I've been feeling lots of (irrational?) anger about Art lately; worrying that the act of making art is narcissistic, that I should be doing More To Help The World, that while the drive to create in and of itself is a beautiful thing, the exchange of goods and money for those creations evokes contrary responses in my head that I have a hard time resolving. Not because I undervalue myself or my time, but rather because I have a hard time justifying In This Economy the act of making an object that is not entirely useful or economical -- or expecting my friends to buy it.
Recently I had a conversation that made me step back a little and think kind of hard about the scope of the impact I want to make. Maybe it doesn't need to be huge and world-shaking. I talked briefly with a boy in the coffeeshop the other day. Typical tired-eyed college dude, waiting on me at the counter; I was in a chatty mood, and told him I liked the little turtle figure he wore around his neck. He thanked me, told me where he'd bought it, and then his whole face changed as he said "but I made the cord."
It was a hemp knotted cord, you know the kind. The kind College Dudes That Work In Coffeeshops wear; that kind of frayed-gray color that comes of wearing it every day in the shower and stuff. But I was struck by how fucking excited he was about it. I leaned in closer to look and nodded appreciatively. "That's awesome," I said, truly meaning it. "It looks really good."
He babbled on for a minute about how he did it as he retrieved my change from the drawer. As I left the exchange I was really touched and amazed by the complete and utter transformation I saw. The moment he started talking about Something He Made, his face became animated, he was proud of his work, he wanted to talk about it and share it with me.
This is going to sound pretty sappy or maybe even Sark-esque, but at that moment, that interaction was enough. I wonder what would happen if more people had these moments -- moments in which, even at your minimum wage job, even when you're not 100% thrilled about where you're standing or what you're doing, you can feel pride because you know you're capable of making something. Something tangible, something that requires skill and time and care. Something you can show off a little.
On a similar note, I am part of a small sewing circle and my mother made a special guest appearance. Besides being a talented glass and jewelry artist, she is also an accomplished seamstress, and was all kinds of useful helping the women to learn the basics of their sewing machines and get around frustrating moments. Again I saw this shift-in-expression: the look of elation when the machine is threaded properly and making a nice, even line, the realization that that line could easily become part of a curtain or skirt.
I believe this moment of elation is what my annoying high school math teacher used to call an "aha! experience." I'm pretty sure I never had that in high school geometry, but I've had it while making art. And seeing other people have it, it's a pretty remarkable transformation. I think that living in a time where we can buy or scavenge much of what we need, and where most jobs don't seem to entail a gratifying learning of skills and production of a well-crafted article, the very notion of realizing you can make something yourself is, while maybe not revolutionary, at the least pretty empowering.
Now back to your regularly scheduled cynicism. I have to go empower myself to finish all this stuff for our embroidery show on Friday.