Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mother's Day Card

5x7 Folded Card
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Saturday, April 6, 2013

5x7 Folded Card
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

'Tis the Process, Not the Product

It is difficult to keep in mind, or sometimes to even believe, that art expression is more about the process than the product.  It is still a concept with which I struggle--but I suppose it is a process.

Feeling like I was going to be caught any minute, I stood rummaging through decorated cardboard boxes full of thread and ribbon and glue.

Going to the yard sale of someone you know is at best awkward. I found myself in that situation this morning, looking through art supplies which had belonged to the mother of my friend. The mother had recently been moved to assisted living at age 92, and no longer had need for the medium of self-expression.

I couldn't help but think how just last night I myself bought new decorated boxes and filled them with art supplies for my latest project. Would someone be digging through these someday, looking for a bargain? The simplest things sometimes make us face our own mortality.

I felt a kindred spirit with this woman whom I had never met. The boxes told the story of her passions. Annie was a needle-worker and a painter. There were rolls of counted cross-stitch fabric and pads of canvas paper, waiting for inspiration. There were paint tubes and skeins and needles and half-completed projects. One of these projects caught my eye.

It was a patchwork-sized cloth, a blue horse on white fabric, looking like it belonged on the side of an English bone china soup tureen. I found it stunning, but was saddened to see the tea stains in the corner. I was about to toss it back in the box when I started to think about how much work went into this piece.

When I was first living on my own, I would stitch in front of the television for hours. I made wedding samplers and baby samplers for friends, waiting for my own time. My then-boyfriend would lean against me, engrossed in watching me stitch as we cuddled. I never did take the time to make our own wedding sampler.

I haven't stitched in years, but have moved from one medium to another in my expression of self. Having children opened a whole new world of making crafts, or rather teaching crafts. Somehow doing the craft myself was off-limits because I did not want to show up my kids. I wanted them to build their own confidence in creation. Once they became over-saturated by crafts, I turned to scrapbooking, which suddenly was an outlet for many previous mediums. Hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours later, the children's first year albums were quite the overkill.

My husband is a kind man. He is also an honest man, and sometimes the two qualities conflict. One day in his frustration, I don't remember about what, maybe it was the money spent on supplies or the forgotten chores, he said to me about my scrapbooks, "Nobody cares about those but you!" It was probably the least kind thing he has ever said to me, and he immediately regretted it. It took me a long time to get over it, but even longer to understand it. In a way, I appreciate the statement now, because it helps me get my head around why I do what I do.

I was fortunate to have grown up at a time when Art was still a subject in school, paid for by public monies. I remember everything I did in junior high Art class. We did batik and paper mâché and plaster of Paris and charcoal drawings. I loved my teacher and she loved me and everything I did. It was always about what I could create, and how beautiful I could make it. For as much as a perfectionist as I am, I am fortunate to have the talent or maybe just the patience to live up to my own perfectionism. Usually. Sometimes I screw up, but I have become a master at turning the mess-up into something better. A little gold leafing here, or a pretty ribbon there, covers a lot of flaws.

Full of my own fixed mind-set talent and determined to see if my daughter had any, we were in a mommy-and-me art class the first time I heard the statement, "It's the process, not the product." Over the weeks, I heard the teacher repeating this stupid sing-song phrase over and over, and I completely disagreed. I was thinking, what the hell, lady, why do art without a product? I thought she was insane. But God bless that woman and her annoying voice. She bent one of my beliefs, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, until it finally snapped.

In the years since--years of parenting and homeschooling and Sunday school teaching and craft parties--I have helped lots of children express themselves through the process of art. My own children are just about done with anything involving the word "craft," but they spent years being encouraged to do what felt right to them, and not being judged for the outcome. My favorite art lesson is putting out loads of supplies and saying Go-to-Town. I witnessed so many children in these situations ask what are we supposed to do, or worse, "Is this right?"

I could tell where this inhibition comes from when the mothers would say in front of their children, "Oh I am not at all creative. I can't do art." I was torn between wanting to hug these women and wanting to slap them. Someone at some point in their lives let them know that it was the product and not the process, and they were passing this legacy on to their children.

The biggest hurdle in exalting the process over the product has been to let go of all the product. There is a shelf-life on the refrigerator door of somewhere between two weeks and might as well keep it up because St. Patty's Day is just around the corner again. I still had boxes of decoupaged toilet paper roll penguins and curled up paintings, until the kids went through it one time and did not even remember making much of it. I suppose since I have nothing but a needlepoint turtle on brown canvas from my childhood, I felt for my children. But I have learned to take a digital photo and chuck it.

So why do I feel so strongly about this neglected horse? Why does it matter so much that this old woman who has not even passed on yet is having her things gone through as if her passions no longer mattered? Maybe because these things are not what ever mattered; rather the energy of her spirit's potential at a moment in time is what remains. Perhaps that energy is passed on, igniting in another the love for the smell of paint or the pull of a needle.

I bought the horse, along with several other items. I tried to bleach out the tea stains, but only made it worse. No matter. I plan to memorialize the passion behind this horse in my latest project: an art book which houses pages of imperfect passion. A book that, in my best of intentions, is made completely for myself.  I am the only one who cares about the fate of this book, and that's just the way I want it.  I created the horse's page with a backdrop of decoupaged blue-and-white tissue made to resemble the side of an English bone china soup tureen. The theme of the page is kindred spirits, and I have done my best to absorb and pass on the energy of Annie's passion--complete with a little gold leafing to fix up those tea stains.
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