January 29, 2004

Textile Art for Girls

Filed under: Art and About Textiles — admin @ 9:37 pm

My daughter, Allyndreth, is turning one. This marks the end of a challenging year trying to raise her in a gender-neutral fashion, not imposing the cultural conventions of pink frilly clothes, baby dolls, flowers, sugar, spice and everything nice on her.

For some reason, it was much easier to let our son, Tyrian, gravitate naturally to boy-type behavior during his first year. When I went through his old baby clothes, I noticed we managed to dress him in a variety of colors, with no emblems or insignia for almost a year. Then the trucks and diggers and fire engines started appearing on his T-shirts. It was about the same time he decided that crashing cars, doing cowabunga stunts at the playground and chattering about construction were the ways he liked to spend his days. I learned and accepted that there are certain behaviors and interests that attract boys simply because they are wired that way, and I was OK with that.

When we learned we were having a girl, a friend with daughters warned me that it would be like dressing a doll when I chose her wardrobe. But I have some sort of missing maternal chemical in my brain, and I have never been goo-goo about baby clothes. My approach tends to be “Do the clothes fit? Are they comfortable? Great, now get the kid dressed.” I doubted I would see my little girl as a living doll.

Wrong. I set eyes on her sweet face and I immediately wanted flowers and ribbons and bows and kitties. My mom had done an excellent job spreading the word that we wanted no pink for our baby girl, but when I stared at a closet with no pink to greet our baby, I felt something was missing. And suddenly, those gender-neutral hand-me-downs from her brother were a little too gender-neutral. I had become the ultimate girl by having a girl.

My behavior towards Allyndreth is very girly too. When I take her shopping, I imagine the day when we will be asking each other if these pants make me look fat. Oh, but we have to be careful about body-image issues, so I’ll need to talk to her about how the cut and style of clothing can completely alter her silhouette. It struck me that some day we will probably plan her wedding together. My husband is already talking about cleaning his shotgun in the doorway when young suitors come by.

We’re pretty strict parents, but it has been harder to discipline Allyndreth than her brother. When Tyrian does an obviously calculated manipulation to get his way, we hold firm to our parental reins. But Allyndreth is pretty darn cute when she’s being manipulative. Our resolve is strong, but we have to fight to hold onto it. And the minute the kids are asleep, we giggle about how adorable she is.

So I was stunned when I realized my gender bias began months before Allyndreth was born. When I decorated her room, I chose only textile art for her walls, an extremely female-associated artform. For shame, I scolded myself, looking at the hanging quilt made by her grandmother, the knitted blanket from her aunt, the framed needlework representing her great-grandmother’s hand and my own. There’s a handmade silk rug from India, no doubt woven by a woman, and a wall-hanging made by Cambodian women. About half of these pieces I owned when my son was born, but I never considered putting them in his room. Why not?

It occurred to me that I am celebrating the irrepressible artistry of the women in our family through their chosen form of self expression, textile art. I am surrounding Allyndreth with her legacy, and inviting her to go forth and carry on the family’s creative tradition. Happy Birthday, my daughter!

January 22, 2004

A world full of creative artists

Filed under: Art and About Creativity — admin @ 3:22 pm

I was making a purchase at the art supply store when two college-aged women walked by in the middle of a conversation. As they passed me, one said to the other, “I’m creative, but I’m not artistic.” I cringed. Social rules and regs inhibited me from going over and lecturing them about my beliefs that we are all creative AND artistic beings. Nothing makes me jittery faster than to hear someone embrace one but deny the other.

It’s a pervasive notion in our culture than when it comes to artistry, you’ve either got it or you don’t. It is simply a matter of semantics. Many people use the word artist to describe someone who paints or sculpts, or uses other static visual arts as a creative outlet. The visual arts community does very little to dissuade the public of this misconception. And the hoity-toity are the worst offenders. Even photographers are usually not included in the “Artist” clique. And if your creative outlet includes film, or any of the performing arts, you are definitely not invited anywhere near the “Club.”

One of the most offensive things ever said to my face came from a local oil painter during a story interview. He asked if I was an artist. I said that I was. He got excited and said, “What do you paint?” I answered that I didn’t paint on canvas, but I did do faux-finishing and decorative wall painting, that I was a musician, loved decoupage, gardening, cooking, interior decorating, filmmaking, writing…” He interrupted me and with visible disappointment said, “Oh, but you’re not an artist.” I needed to take a few deep breaths to be able to finish that interview.

Some people only get the title of “Artist” bestowed on them by themselves and others if they actually make the leap from garage hobbyist to someone who sells their creative outlet for money.

And some people were so creatively stifled as children for felonies like coloring outside the lines or deciding that the spilled paint was more fun to tactilely explore than putting brush to white paper, that they grow into creatively repressed adults. Anthony Ruiz, owner of FastFrame in Lafayette, once told me that he can always tell when someone comes into his shop hauling baggage from a traumatic creative experience. They are the people who are completely paralyzed when he gives them a selection of mats and frames to choose from. They try to slough off the creative responsibility on him, but he is steadfast in making them do the work themselves. Anthony says it is an incredibly emotional experience for these folks because they are so afraid of “getting it wrong.”

Some adults allow themselves to be creatively functioning members of society but absolutely refuse to wear the mantle of “Artist.” Another local painter I once interviewed was almost unable to answer any questions about her art because she found the whole idea that the newspaper thought she was an artist absurd. The occasion of the article was the opening of a gallery show featuring her work, but she did not see that as validation of an “Artist” title. My mom is a terrifically creative woman, particularly in the textile arts, however you will never hear her use the term “textile artist” to describe herself.

Maybe it is because I’m a writer, but I believe the dictionary is the authority on all things semantic. This is a language issue, after all, but an important one since language is a powerful force in our everyday lives. Merriam-Webster says to create is “to produce through imaginative skill.” To be artistic is “showing imaginative skill in arrangement or execution.” Enough said.