Fall approaches and, as expected, we are all still riding the pandemic wave, hopefully able to adapt to this new meta-reality, one which is not likely to change for some time. I will soon follow this post with a studio update, but I had a few ideas to share in connection with a book I recently read (actually listened to, since I spend a lot of time working in my studio) – The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, by William Deresiewicz. It was published in July of this year but was written pre-pandemic. The book is dense and there is plenty of commentary and criticism to explore elsewhere online. However, the book definitely stimulated my thinking about what it means to be an artist in the early 21st century. I don’t agree fully with its conclusions or some of its recommended solutions, but much of the book rings true. If you refer to yourself as an Artist, you will want to read the book and draw your own conclusions. Here are just a few of my own (surprisingly motivational) observations – maybe they will resonate for you too.


The posts on this platform address my experiences as an artist / designer / craftsperson* – these have not fundamentally changed during the current pandemic. As noted and evident throughout Deresiewicz’s book, navigating The World and its economic terrain as a creative professional** is fraught with chills and spills, to which I and every artist/designer/craftsperson I know can attest. I love what I do, but challenges exist. Wherever we are on the continuum, we have to attend to the needs of body (as well as mind and spirit). Choices must always be made and for most of us that means, in part, doing something to pay the bills. I have worked “in the world” to meet many of those needs. I am currently able to work full-time as an artist / designer / craftsperson and a lot of that work still takes place “in the world,” except that it is nearly always provisional (a fact on which I prefer not to dwell). Committing to a life as a creative professional without a financial safety net requires a certain amount of blind trust, incredible motivation, and a deranged desire to manifest a personal vision. It can be pretty daunting (if not impossible) to sustain this level of energy and commitment day-in-day-out, especially as one ages. Throw in a pandemic and attendant economic downturn and it might be downright suffocating – exposing and nearly extinguishing the fire at the heart of what has always been a fragile and uncertain proposition. And, as Deresiewicz notes, these insecurities have an impact on the nature of the Art one makes.

However…..In the face of the current and continuing challenge to the arts and artists on all fronts, I find numerous bright spots. First, I think this pandemic era, as horrifying and dislocating as it has been, has given us an opportunity to see and appreciate with greater depth our humanity and our frailty. This feels crucial: artists must be able to take this perspective if we are to speak to the concerns of our time with authenticity. Second, importantly, we have the opportunity to look at our historical past as a point of reference for understanding our current lives and predicaments. Where art/artists, etc. are concerned, the body of historical evidence demonstrates that the means and media of transmission, the financing of the work, and the nature of one’s audience are neither stable from one era to the next, nor generally within our control. This we know with certainty. For example, step back a spell and rather than “Billionaires” and “Big Tech” (to use Deresiewicz’s behemoths), you find the Church. For centuries, the Holy Roman Empire garnered the power to profoundly influence the type of art being made, the manner in which it was made, and the lives and exertions of those who made it. On this point, Deresiewicz reminds his readers that the makers of art during the “Middle Ages” (much of it architectural and commissioned by the Church), comprised countless anonymous artisans and craftspeople. The concepts of Art as a stand-alone discipline and Artist as individual/inspired genius did not come until later.

That leads me to some closing thoughts (and thank you for persevering). We are likely living through another great transformation. Historians will be able to put it into clear perspective later, but it is apparent that ideas, information, and other cultural and social underpinnings (not to mention our physical world) are in serious flux. That can feel pretty destabilizing, and it is actually. But is also full of possibility, and that is an energizing prospect. Adopting a broader historical perspective, whenever possible, can help to dissipate some of the anxiety we feel as individuals, whether as creative professionals/practitioners in contemporary culture, as members of a civic body, or as friends, spouses, parents, children, sisters and brothers. Further, if we define Art as the product of “individual creative (wealthy/well-appointed) geniuses”, then it has historically only been easy for and accessible to the lucky few (notwithstanding the seemingly arbitrary nature of the criteria for their selection). That mean that the rest of us still have to get up every morning, face our limitations and do the Work anyway, because we have been “called” to do so. Thinking about ourselves as creative beings traveling along a historically rich and varied continuum feels more inviting, inclusive and open-ended.

Embracing my life as a creative expeditioner has given me “permission” to renew my commitment, to mark the spot and get busy making (and living), each day hoping that the mastery of balance between needs of the body/mind and the needs of spirit will be forthcoming!

Notes:

The scope of my practice layers the sensibilities embodied by all legs of the primary triad of creative disciplines: Art, Craft and Design.

**I know the word creative is off-putting to some but I am using this is a broad sense to include the full spectrum of the arts, “fine” art, literary arts, the “applied” arts (design, craft), as well as the performance arts. Deresiewicz looks at the broad categories gathering anecdotal evidence from practitioners to support his arguments.

My personal response to this unusual time in history has been varied, moving from a fear-based emotional roller-coaster ride to an increasingly calm, pragmatic, and emotionally sustainable progression, punctuated by moments of true equanimity.  It is the uncertainty that gnaws the most, but more reason to come to accept and befriend it.  In addition to staying as connected as I can, my solution is to continue my work with as clear an intention as possible, staying the course.  So, although shows and other events have canceled, the work continues.  Here are some of the highlights so far this year:

The Sampler Quilt

I continue to print, paint and otherwise employ natural dyes in a variety of ways and use the by-products of that work to various ends.  When I work with any dye class, I tend to have a lot of bits available for piecing.  I am now deliberately creating pieces of cloth specifically for a sampler quilt, which I hope to have completed in the Fall of 2020.  This may be ambitious but I am weekly working toward the goal.  So far, I have 2 sets of modules either completed or being stitched (and appliquéd), one in Cochineal & Logwood; one in Cochineal, Logwood and Madder.  Next up: Weld, Myrobalan and Pomegranate (alone and with Indigo). I am posting these results regularly on IG (@kathycoltartisan) and FB, and will certainly show the quilt as it grows.

Petal-Una Collection 

My artisan apparel project progresses.  I am determined to keep all lines of inquiry open in the studio and wearable work continues to offer opportunities for exploration and cross-fertilization. I’m also currently working on my web shop and exploring other means of sharing this work in the absence of my regular seasonal studio sales. If you’re interested in learning more about this work, follow this link.

New Art

I developed a curious aversion to “nuno” felting during my cancer experience.  Perhaps the end of that line of work was looming anyway. In any case, now that I am in thrive mode (getting busy livin’), I am finally liberated from that particular prison of the mind, and have begun to reengage – not with felting per se – but with the ideas I was exploring through felting.  This hiatus (and who knows how long it will last) has allowed me to incorporate new materials, forms, ideas and motivations, as well as explore the intersection between my chosen media and other non-fiber media.  There is much more to come here.  My eyes are wide open.

Workshops 

Before the “stuff” hit the fan, I was able to facilitate a workshop and also record further reflections on Indigo.  Late last year, I had scheduled a workshop on direct application (painting/printing) with natural dyes.  That was supposed to take place in late-June.  It was, of course, canceled.  Unfortunately, I have not yet found a way to convey this work on a digital platform without taking an inordinate amount of time from my studio activities, so that will have to steep some more.  Perhaps all will be revealed in the coming months.  Meanwhile, there is much to do elsewhere and I will still look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in a live workshop setting.  (I trust this day will come again one day.)

Finally, It is an odd set of circumstances that leads us all to where we are at this moment.  Life is short.  There is much to do but still time to rest and receive.  I am therefore grateful to my yoga teacher Uma Devi and her Guru, Swami Jaya Devi, at Kashi Atlanta, as well as Dunya McPherson and her work, DanceMeditation.  Thanks to live-stream and the ubiquitous Zoom meeting, I have been able to reincorporate these vital movement pathways into my life.  This has been a great gift in these times.  Keep working on cultivating/activating those blissful moments in the studio, in your work, on the mat… and carry them into your lives as fully and as often as you can!

I recently facilitated an Indigo vat workshop at the SEFAA center in Atlanta. The focus was on learning about quick-reduction alternatives. (Fn 1).  Naturally, we were dyeing with indigo as well.  In the workshop we used a simple paste resist, along with traditional Japanese “mechanical” resist techniques, to make marks on our cloth.  I, for one, came home feeling inspired by the spirit of exploration and experimentation shown by the participants.  Lots of interesting results! 

For artists/craftspeople/designers creating in the modern/post-modern reality, Indigo and its related processes offer elements of a studio “meta” practice which can provide a means of merging our deep archaic (pre-rational) and more recent, modern/postmodern (rational) sensibilities.  Taking the time to witness the transformation of Indigo, from a pigment (its leuco “clear” state) to a dye accessible to fiber (its blue state), monitoring a vat on a daily basis and keeping it active – these can be conscious, intentional acts which begin to imbue the simple Indigo dyeing experience with deeper meaning.  It does seems to me that to incorporate Indigo into our textile and fiber practice –  to dye, spin, weave, stitch, print, paint, wear, utilize, admire –  is to infuse our creative cycles with its essence and be invited to surrender to the larger Mystery, if only temporarily.  And that is a very good thing. (Fn 2)

Footnotes:

1. For the uninitiated, indigo manifests its blue color through an oxidative/reductive chemical process which is pretty cool and makes it distinct from other dyestuffs (except those derived from plants closely related to it). I am not a chemist although I am learning. 

2.  I hasten to add that there are many profound and elevated wisdom/spiritual traditions existing around the world – if you follow one of these paths, pursuing any creative process is an adjunct practice with deep historic and cross-cultural roots.