I started this series of blog posts with a story of not keeping the pottery I made in pottery class because I was more interested in making pots than in keeping the pots I made. Well, I wasn’t sure I’d keep the quilt I made for this project, because it, too, was more about making rather than keeping the quilt. But I’m keeping it in the end because 1) who else would want it? And 2) it reminds me why I made it. I made it to figure out what I wanted to say, to realize I meant something. What I mean is all the blue inside the moon phases, which is to say, all I don’t say in words and stitches, can’t say, all that is protected by and hinted at by what I do image and compose. The quilt is my apron, under which I play at being a real artist.
The theme of my posts this month was: what do doing and product have to do with each other?
I came to realize over the course of this project that I experience the link between doing and making in whom it’s all for. I don’t think about whom it’s for when I play violin. For one thing, I’m 99.9% of the time playing someone else’s compositions. The composer gets to dedicate. Also, the link between doing and making is simpler playing the violin. The doing is the product; they’re simultaneous. When I make a piece of art, though, the product changes the equation. Perhaps because I experience an art form (music) without a material product, I know it’s not the point. And, now that I’ve thought more about it, maybe the process isn’t really always the point, either. It’s doesn’t answer to whom?
I’ve exhibited my art in shows only one or two times. Each time I felt like a live wire unplugged. I felt exposed, absurd. As absurd as if my kooky pottery instructor were giving her opening lecture standing on a soap box on a downtown street corner. “Now, it’s in and down with that clay! Become one with it. Not too much finger; use palm, ladies! Weight, not force!” She’d be ignored at best and offensive at worst. But in class, she has a context in which to be heard. Mysteriously, artistically, her message gets plugged into us, even when she’s not putting her clay-stiffened hands on ours at the wheel or encouraging us with her words. She plugs into us in our own doing. At an art showing, I’m like my kooky pottery instructor, as I sit at a table, waiting for people to come by and take a gander at my pieces. “Beautiful,” they say, or, “cool,” but to what?
They’re diffuse exclamations, as dissipated as my art without a to whom. What I lack at an art show is a closed circuit, a preposition connecting me somehow to my audience through my art. I want my art to be part of a conversation, a relationship, not just something to comment on. When my goal is to do, I walk or practice. But making art, doing isn’t all I want to accomplish. I want something to give to someone in particular. And what I enjoy is the coming together of making and giving.
The gift, the product, in other words, is just a ray of light, like the moon in a vast dark galaxy. It’s surrounded by effort and intention and skill and even some things I don’t have control over, like the time it takes to arrive, and be retrieved, in the mail. It’s for without being invasive. Some gifts give more directly: bathing a young child or massaging a loved one or cooking meals or walking dogs or tutoring or donating blood. But what can I do for a friend watching a loved one die or a friend in a funk or a hapless husband? I can try and be a good conduit, as it were, and avoid doing harm. I can make art. Art is not for in the same way as other gifts; it’s dedicated. It doesn’t accomplish or solve anything. Like the moon, it creates subtle bridges of light, illuminating, not explaining.
My visit with Ms. Barker in New Orleans was surrounded by train time. I couldn’t clearly explain all it meant to me to see her, not in the pause that was my time with her between the great inhale and exhale of train trips, but I think she got it. She’s an artist, a fellow traveler, the most experienced one I know. She understands how to enjoy my depictions of the train trip as packaging and curled ribbon. It’s precisely all those superficial, meaningless, wobbly-sewn letters and misshapen moons that carry a message that is too dear to be said in any other fashion. In fact, I’ve said enough already. Happy April.