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why I create

March 31, 2012

Looking for the source of insecurities and fears that don’t seem to make sense often requires rooting around in the depths of my psyche. Once there, things are often much more complicated than I expected, entangled with long-forgotten incidents. I suddenly see connections between very disparate events. And not just the issue I went looking for, but my life as a whole, suddenly make sense in a more complex way. But to make best use of the process I can’t shrink from what I find. I have to face up to it, and I have to own it. Whatever it is, it is part of me, and I accept it. Only then can I process it and integrate it. To do that, I often write about it, which allows me to explore it and related topics as thoroughly as I wish. If I then publish these thoughts, others can read them, and perhaps gain something of value.

In the last several weeks, I’ve begun three separate fiber arts projects. In each, I am re-fashioning an old garment to serve a new purpose. All three of them are currently draped on Rozilea, my dress form, awaiting my attention to last details. I haven’t even taken photos of them because I felt they should be finished first. But somehow instead of finishing one, I began a new project, and then another one.

Two days ago, I wondered why I haven’t finished the first two. As I worked on the third one, I also thought about my creative process. I like designing a lot more than I like executing a design. (It’s not because how it turns out isn’t as good as what was in my head since, in fact, I only start with the germ of an idea, and I never have a vision for what it will look like at the end.) I think I’ve mentioned before that I am not task-oriented; I’m process-oriented. So my initial train of thought on Thursday was that the process itself is the part I really enjoy, not finishing something.

And that is true as far as it goes. But that might suggest that I would never finish anything. And I do finish a lot of things. So I dug deeper, which uncovered more interesting, and more complicated, reasons.

Art is a way to share your worldview with others. Art can be a way to connect with other people, but art can also show you how far apart you are.

When I think about garment making, in the abstract, there are two models that immediately leap to mind. In the first, I recall M., a coworker at Artifacts. She made some of her own clothes, and I knew I wanted to do that, so I asked her if she would teach me what she knew. She instead suggested I take a class at the IAC from the person she learned from. And she showed me the jacket she created in that class. The jacket was beautifully tailored, and to my untutored eye, impeccably made. I would have never guessed it was her first attempt at sewing a garment. It looked like custom-made wearable art, which I guess it was. In the second model, I have images in my mind’s eye that I think came from TV, not people I know. In them, the garments are clearly DIY, made by people with few relevant skills (so the clothing appears poorly made), and I don’t find their aesthetic attractive.

Now that I’m seeing them written down, I’m realizing that this whole perspective is not actually my own thoughts, images, and feelings, about garments or anything else. But this perspective does capture the flavor of propaganda I’ve been hearing all my life about why my art aesthetic and the life I’m trying to live are doomed to failure. In this view, you have one of two choices: you either uphold the status quo, which is top-down, oppressive, conventional, predictable, and soulless OR you innovate, which is inherently disorganized, pitiful, ugly, random, and pathetically childish. And then, even if you choose Door #2 now, someday you’ll (have to) grow up, you will put away your toys, and realized that we (of Door #1) were right all along.

The thing is, there are an infinite array of choices possible, not just two. By accidentally adopting their mindset, I precluded myself from feeling good about choosing something completely different. Since what I was doing could not possibly be considered Door #1, I found myself unconsciously shoehorning it into Door #2. And then feeling bad about it, since it’s so hopelessly déclassé. Therefore I resisted finishing things. Because when you finish a garment, you wear it. And when you wear a garment you have made yourself, parts of you are on display that are not on display in other art media.

Like writing, sort of. (Although I have had related problems, I now realize.) The social environment I was born into mimicked this same dynamic. For that scenario, I would assign Door #1 to NT and SJ temperaments, with a side order of Extroversion. Door #2 would therefore be NF and SP temperaments, with a side order of Introversion. (Recall that I am an INFP.) Although none of the labels were used, so in practice it was, “Perhaps you are like your mother (SJ)? If not, you must be like your father, your aunt, your brother (NT). Because if you aren’t like any of the above, you are an abomination. So, choose who you’re like, so we know how to treat you.” Since I was nothing like my mother’s temperament (and I have never had a successful relationship with an SJ), I had to identify as an NT. My mother constantly told me I was so much like her sister, even though it was clear to me we were only somewhat similar, but large swaths of my personality weren’t like anyone I knew. It was even worse with my father. I imitated my aunt and my father to survive, and the only way I could figure out how to play the role of an NT was to deny almost all emotional expressiveness, except that which found an outlet in my art. And even there, it was tricky. Luckily, my mother likes art, but she disapproved of anything bold, ‘too colorful’, avant-garde. To her, if it wasn’t pretty, then it couldn’t be art. Which is really limiting.

I’ve created a whole lot of art in my life. Most of it is not pretty. Some of it is beautiful, some isn’t. Beauty isn’t really my aim (although I’m pleased that it occasionally occurs). Some of it has been ugly, or at least unattractive. But it’s still emotionally true, and therefore I value it, and it matters. Unpalatable, uncomfortable, unflattering, embarrassing, shameful. When I visit these places inside of me, and I accept their truths, I can forgive myself. As I heal, I find I can forgive others too. Well, not always. But I can understand more. I celebrate being alive, in all of its complexity.

My strength lies in what I expose to the world.

There are lots of people that see my strength as a profound weakness. According to their natures, they feel contempt, or pity; sometimes they’re just puzzled. My art does not bring me closer to these people — it illuminates the chasm between us.

Making art is my way of creating a world that I want to live in. A world that welcomes people like me.

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