City Public Services, only to discover that yes - back in December when I got that low bill - even though we were in the middle of an ice storm in south Texas? It was an error and now the error has caught up with me....

OK. Off to the gym, ideas for essays swirling in my head. All I need is a good workout to help me focus. Then I’ll go home and get started. Yikes! A woman on the bench next to me in the locker room walks off with my keys. It had to be an accident, but stranded at the gym I start a slow burn.

Sound familiar? Modern life is filled with gripes and grievances. Too little time. Not enough money. Things that break or quit working.

Sometimes it’s hard to stay open to the moments of grace that can turn the bad day around. Moments that remind you everyone suffers these minor annoyances. In the words of a children’s book we used to read, It could be worse.

Most of us are no strangers to worse. Parents with dementia and a variety of age-related issues. Illnesses of our own. Kid problems. No one escapes this life unscathed.

So, I got a ride from the gym, thanks to an enterprising daughter with keys to my car. The cat on the kitchen counter (one of six in the house - anyone need a cat?) gave me a laugh packaged with a literal lesson. Sometimes when you’re in the box it just might help to settle there. Breathe. Maybe even take a nap. Get a little thinking done.

The path of least resistance might be a pretty good path.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Working to a Theme

I’m not a fan of theme exhibitions.

The disclaimer: I do have a piece in the exhibition Green, which just opened at the Textile Museum in Washington DC. I haven’t seen the show, but hope to. But right now I don’t know if the bias expressed here applies to it or not.

Frankly, I don’t really understand why theme shows are so popular. I’m not on the bandwagon. Most of the shows I’ve seen that were built around a theme felt trite and weren’t the best examples of the work I knew the artists could create.
But maybe themes give the venue something to build on. When I challenged the value of a theme for the future Surface Design Association conference (San Antonio 2013) the conference manager was polite but firm. It only took a week to receive a forwarded email from her written by a presenter whose entire body of work had shifted – impacted by the Confluence theme around which the 2011 conference is constructed.

Last Sunday I went to the San Antonio Museum of Art to see the much anticipated exhibition The Missing Peace – art work inspired by the Dalai Lama. I could hardly wait. The theme issue didn’t occur to me until I got there and walked through the show. It was very disappointing. An impressive roster of names, but very little that was inspiring. Even some textile pieces (Yippee in a major museum) but not good ones. Some mildly interesting ideas. The Dalai Lama’s shoes and a photo of the aura surrounding them. (When told of the aura, the Dalai Lama smiled and suggested that perhaps the aura was really that of his cobbler, who’d repaired the shoes three times in the recent past.)

How could I love the idea of the theme and find the actual artwork falling flat?

Was it because as good as the artists are, most of them weren’t making work that would have been made anyway? Most of it was work created because who wouldn’t want to be in a show inspired by the Dalai Lama? I’d sure give it a shot if invited. This little opinion would fly out the window so fast your head would spin.

But It isn’t just about The Missing Peace. The Handweaver’s Guild of America always mounts a set of shows related to their Convergence conference that are theme driven. I never pass up an opportunity to enter their singularly worthy fabric lengths exhibition, but I always struggle with the theme. I don’t live in New Mexico. How authentic is it to work to a theme related to the landscape there? And why? Can’t those of us who work in that format just send gorgeous, creative, thought-provoking entries with a wide range of themes? Wouldn’t that sort of show be just as successful?
Maybe it’s sour grapes because I didn’t get in last time, even though my fabric was wonderful. It didn’t fit the theme, according to the juror.

Lots of people will disagree with me and you’ve got the right to do so. But I guess I am a purist. Art is sacred. I’d rather artists be a bit obstinate when it comes to personal work. There are so many compromises in Life. If you’ve got a piece that fits a theme, that’s different. But working to one? I’m wary.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And not only that. It's Wordless Wednesday

Guerilla Acts Part Two

I am working on a new name for art driven guerilla activities. There are loads of them out there. For instance, some folks led by my friends Diane Sandlin and Jean Dahlgren participated in a yarn bombing at the Blanton Art Museum in Austin, Texas.

Don't the colors look beautiful amid the trees?

After I wrote the post yesterday, I read a few inspiring things on line, and decided no time like the present. I grabbed four framed photographs left from a recent exhibition of spoonflower.com inspired pieces and hopped in the car, armed with my hammer, a few nails and the camera.

I loved the incongruity of framed art work hanging on a telephone pole.

Before I left the house, I printed cards that read:
If you want it, it’s yours.
Call & leave a message if you want to tell me who you are.
Happy Day.

I attached a card to the back of each photograph.

I installed the Dhalia piece yesterday afternoon at 3:00 pm. This morning at 9:00 am it was gone.

I installed the Agave photo in front of the liquor store. You know - tequila, and all - and the fact that this is Texas. I drove by this morning, and the photo had a crack in the glass. The Free Art tag was taped to the front, on the glass. I thought it was pretty sweet of someone to hang it back up, but I did wonder why he or she didn't just take it. One of those things that's interesting to question, but part of the lesson of letting go.

I chose to install the Poppy outside my favorite Mexican restaurant - the Blanco Cafe. There's a gorgeous tribute to one of the daughters - Miss Gina - painted on the window. I thought it was fitting to offer the poppy up in memory of her. This morning it was still there.

The last photograph is installed outside the local drycleaner's storefront. When we drove past it this morning (My sister Ann was visiting) we agreed that most people are so preoccupied with their thoughts when they drive, they may not even notice the 12" x 12" square hanging incongruously on the telephone pole. There's a lesson there, too. It's so good to get outside yourself and really look at the world around you. I will be looking and also reporting.

And I'll let you know if anyone calls.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Guerilla Acts of Making

“What are you going to do with it?”

That’s a question you may have heard before. Art’s funny that way. If friends and neighbors have a frame of reference for your work, then maybe the question hasn’t come up. It’s easy to see that a framed painting is supposed to go on the wall. A blown glass object is meant to sit on a shelf behind the couch. Hand thrown ceramic tableware? Obvious. Bring on the ribs and potato salad.

But quilts can’t just be quilts. In order to be sure the audience gets it, we use a qualifier. It’s an art quilt. Hand printed lengths of fabric that took hours (and expertise) to print? Can’t be yardage. Better be art cloth. What am I going to do with it? Make a wall hanging?

Maybe I am just going to let it be. Art.

But that’s idealistic at best and escapist at the least. It’s hard to learn to work for the sake of working. We do better with deadlines. Challenges. A Call for Entries. We want our work to do something.

This is all related to thoughts on the potential of what I call guerilla acts of making. A young artist (sorry I have forgotten her name – if you know it, please add a comment below) who bought a shirt at Wal-Mart, went home and carefully disassembled it. Copied it. Sewed up a duplicate and returned her version to the store. This, a comment on mass consumption and also on sweat shops.

And how about various projects around the country where people knit to dress parking meters, fences and other bits of public and private property?

And have you seen any of the spontaneous musical events occurring all over the world? Wow. Everyone is having so much fun. I want a piece of that.

Maybe because it’s Spring in Texas. Time to lighten up. I love winter and the impulse to burrow in, go deep, create rich work. Delve into meaning. But right now, how about some fun with a purpose? Work that you don’t have to question because you know where it’s going and why you are making it!

Engage in a guerilla act of making this month. If poets and poetry lovers can strew poems on bus benches and restaurant tables, I want to make art and put it out there.

Here are my ideas:
Take a piece of art and nail it to a telephone pole. Watch from a distance. Or not. Will anyone take it? Will they be pleased and public or furtive?

Print a Tshirt and add a hang tag that says” Take me. I’m free.” Sneak it into a Stein Mart or Macy’s and leave it on the rack. Make sure you add a phone number so anyone who is curious can call you.

What about crocheting a few bugs and butterflies and then pinning them to leaves in a public garden? Consult 75 Birds, Butterflies & little beasts to knit and crochet by Lesley Stanfield (St. Martin’s Griffin 2011) for ideas.

There’s actually an advertising campaign like this happening across the country. Last summer I picked up a beautiful beach glass pendant and was happily surprised when the shop owner told me I’d chosen the one object in the gallery that was free. All I had to do was write an email to the maker and thank her.

It’s a great advertising strategy but it’s also a great way to spread a little joy around.

Joy. What a great idea.

Poem for Tuesday

What does not exist looks so handsome.
What does exist, where is it?
An ocean is hidden. All we see is foam,
shapes of dust, spinning, tall as minarets, but I want wind.
Dust can’t rise up without wind, I know,
but can’t I understand this
by some way other than induction?

Invisible ocean, wind. Visible foam and dust: This is speech.
Why can’t we hear thought?
These eyes were born asleep.
Why organize a universe this way?

With the merchant close by a magician measures out
five hundred ells of linen moonlight.
It takes all his money, but the merchant buys the lot.
Suddenly there’s no linen, and of course there’s no money,
which was his life spent wrongly, and yours.
Say, Save me, Thou One,
from witches who tie knots and blow on them.
They’re tying them again.
Prayers are not enough. You must do something.

Three companions for you:
Number One, what you own. He won’t even leave the house
for some danger you might be in. He stays inside.
Number two, your good friend. He at least comes to the
He stands and talks at the gravesite. No further.

The third companion, what you do, your work,
goes down into death to be there with you,
to help.
Take deep refuge with that companion, beforehand.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. In honor of the month, I would like to share one of my recent favorites with you. This poem is by Naomi Shihab Nye, and was recently published in the Shambala Sun - a great magazine that always includes a poem, with brief commentary, at the end of the issue.

When they say don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.

You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.

Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.

Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.

When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.