I thought perhaps I had written about this in past entries, but a quick skim doesn’t find anything exactly similar. Looking at this what fabric and addressing myself to some of the problems of managing massive rug stash makes me think again. What is the relationship between the Artist, the Idea, and the Work of Art?
I have heard more than one person say, “Wow, you have so many ideas!” after walking around my booth at a street fair, or my front yard on the Studio Tour. I don’t really know how to reply. I am only able to give life to perhaps 1/50th of the ideas that cross my mind. As it is, people often suggest I try to focus and not do quite so many different kinds of art; I find this an unfathomable concept. It would easier to become short and blonde than to “focus on one thing.”
I have, admittedly, developed enough understanding to accept the fact that there are some art forms I will probably never pursue. I gave a story idea to a screenwriter once, and he took it as far as a “treatment” (I think that’s the word for it) and shopped it at a studio and it didn’t fly and we lost touch. I’m not up for screenwriting. I am holding out about welding; it would be a very useful skill. I do not like the feeling of clay on my hands; pottery is out. I am not currently quilting and weaving takes up too much room. Etc.
But there are still these ideas! What do I do with them?
The world can be divided into two groups of people: those that think ideas are valuable in and of themselves, and those that know the real value is in the development, not the idea itself, because ideas are cheap, easy, and abundant. I am in the latter camp. I also believe that ideas have lives of their own.
At last count, I had 52 different notebooks to catch ideas and history. I have ideas, I write them down or somehow illustrate and document them, and I develop some of them to a finished product. I have no good understanding of how to determine which ideas are going to take form; it simply happens. In general, I let ideas ripen in the notebooks, rather than talking about them in the world. Talking before I’m ready to act has always felt a bit risky to me. Am I someone who knits rugs, or someone who merely collects old clothes and talks about the rugs I could knit? Someone who makes art, or someone who talks about all the art she could make if she didn’t have to work, shop, do the rest of her life? Etc. (The ironing board fence is an exception; it is taking a long time to acquire the material, it’s hard to check out of the Habitat store with four ironing boards without giving some explanation to the baffled ladies working the register; it’s a good story, and I AM doing it, rather than talking about it. I am hoping a little that people will give me ironing boards if they know I am collecting them. So far, that last part hasn’t happened.)
The concept that ideas may be independent of their thinker comes from the talking. It seems to me that talking about an idea (or writing for the public; same thing) “births” it. The idea is then in the public domain. It has life, just like a seed contains life, and the idea wants to grow. I no more control what happens next than I can control the destination and outcome of the millions of dandelion seeds about to be launched into the wind. I can plant and feed and water that idea-seed myself and trust that it will flower into something appropriate to its origin, or I can step away and see what happens. What I cannot do is expect the idea to hover over MY sphere, waiting for me to take action. It no more does this than an unfed, unfenced dog will stay at home. It WILL wander and float about the universe until it finds a place to grow.
- There’s a related train of thought and I’ll continue with the dog analogy: purebred vs mutt.
I don’t know that I have ever had an original idea in my artistic life. Perhaps it’s my medium; chainsaw carvers publish step-by-step books and videos so we can copy each others’ work; every beginner learns “how to carve a bear.” Before long, everyone’s bear has his or her individual stamp, but mostly, we don’t worry too much about “idea purity.” Bears, and eagles, and cigar-store Indians sell, and if you want to make a full-time living from your carving, you’re carving bears.
I am an adapter. (Marcus Buckingham calls this trait “maximizer” in his book, Now, Discover Your Strengths.) I look at something, and I get an idea of how I can do that myself, differently, my way, whatever, and I follow up, and it’s a different work of art. The “idea” for knitting rag rugs was first triggered with last year’s trip to the Endless Possibilities gift shop in Manteo, NC, where women weave rugs from clothing rejected by the local thrift-shop. As noted in my Rugs page, various knitting books added design elements.
Should I not be knitting rugs because I did not come up with the pure idea in a vacuum? Should no one else work with recycled clothing as raw material because I got there first?
Obviously, I favor the mixed-breed.
I can only wonder what it would be like to have “pure” ideas that aren’t generated from on-going immersion in my own slice of the culture and all the other ideas that float around me as thick as pine pollen. It’s probably as different as being short and blonde, which I’m not likely to know in this life. For now, I’ll keep knitting rugs.