On December 4, the Art Hospital had its staff show. The theme was Keep Away: The Art of Not Making Art. The idea was conceived by staff member Joe Molinaro, and he’s so prolific you wouldn’t imagine he ever has trouble not making art – but, we all do, sooner or later.
Is there a problem with Not Making Art? I guess it depends on why you’re not making it. Fodder for another entry.
I could only come up with one piece for this show, although I went through several ideas. I chose this one not necessarily because it was the best (although, now that it’s done, I think it probably was), but initially because 1) the deadline was approaching and I needed to choose something and 2) it used a medium familiar to me and therefore would be easiest to execute before the intended deadline.
So aside from the literal interpretation of the piece I ended up with, you get the ghosts of all the pieces I didn’t make, either because they were too time-consuming, the idea just wasn’t that strong, or they used techniques I’m not entirely comfortable with yet and wasn’t sure I could master sufficiently in time. All other reasons for not making art!
But the one I chose to focus on is, I think, the biggest reason I don’t make art – overindulging in self-absorption, depression, feelings of dread and hopelessness, and allowing those feelings to paralyze me and keep me from doing what I love.
I got the idea for this piece shortly after reading this post in one of my favorite blogs, A Journey Round My Skull (a constant source of visual inspiration! Check it out!) I have never personally dealt with problems of addiction, but I found Géza Csáth’s description of the feelings of despondence and apathy resonated with me in that they aptly describe the overwhelming feeling of despair that overtakes me when depression is at its worst. I read it over and over again, sharing it with friends (who, I think, were a little confused, frankly.)
The actual installation had a hand mirror positioned near the embroidery so that viewers could hold it up themselves and read the text, forcing them to interact with the piece rather than simply passively viewing it on a wall. Initially I had envisioned it with one of those extendable mirrors attached to the opposite wall, but necessity forced this option, and in the end I like it better.
I worried a lot about the text looking too unpolished. I deliberately freehanded (and always freehand) text in my embroidery, and it’s something that is extremely important to me, though I’ve never been able to articulate why. Last night it finally hit me that for me, when I use text in my embroidery, even when it’s something silly like many of the posts at Embloggery, my words are always carefully chosen and, as you can literally see with that project, often point to more complicated layers of meaning. With this most recent project, obviously the intent is somewhat different than with Embloggery, but the point is: the text is important. If I had written the text on the fabric and then followed the pattern, I would just be tracing lines. The letters would cease to mean anything as I was embroidering them. By forcing myself to freehand (and backwards!) the text, I had to consider each letter. I had to read the text over and over again, each time I moved on to the next couple of words, and think hard about what it said.
And, after all that re-reading, I’m still convinced it’s a beautiful and tragic list, and I’m convinced it expresses very eloquently the feelings I (and probably, many people) face when one feels so despondent that it seems impossible to make art -- or do much of anything. The irony, of course, is that this became an art piece. So, in a way, it’s also an expression of hope, that inspiration can be found even during the worst times, and that ultimately it is only you that has control over whether or not those bad times will destroy you. AND I LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER!
Thanks as usual to my favorite bird who always has good advice on such matters.