Thursday, November 12, 2009

These Old Arts

My work, by its nature, keeps me somewhat isolated. People come in, just to look or to place an order; but since we’re a business they don’t usually stay long to chat. That’s one reason I do demonstrations with the Southern Plains Fiber Guild (SPFG) in Ponca City, OK. Another reason is the other Guild members: We do have such fun when we get together!

But the main reason I enjoy demonstrations -- and I think it is true for all our members -- is the sense of passing on our art. Young people are fascinated that these old skills still exist, and older folks are gratified that people still do what their parents and grandparents did, even though the artist may have put a new twist and spin in it.

The SPFG gave a demonstration last Saturday, the 7th of November, at the Pioneer Woman Museum. Apparently we brought in quite a crowd, as the Museum Director wants us to come back and do another demonstration in a few months. We had weavers and knitters, a milliner and crocheters. I took my Louet Victoria wheel (which I love) and did some spinning for those who were interested. I have found it mostly true that women are interested in the fiber and the men are interested in the mechanics of the wheel. Both are interested in the process.

As an artist I have always been about process. Once a piece is finished I am done with it. I am already thinking about the next piece and what it can teach me, about the texture and feel of the piece, and about how I can refine what I already know and distill it into that new piece. An old musical acquaintance of mine once said that to him, each piece he recorded was “just a snapshot in time of where we were at the moment.” That’s how my weaving feels to me: it is a snapshot.

I recently read an interesting review about a glass artist in Taos, NM, in the Taos News on Monday, the 9th of November, 2009. The artist’s name is Michael Miro, and he has revived a glass studio in Taos. The article’s writer, Melody Romancito, cites Miro as follows:

The new art form is going to be about art processes and not the artist’s interior processes…. The form will follow the medium instead of the other way around. Instead of understanding where the artist is coming from it will be about the work. I want to get it back to what the work is. If the work doesn’t speak for itself, no amount of narrative is going to change that.
I agree with Miro (which may have been why I liked the article, I admit). I think process can be a topic that expands artists’ dialog with one another and, subsequently, with their audience. I have talked process with carpenters and actors, bricklayers and jewelers and, of course, other weavers, and the conversations generally start with “This is how I go when I go like this.” Less a conversation about what Miro calls “internal processes” and more about how the art happens.

I think the idea of process widens what we call “art.” Process is valid, no matter to what form it is applied. This harkens back to the sensibilities of the Bauhaus movement, but without its rigidity. It is a newer take on what it means to be an artist and what it is that we produce. For the artist it suggests that art is a new dynamic of exploration. It is also about connections. As artists, we are free to examine the processes, not just of our own art, but delve into the products of the minds of other artists in a way we have never had before.

That is one thing that makes our Guild so healthy and vital. We all achieve our goals with different processes, expanding our skill-sets and pushing the edges of what we can achieve through the examples of others. When we do an event like the one last Saturday, we are literally demonstrating the process of our arts. This is what connects us to the living and expanding new realities of today, while grounding us in the processes of these old arts.