At the Intersection of Finding Words and Making Art

Over the last year I have spent so much time pondering intersections. I see myself as an artist, even though my business card says designer. So many words can describe the intricacies of what I do, and how I do it, but don’t really fit in with the common perception of what it means to be an artist.

One word I’m not a huge fan of is to be called “crafty”. That one’s a little bit painful. At it’s core it stings and devalues. Crafty is macaroni, popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue and construction paper. The description of crafter is preferred – you see craft is something made beautiful, by way of skill, that is a usable everyday object, such as a piece of pottery. To be the maker of craft is to be a crafter. Look at a magazine like American Craft, and the difference is evident. It’s then when to be a crafter absolutely sings – because that stuff is ART. But oh, to be called crafty. Ouch. Most people have no idea the distinction that is there for an artist at heart. There is no elevation or dimension to the word ‘crafty’ in an artist’s world. You see, art is not usually an everyday object, but is thought provoking and deeper than the surface. They all have creation at their core, but the heart of the artist is a reflection of the Creator. If we are made in His image, it all began with him creating, then it should be evident the need for humans to make art.

Over the past few years I’ve seen some amazing fiber art – antique quilts on display at the local craft museum, weed dyed knitted swatches that represented downtown Charlotte’s botany. Also, my internet friend Cauchy Complete (maybe NSFW), whose works are a.m.a.z.i.n.g and essentially the embodiment of what I consider great ‘fiber art’. Seriously, I fully expect her stuff to be in the textbooks in the future, as well as in museums. I want to be her.

Except, I can’t. Honestly it isn’t even true. I don’t want to be her, I want to be me. I can’t do what she does. I’m not her. What is true is that she makes me want to be a better artist. Her stuff is beautifully provoking and full of reflection. I don’t think of myself as a provoking person. It isn’t like me. So then, who am I? What would my best creations look like?

In college, the fiber art class was the one I skipped in my studio art studies. I ran amok in wood shop, pottery, figure drawing, photography… I loved them all. However, all I saw from the hallway looking in that fiber art studio door was mixed media wall hangings in strange and fuzzy yarns. How odd that I now I have a passion for fibers and everything I know is pretty self taught. Full circle in many ways.

I started a quilt last year. Nothing artsy, just getting my feet wet. I picked back up cross stitch and started designing patterns while I was at it. Most of them haven’t seen a single stitch yet and no one has seen them. I’ve been far too busy reading new books on techniques I have never heard of, collecting embroidery floss, studying how those patterns are professionally laid out, mixing and remixing in my mind what would work.

Knitting is primarily a craft, and far too often crafty. Knitting for me is primarily design work, fairly close cousin to art by way of graphic design, but it is certainly not something that you will see at the local gallery. Sure, my knit samples may be considered art, but my product is a pdf – certainly not, even if creative.

At the core though, I desire to be an artist – to be thought provoking in my work of creating new and usually beautiful things!  Rather I am a designer of reproducible craft, which I do have to admit I enjoy. Cross stitch may get me a bit further in the thought provoking, but then again… so many of the bad patterns out there are the ancient cartoony scripture quotes and angels. Gag me!! As fun as piecing my one quilt has been the medium doesn’t sing for me right now. Finally, as a WAHM my craft needs to be a job that helps pay bills, I can’t have an art hobby while homeschooling 3 kids – our budget can’t support it. My life is really full, and very happy, but there is a root yearning that I can’t formulate. So I keep asking myself the questions, “Is there a way to get thought provoking from wholesome words? What would that look like in fiber?”

Those have swirled unanswered, for a pretty good reason. I think it’s because I’ve been so embroiled in the thoughts themselves. I’ve not been able to force them outwards. Also… because my inward thought provoking aims are so faith related. So intangible, yet life giving. I craft because of the Creator.

It seems like every time I want to blog about something deeper than a “Hey! Lookie at this new cute thing I have made a pattern for!”, I end up saving it in the drafts until I give up on it being completed and delete it. Even the works in process usually end up this way. I have cross stitch pieces I desperately want to do and finish and share… and more knitting and crochet to lay out patterns for than I can shake a stick at right now. I want them to be deep and thought provoking pieces of art, more than just basic cute. In the end I’m having a really hard time formulating the inner thoughts into actual words, and at times even images. I’m too abstract a thinker and my thoughts sometimes aren’t even attached to words. It can be like gasping for air. When the words finally do come to me it’s like a really deep breath, completely refreshing.

I think this is where the water hits the wheel for me though. That ability to just be with the abstract helps my faith come easy. Well, at least, easier. I don’t have to make everything fit just so in a way that I can articulate. That doesn’t mean that I absolutely can’t, but usually I don’t. That abstract understanding makes effortlessly flowing shades of color. It’s what truth is full of, color. Maybe not so much black and white, or shades of grey, as so many usually think. What that abstract wordless understanding makes harder for me is sharing that faith with others who don’t already understand and know it themselves. It isn’t usually attached to well formulated words, and it’s deeply personal.

So, by common words: I am a Christian, a follower of Christ. By church membership and theologically, I am a (Southern) Baptist. By marriage, a supportive Catholic wife. By life, education, and experience, an ecumenicalist and fervent believer in the God of the Bible who meets each of us where we are, if we are willing to meet with Him. He’s knit me together to be who I am and even where I am. I’m special to Him, and He didn’t ask me to be perfect first. He didn’t ask me to find my own strength to do much of anything and expects me to come to Him in all things. He is why I do what I do, when I do things right. Here’s what He says [bracket addition for clarity mine] in Romans 5:6-8 NIV:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a [self]righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

So. Then, where am I? Why am I not producing thought provoking pieces? What does it mean to be a faith filled designer? What does that actually look like for me? How does it make what I do different? Is it different? Should it be?

It’s been thought provoking for awhile now, and while I struggle with words – I think might be the direction I am leaning.

(Maybe next time a pretty picture of something more than words…)

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