Thursday, February 8, 2007

Why I create

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I have trouble calling myself an "artist." No matter how hard I try to expand my definition, I always come back to my original viewpoint: that an "artist" is someone who can draw something recognizable. You know the kind of people I mean - the one you went to high school with who could look at something and draw it immediately, and have it look like what it's supposed to be, a dog or a car or an apple. The one who said, "I want to be an artist when I grow up," and no one laughed. And even if they went to college and discovered that their dream was unrealistic, that what they had was not considered by their instructors to be talent, or that the number of people who make a living solely as an artist is very small, they still can capture an image, the view outside their window or a flower in a garden, with nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper. And those among us who can't even come close are still jealous of their gift, even if it never took them where they thought it would.

Now me, I draw with about as much skill as your average first-grader. But I've always been creative -- mostly with music or with words. Although I wanted very much to take an art class in high school, the way things were set up it was impossible to do both music *and* art, and since I loved to sing and was a member of the band, my choice was pretty much made for me already. Besides, in my family we just weren't "artistic" people - not one of us showed any artistic talent or interest, at least until my cousin David came along (to pay the bills he's a postal carrier, but he also sculpts. He makes really interesting pieces, too.)

But about 6 years ago, after my divorce, I was introduced to gourd art, which runs the gamut from birdhouses and kitschy painted snowmen/Santas/bunnies/penguins, to pyrographed, carved, and inlaid artworks that command thousands of dollars from collectors, and I thought, hey, I could do that... I started out making rhythm instruments - rattles and guiros - and graduated to bowls and boxes and vases, along the way learning about pyrography, gold leaf, and other media for surface decoration. At some point I started making little gourd shrines, which needed an occupant, and I discovered that polymer clay was easy to work with in a home setting and so versatile I could execute pretty much anything I could think of (within the limited scope of my sculpting skills.) From there, I made jewelry, vessels, and things to attach to gourds like knobs and other embellishments. Polymer clay is pretty much endlessly versatile, so that kept my focus for a couple of years. Eventually, tho', I stumbled over altered books, and other alter-ables like Altoid tins and dolls and pretty much anything you can find in a thrift store. Since I loved thrift stores already, those outings turned into art supply scavenger hunts, and every time I walk into a store I come out with at least one thing begging to be renewed and beautified by the application of some decoration, or incorporated into a design in some fashion completely different from its original purpose. I suppose that this vision that sees the potential of turning a little plastic toy from a kid's meal into the occupant of a surreal landscape contained in a recycled wooden crate could be considered "artistic."

Which brings me to the second part of my definition of "artist", which is a little more developed and I suppose takes into account that not every piece of art has to be representational - that in order to be "art", the artist has to have a point of view to express. What I make may not exactly be pretty, and it certainly isn't cutesy, but for the most part it is just supposed to be pleasing or interesting to look at. I don't always need it to have meaning. Or at least I don't think it always has meaning. I'm not making an ironic statement about consumer culture when I put a Creature from the Black Lagoon toy into a sort of diorama with fluorescent squids and little fruit trees against a backdrop of beer labels - it's just something that catches my eye and makes me laugh. I suppose someone could find hidden significance in my choices, but if it's there, it's purely subconscious.

So why do I do it? Because I like that I can. I like that when I cover a doll in paperclay and tissue and paint and glitter and doo-dads and attach her to a grapevine wreath, people are attracted to it and think it's interesting. I like that when I woodburn a design on a gourd and color it with markers and pastels and inks and gold leaf, it becomes something I'm happy to display in my house. I like having the freedom - the *creativity* - to take something I've learned from one material and apply it to a discipline or outlet other than the one where it's traditionally used. Maybe if I had gotten formal instruction in what constitutes "art" I wouldn't feel free enough to do whatever moves me in the moment.

One of these days I'm going to make some enormous thing that combines a thrift store doll, a gourd, some polymer clay, fabric, paper, beads, ModPodge, stamps, paint, ink, tyvek, wire, and a whole bunch of miscellaneous sparkly embellishments into a veritable magnum opus of me-ness. And then I'll take up knitting. :)

1 comment:

Frog Princess said...

KNITTING IS GOOD! Then I can send you some of my miles of handspun.

Glad to see you blogging, baby!