When I am in the studio I listen to music. My tastes are varied from Pokey LaFarge to Stevie Rae Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and beyond. Give me some folk, some funk, some blues, some country, some hard rock, some punk, some disco and soul, and please pepper it heavily with all of the classics. If it has a beat, or a beautiful lyric, or just sets my toes a-tapping (or better yet brings on some serious moves on what turns into a dance floor despite the cat's side eye), bring it ON! It is ALL good. It is good for my soul! And it is art, every last note of it.
For the last few days I've been doing some boring type sewing things...cutting a bunch of fabric, sewing quilt backings, and a lot of the ho-hum stuff related to finishing up a bunch of projects. Don't get me wrong...finishing up is fantastic, but sometimes it's hard because it's not filled with the sparks of energy that come from working on a new creation...it's the last bits you need to do to claim your prize. I liken it to packing for a vacation. You are so excited to head on an adventure, but there's this chore you have to do. Womp womp.
Because my mind wanders when I'm bored (I can hear you laughing...okay it wanders ALL the time!) but because it was wandering this time, I started to think about the age old question of "What is Art?" Notice that I capitalized the word art to give it gravitas.
It has taken me my whole life to finally feel comfortable calling myself an artist. (I'm still working on capitalizing that A.) It wasn't until a couple years ago that I wrote my Manifesto to the Universe declaring to myself that I was going to unapologetically dive into my creative self and be who I am. Why did I do it? Because I have never believed in myself. Which, when I look back on all the years that came before, I think how ridiculous it was to be embarrassed about the one skill I was truly born with: creativity. I wasn't born doing math or giving speeches, creating presentations, or even being a Mother. I've done all of those things and more. I have plenty of skills. I can write a grant proposal. I can use Microsoft Excel. I can balance two babies on my hips and still do a week's worth of laundry. I can change the flat tires on your bicycle. I can organize a fundraiser like no other. I can cook a fantastic spaghetti and meatballs and follow it up with pie. But none of these skills are ones I was born with; they are all skills I learned.
To be fair, I wasn't the only one who doubted me. We all know our society isn't particularly supportive of the arts. (Insert eye roll here.) And over the years, especially when I was young and I was craving reassurance, I was told "You're not that good." I even had a professor tell me "If you have to ask, then you probably don't" (belong in this creative field). Ouch. I know I am not saying anything that every other creative person out there would say about themselves. Well, except for the self-promoting narcissistic asses out there: You know who you are!!! I kid, I kid.
I should mention at this point that I grew up with an Artist... the kind with a big "A". My Grandfather was a painter whose paintings are in the collections of many museums. He and my Grandmother lived right down the road from us, and we all lived in his artist's world. His studio, his art collections, everything. It was magic, it was real, it was home. And he was a wonderful Grampa or "Pepop" as I called him. As you might expect, his was the golden ring of what it meant to be an artist. In my mind, in all our minds, he was IT. And in many ways in my family, he still is IT to this day. He is our claim to fame. He is the beacon, the lighthouse of artistic endeavors. His was the career on which we all measure our value not only as successful people, but especially creative people. Here's one of my favorite photos of my Pepop, Louis Bosa, captured while he was working on a self portrait.
So what did I, the young person who had never had any support or encouragement in my creative endeavors do when it came to college choices? Well, truth be told, I let fear lead me and I caved on my dreams and went to the University of Michigan to major in Creative Writing. I lasted one year. But then, without telling anyone I did what I wanted... I applied to Art School. And not just any art school. The Cleveland Institute of Art...where my Grandfather had been the Painting Professor for years. Yep, I took all my insecurity and went into the belly of the beast. And guess what happened? I realized I had been taught very few of the skills that many of the other creatives had. I was starting at Ground Zero. And my mind was plagued with the idea that the only reason I was accepted wasn't my portfolio of work, but because everyone knew who my Grandfather was. Ouch.
Did I fit in? Absolutely not. There were your typical ART students who wore the same clothes for weeks, had mohawks, and peed on their paintings. I was the nerdy chick who excelled in Art History and Literature (the brainiac stuff which I still love to this day) and who tried to make things that I felt were beautiful. But I learned. I got great at drawing. I loved working with a live model. At the same time, I confounded my painting teacher (a man who told me upon meeting me that my Grandfather was his painting teacher. Oy. Pressure anyone?) But I confounded him because when it came to seeing color, I didn't just see a handful of colors in a tree, in addition to greens and browns I saw cool blues and purples, sometimes even magenta...he struggled to get me to mix the specific colors we were supposed to mix, and I was always pulled away by my own peculiar sense of color. And I absolutely tanked in my graphic design class. I was certain that the Professor hated me until the cool Art kids helped me create a project that had absolutely no idea or thought behind it. And it was a hit.At the time I was so confused. I hadn't worked on it! And now I know that was a major part of the lesson. The cool kids gave me a hint to success: to quit trying quite so hard, and start doing.
Eventually I found a group of friends: some who had mohawks and quirky clothes, and others who dressed in flannel and jeans. I met people who, like me, had pursued other avenues of interest before finally jumping into a creative life. And we started to talk. It was an ever present, on going conversation happening not just in our classes, but amongst ourselves. What IS Art? We were required to determine that everyday. Not just in our own work, but in critiquing the work of others as well. That was a regular event with every project in every class...the ruthless critique where everyone, all your classmates, and your instructors would tell you the unvarnished truth. And frankly, if people went too easy on you, the Professor was there to fill in the gaps. Those times were some of the most merciless things I've ever experienced. I spent a number of days in full snotty tears, I can tell you. Developing a critical eye was important, of course, but trial by fire is not pleasant by any means. But it really kept me delving into What IS Art?
It became a real struggle for me, and I engaged in numerous conversations with my peers...many believed that true Art needed to be provocative, shocking, innovative and modern. But those Art History lessons and trips to the nearby museum kept me wondering...what about those porcelain pieces from the Ming Dynasty? Or the bucolic scenes painted in the 18th century? Or the Native American pine needle baskets? Didn't we consider those art? Wasn't my Grandfather's work Art? I mean he could be a little provocative in his paintings with scenes of scenes of nuns ice skating or ladies at cocktail parties with their nipples showing, but he wasn't hanging urinals as art installations. And as far as being unique, or "new" what were all those Art History classes for, anyway? What, really, did it all mean?
As I focused my interests into Fiber Arts and Pottery these questions became even more important. After all what I was doing was thought of as craft by many of the students. But I kept asking: couldn't a thing of beauty also be art? I had a close friend who was a glass blower. He was (and I'm sure still is) amazing. He created fish out of melted sand, and made beautiful, mesmerizing, interesting sculptures. If his work wasn't art, then I definitely didn't know what I was doing.
The years went by and I believed that because my interests weren't in fine ART (painting) and weren't shocking or limit stretching, I was not an artist.
So I graduated, got married, had kids, worked jobs. Of course I kept up creative pursuits like quilting, but I was never an artist.
Until I got much older. And I hated my job. Even though I was extremely good at it, it was in no way connected to who I am. I was doing things I'm good at. Really, really good at, in fact. But that is not the same thing as living your truest life. The change started when I had both of my knees replaced at the same time (separate story...but yes, OUCH!) So I found myself stuck at home. I couldn't really walk and I wasn't able to sit for extended periods of time. But I could stand. So I bought some paint and canvases and I started to do something I'm not great at...I painted. I started painting things that I wanted to hang on my own walls. And it was fun. And some of it was actually pretty good, even if I had lost all my drawing muscles. But the best part about it was, I was playing with color. MY color. The world of color that I wanted to live in. And it was wonderful.
About two or three years later, I was still painting and I was back quilting. But I was about to turn 49. And even though just writing it was hard, I wrote my Manifesto to the Universe. And it changed everything.
I started to really work with intention and take myself seriously. I got bored with painting, but even more excited about my quilting. I started to allow myself to create my own designs. I threw out the rulebook. I wanted to create what meant something to me. I wanted to create what I felt. I wanted to create my feelings in fabric.
Unfortunately after I wrote my Manifesto, I found out I have Stage IV breast cancer. So, I quit my job. And I regretted all those days I spent running from my inner artist. I thought about all the time I had spent telling myself I wasn't any good when I could have just been creating. For me.
So...What is Art?
To me, it is what moves the soul. Whether you are the creator, or the viewer. Art gives you a window into a culture, a way of life, a mind. It makes you understand. It makes you feel. It makes you weep. It makes you dream. Sometimes it makes you smile.
Trying to define it is what limits it. Letting go of rules and definitions, getting rid of words, especially those with capital letters, and setting your creative heart free...that moment, the true expression of yourself, your thoughts, your experiences, your world. That is art. ART.
Go make some. It's well past time!