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It's okay to make a mess. You're an artist

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It's okay to make a mess.  You're an artist

Last month I had the pleasire of visiting Glenstone, an unusual contemporary art museum.  The buildings themselves are stark and modern with huge glass panels that remove the distinction between indoors and out.  Multiple galleries showcase a stunning collection of works that represent significant transitional shifts in modern art. There are those with whom I was familiar, like Alex Calder, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol, but I am not well-versed in modern art, so most were new to me. I was particularly drawn to these lovely objects by Ruth Asawa in the photo by Calla Kessler/The Washington Post.

Loops of wire interconnected into a metal fabric familiar to any knitter. Quite compelling!  When I looked into Asawa's biography, I learned that she created these works not with giant needles or industrial equipment but by hand with pliers while wearing heavy gloves.  The pieces' delicate beauty belied the tremendous effort behind their creation.  However they were created, this is knitting, and there is no doubt that it is art.  So what makes some knitting art, and some craft, and some just knitting?  Are knitters artists or not? How does one decide?

Ginni and I talk about these questions quite frequently.  She has suggested that perhaps knitters are not artists so much as artisans. The difference? Artists create things that are beautiful.  Artisans create things that are beautiful and useful.  I find this definition unsatisfactory because it suggests that  art and utility are mutually exclusive.  I don't think they are  Take a look at any worthwhile gallery and you will see the purely decorative as well as utilitarian--paintings and busts alongside platters and bowls.   Each is a work of art regardless of its utility.  Just take a look at the work of Sarah Houde and Phyllis Handal, talented ceramic artists. Their art is both decorative and useful.

In the fiber world, Kaffe Fassett probably comes closest to embodying the knitter as artist.  His work is beautiful and wearable. His advice in a recent interview with Trish Malcolm was, "Make a mess."  He explained that when you are starting out, we should use the colors we want, knit them however we like, and not worry about it.  "Make mud pies," he says, "You will get better as you go along, but you've got to start somewhere.  Take that little scrap of whatever you made," he advises, "and stick it on your wall.  Let it make you happy, that tiny painting you made."  I love this advise.  I think we would all feel more like artists if we let ourselves be just a little more free.

I recently read an artist's statement that read, "For me art is all about the process.  It is never about the product."  In my humble, this is what Kaffe is getting to.  If you want your knitting to be more art than artisan, more creative than craft, just relax into it.  Let yourself play with colors and textures and materials.  Have fun. Make a mess, and love your mess.  It's an original, and it's yours. 

I look forward to seeing you in the shop and around the table making a beautiful mess and loving it!  You are always welcome here. ~Ellen

Back to 16 July 2019 Newsletter

Comments on this post (4)

  • Jul 19, 2019

    I used to focus on this question a lot when I first started not following quilting patterns and coming up with my own designs. In the quilting world, it’s differentiated as “art” and “craft.” I decided a long time ago not to worry about whether I’m an artist or not, and just enjoy quilting/knitting/making because that’s what matters. Besides, I know it’s art since I see the effect it has on my kids’ creativity. They are artists for sure!

    — Jamie

  • Jul 16, 2019

    I still remember my first knitting mess fondly! And then my second one!!

    — Taryn Pyle

  • Jul 16, 2019

    Dear Ann,

    Thank you for your response. I couldn’t come to MV without reaching out, and I appreciate you letting me know about your and your husband’s health challenges. I will definitely stop in at the yarn shop in Vineyard Haven. I have been there before and look forward to visiting again. We will also see about your restaurant recommendations.

    — Ellen Lewis

  • Jul 16, 2019

    Dear Ellen,

    Health issues of mine and my husband’s plus our daughter’s brief visit unfortunately make
    next week not the best week for you and me to get together! (We are 86 and 83 and both have cancer. This is what’s called “retirement!”).
    I hope you will drop in at Vineyard Knitworks in Vineyard Haven, though I am not sure who will be there. By the way, our other LYS, Heathhen, just closed. It was named after a previous shop which was in turn named after a local bird who went extinct. ALAS. Vineyard Knitworks is next to Educomp; most locals would be able to point you to Educomp (art and computer store).

    Thanks for reaching out. I hope you have a wonderful visit with good weather. My favorite restaurant is Little House in Vineyard Haven. State Road (Restaurant) in West Tisbury and
    Outermost Inn in Aquinnah are also very nice — but not inexpensive, and one would need a reservation, as one does not usually for Little House. I hear that Garde in Vineyard Haven is good.

    Happy visiting!


    — Ann Boyer

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