What Stories are Just Old Stories?

In an effort to make my story bolder, bigger and more adventurous, I recently signed up with a coach (I'll share more about that as the process processes!) and, as a result, am doing some of that deep-digging internal work that is both exhilerating and terrifying at the same time. Like trying to answer the question: What do I really want in my creative life? And, what do I need (to have, to do, to think about, to change) to make that happen?

And, of course, as often happens when one is paying attention to one thing or another, two smart amazing people whose work I follow came through with related posts. 

First, poet, creative consultant and teacher David Whyte wrote a wonderful "letter from home," and in it he describes this aha moment:

One of the most beautifully disturbing questions we can ask, is whether a given story we tell about our lives is actually true, and whether the opinions we go over every day have any foundation or are things we repeat to ourselves simply so that we will continue to play the game. It can be quite disorienting to find that a story we have relied on - is not only not true - it actually never was true. Not now not ever. There is another form of obsolescence that can fray at the cocoon we have spun about ourselves, that is, the story was true at one time, and for an extended period; the story was even true and good to us, but now it is no longer true and no longer of any benefit, in fact our continued retelling of it simply imprisons us. We are used to the prison however, we have indeed fitted cushions and armchairs and made it comfortable and we have locked the door from the inside.

The imprisoning story I identified by the time the entree was served was one I had told myself for a long time. “In order to write I need peace and quiet and an undisturbed place far from others or the possibility of being disturbed. I knew however, that if I wanted to enter the next creative stage, something had to change; I simply did not have enough free space between traveling, speaking and being a good father and husband to write what I wanted to write. The key in the lock turned surprisingly easy, I simply said to myself, “What if I acted as if it wasn’t true any more, what if it had been true at one time, but now at this stage in the apprenticeship I didn’t need that kind of insulation anymore, what if I could write anywhere and at any time?” One of the interesting mercies of this kind of questioning is that it is hard to lose by asking: if the story is still true, we will soon find out and can go back to telling it. If is not we have turned the key, worked the hinges again and walked out into the clear air again with a simple swing of the door.

Read the rest of the story here to find out what happened when David Whyte took action with that insight. And join me in asking what are just old stories I am telling myself?

Also in my inbox, a newsletter from Lisa Call, another of my on-line gurus. A systems analyst by day and artist in heart and soul, Lisa has a work ethic I admire, and such complex and organized systems for her own creative goal setting that they make my little improvisational soul quiver. I don't even aspire to such a level of organization, but I do really find her inspiring and motivating. She says:

I just received an email from my coach addressed to "Big Rock Lisa". *

What a great reminder to stay focused.  I love my coach!

I've gone through periods of trying to hold it all together without the support of a paid coach or mentor, and I can do it. 

But it's a lot easier with one.

Sometimes it's good to get a neutral party to have a look at my ideas, plans and actions as they often see things that those closer to me do not. 

It was my coach that said "you are always busy but you don't seem to get the most important things done".  Well duh!

And now I focus on the big rocks first. 

Like my studio.  I'm spending more time making art this month - with a consistent and sustainable pace - than I have in a long time.  Woohoo!

To come clean about my coaching commitment, I've signed up with Lesley Riley and even after just a week o work on visioning my goals and how to go about them, the universe is responding in kind. I decided to take this step of hiring her as my coach after seeing an amazing panel discussion that Lesley put together (and only half of it at that) at the International Quilt Festival. She invited a group of successful artists to talk about their work, approaches and how they capitalized on their strengths and talent to get where they are. Lesley has online courses and does one-on-one coaching with her Artist Success programs -- check it out!

More Mermaid

The Lisa Call online workshop "Working in a Series" is doing its work on me. Deadlines work for me. Here's the first assignment completed. I won't give a lot of details as to the assignments, as that is proprietory information that is part of the course, but I will say that this one pushed me to a piece of work that I really like and that combines the kind of graphic clarity with my patterned texture work that is hard for me to find. 

Keeping at it, this will be the first of a new Sirena series, with five or six new large pieces to result (this [pieceis about 4' by 5'). I feel like I am breaking out of a long, slow slump into some new energy in my work. I find that the right teacher and the right learning experience for me can really help me in my studio practice. As artists, we spend a lot of time in our own little heads, solo. Having to interact in a creative setting, being the follower instead of always being the leader offers a certain kind of vacation, a kind of social interaction that is very valuble for my creative process.

I was once asked by a teacher/artist whom I really respect why I continue to take workshops. She doesn't, feeling that her focus is set and self directed, and that taking classes is a waste of energy and direction, can take her off her track. I don't feel that way -- first, I teach a lot of intro technique classes and some workshops are fodder for that mill -- I need to keep up on the latest and greatest. But others, like this one that I am taking now, are real soul food. Something I need to feed my artist self and to keep me honest, to keep me on task, to remind me of what is important in my work. 

Yes, choose carefully. Avoid being a workshop junkie, using courses and workshops to avoid forging ahead on a personal path. But a well-chosen workshop, retreat or class can be just what the spirit ordered. A time to give over the reins for a time, a time to refresh the creative flow, to have deadlines outside of one's own choosing (and divorced from "entry" deadlines that have their own baggage of procrastination) and even a time to make mistakes, to do "not-so-perfect" work and to have a failure or two!

What is an art quilt?


Everytime I think that surely the whole world is into art quilts I meet someone who looks puzzled and asks me "huh?" Quilts hung on the wall is sort of part of it, but many people also hang their "traditional" quilts on the wall. And, frankly, I'm not so sure that the borderline between traditional and art quilts is all that clear in the minds of many who even like to tinker in the trappings.

I certainly don't want to replay the whole art vs. craft discussion here, nor do I believe that we gain a lot by debating what exactly is art -- it's a lovely question that's been asked and answered for ages. (I personally like what Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1890 in Conundrum of the Workshop:

“When the flush of a new-born sun fell on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Til the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty. But is it Art?”

But I do think its worth stating and restating a few times on this blog, one the purportedly is about the studio life, practise and output of an artist who makes art quilts (aka contemporary textile paintings) and during this season of entry forms (esn't every season now?) it's nice to revisit what some of the "big kids on the block" have to say about it.

Here's Lisa Call's take on the topic, from her Squidoo lens (and she quotes and attributes several others):

What is a Contemporary Art Quilt
From Lisa Call’s http://www.squidoo.com/artquilts/

There is a lot of discussion in the art quilt world about what exactly an "art quilt" is and what we should call them. The simple term "quilt" is deemed unacceptable by a large portion of the general art quilting population because of the connotations of traditional quilt that it carries with it. So most people prefer to add some type of disclaimer to qualify the type of quilt they make.
One of the more common terms is "art quilt". I prefer "contemporary quilt". Some people say "fiber art" or "studio quilt" or "textile art" or "soft painting". But the question remains - exactly WHAT is a contemporary art quilt? Generally it refers to a quilt that was intended to be art and hang on the wall vs. placed on a bed. Although some art quilts might also be bed quilts.

What is Art?
As contemporary art quilts are "art" it's good to think about what art is when trying to define them. Of course defining art is difficult but the definition I prefer I read on Alyson Stanfield's Art Biz Blog

"What is art? . . . art is the deliberate creation of aesthetic sensations. Art is a work of a human being, not of nature. It is not accidental. It produces something that is perceived through the senses and results in a personal emotional experience. . . .

". . . it is the conscious, deliberate production of an event or object of beauty (or emotional import) by a human being, employing not only the skill of the craftsman, but in addition, an element of creativity--original, inventive, instinctive, genius. An art object is an aesthetic artifact, deliberately created.
Art actually lies in the act of creation, not in its result."

--G. Ellis Burcaw, Introduction to Museum Work, page 66

Definition of an Art Quilt
From the "Authorities"
This is Quilt National's definition:
The work must possess the basic structural characteristics of a quilt. It must be predominantly fabric or fabric-like material and must be composed of at least two full and distinct layers - a face layer and a backing layer. The face layer may be described by any or a combination of the following terms: pieced, appliqued, whole cloth, stitched/fused to a foundation. The face and backing layers must be held together by hand- or machine-made functional quilting stitches or other elements that pierce all layers and are distributed throughout the surface of the work. At least some of these stitches or elements should be visible on the back of the work. As an alternative, the work may be a modular construction (an assemblage of smaller quilts). Each individual module, however, must meet the above structural criteria.

This is Studio Art Quilt Associates's definition:

SAQA defines an art quilt as a contemporary artwork exploring and expressing aesthetic concerns common to the whole range of visual arts: painting, printmaking, photography, graphic design, assemblage and sculpture, which retains, through materials or technique, a clear relationship to the folk art quilt from which it descends.

The art part of the definition is the most debateable, and as Kipling wrote, a longtime call and response.

The majority of Westerners today, if a survey of more than 500 people conducted by Carolyn Boyd’s anthropology class at Texas A&M has any validity, think that

“art is created for the sole purpose of being aesthetically pleasing to people within society and with minimum purpose beyond that of intrinsic enjoyment.”

Boyd is studying the rock art paintings of the Pecos River and, she views those great works in a somewhat different light, one that does not make them ART at all, but something more utilitarian than what that survey indicates most Americans think about art.

Human beings are makers – we evolved these opposable thumbs and then just couldn’t help but start making tools, making clothing, making shelter, making food fancier, making stuff.

As we developed more skills and fancier tools --and perhaps the time to spare, we started pleasing our senses with the things we made --adding aesthetic considerations to their functionality with decoration, embellishment – and also just with making things that had inherent sensory-pleasing qualities of texture, color, shape and form. This concern, these considerations have changed, but endured even into the industrial and post industrial, electronic world. Craft and technical skills become valuable.

We make stuff – and try to make it pleasing --but we humans also make stories. As story makers, we are as concerned with the why and how come and what happened then and what happens next as we are with making our lives run more smoothly. A story, in this broad artspeak meaning, can be a narrative, a question, a confusion, a conversation between formal elements like line and color, a public outrage, a private history -- and it can be done well or poorly.

And to me that’s where the art comes in to the quilt.