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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