Now, where did I leave that?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Is An Artist?

A writer....writes. Is it really that simple--the act of writing defines a writer? Is a writer someone who is published? If so, published in what, the school newspaper, a blog, the NY Times, best-selling novels? Is the person who is published in Time magazine more of a writer than the one who appears in Sagewoman? Does readership define writer?  How 'good' must  a writer be to be a writer, and who defines that level of quality? Am I a writer because I write a blog, write the occasional poem or essay, or because I've had the occasional piece published in places like Sagewoman, or because I say I am? If a writer is simply one who writes, how often does one need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to be a writer? This existential angst has been part of my psyche since I was about--seriously--eight years old. 40+ years later I still wrestle with it. 

And of late, I find the question arising again, as I look at my pretentious blog profile in which I not only call myself a writer, but also a 'novice fiber artist', a thing written as much to state intention as would-be reality. We've established I'm a remedial spinner and knitter (I do make a great farrow rib scarf, though), but I've been working with felt, wet and dry, for over a year. I've created scarves and altar cloths, vases, snow people, etc. and am in love with the almost-alchemy of felting. I'm happy with some of what I've made, disappointed with others, or rather, keenly aware of the flaws...the many flaws. 

This past October, Linda & I went to the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival. I posted about the scarf I made in a class for a dear friend here. The day Linda & I went was somewhat rushed; we had to do the same event we spent two days at the previous year in a mere four hours because we needed to get home to feed her foster kittens. It was a mad dash through, but on our way out of the last building, I pulled Linda down the book aisle. The previous year I'd encountered Sheepish on the book table, and loved every page (and a few weeks later bought Hit By a Farm by the same author), so I wasn't about to miss any treasures this time. At the far end, we were both caught and mesmerized by a piece of woolly art on display; it was there with the artist Lyn Slade, and her book, Creative Needle Felting: Wool Art With a Painterly Style. I couldn't plunk down my money fast enough! It's taken me awhile to finally start working with the book, but what follows are the photos of my first project, following her directions:

And the final photo, the finished....product? piece of art? 

I didn't create the original design. I worked from a photo and followed directions. This isn't my original work,  but as a non-crafty person, I have to admit to feeling mighty proud (and dare I say that while I see every one of my numerous flaws, I think my red-winged blackbird might be even a smidgen better than the one in the  book?). This took me so far out of my believed abilities and is so different than anything I've ever done. Do I think doing this piece makes me an artist? No. I didn't create the image or devise the technique; while it's not paint-by-number, it's at best a flawed copy of Lyn's exquisite piece. And yet....I'm proud of it. And doing it has changed me a bit. I recently watched a Winter sunset and found myself thinking about how to capture that moment in wool. I'm going to work on another of her projects beginning tomorrow, because that piece will teach me blending (one of my glaring issues with the sky in the piece above), and how to create the illusion of reflection. And when I finish that piece, the one to follow will be my own design. Already that worries me: who am I to design a piece of art? I can't draw a straight line (literally, even with a ruler; it's sad & scary to watch!). I'm not an artist, am I? At what point might I call myself a fiber artist (novice or not) and not feel like a pretentious fraud? I still feel that way when I refer to myself as a writer, but I don't see another 40+ years ahead to get over the qualms of naming myself 'artist'....and perhps I have no business doing so, now or ever.

So what makes an artist, or a writer? At what point does one earn the right to define one's self as either of those? Are you a writer and/or artist, and how comfortable are you with those words? What differentiates crafter from artist, or are they one and the same? What do you think? I really, really do want to know.

As for my rendition of Golden Meadow, it's going in my office at work, to remind me that my job is what I do, not who I am, and to make me smile at both the scene and the accomplishment.


the wild magnolia said...

it all seems to be art.

possibly it is how each creative person sees themselves . I think crafting take skill and talent.

an artist is creative and and skilled. Music, painting, and sculpting are considered the arts.

also, our society sees crafters as hobby, and the arts and professional art.

just a few of my thoughts.

the wild magnolia said...

i love that you are expanding your horizons.

thank you for sharing. good job.

Nancy J said...

You are indeed a writer, a fibre-artist, and are so creative, that finished felted piece is super. I can imagine it as part of our NZ scenery on the Desert Road, with autumn colours that are there already.Be proud, each of us is individual in what we do, and even if the finished product/article/ prose, is not what we started out to do, accept it as " Well Done" !! Felted, Finished, Framed, and Fotographed. Lovely. Cheers from Jean.

Jen said...

I agree with everything Nancy J said. Don't think I've ever seen felt art before--it's gorgeous. I look forward to seeing the next one.

AkasaWolfSong said...

One of the reasons I was attracted to your blog to begin with is that I love the way your write...Yes, Dear! You are most definitively a writer...and you have more than one muse, as you so graciously share your fiber skills with those of us who've never even attempted what you so 'beautifully' do.
Remember...The Great Mother and Grandmother gift their Daughters with many things...and you My Dear Woman have been blessed. :)

In Radiant Love,

Dan Troge said...

Hey Sis, hope I don't double post. It ate my last one! As I am NOT A BLOGGER!

Your work is beautiful! and ART!

not being Daniel Webster.I have no lock on this but I think an artist makes 1 artwork where a crafter has the skill to replicate their work many times over. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Not all art speaks to everyone but the artist knows the intended art!

Have a wonderful sunny Sunday!

Love- Danny

A Quiet Corner said...

Not an artist?? You're kidding, right?!! I never would have even thought of that!...:)JP

Raindrops and Daisies said...

Looks great Ashling.

Hope it isn't too cold in your part of the world.

We had snow yesterday here in Ireland but it has now disappeared (yippee)

Have a good week


Ashling said...

Thanks to all who commented on this post. My own personal nasty little critic has been busy, busy, but your comments still the voice for awhile.

Willow said...

That is a lovely red wing black bird for certain. That nasty little critic comes to us all now and then making ourselves our own worst enemy. Let yourself know you HAVE earned the right ... the critic will flee once more.
As a dabbling artist, writer, creative sort it is not the prestige I personally seek, although for some it comes with the territory and I cant say if I was really good at it I might seek more~ but the pleasure it gives me is enough. I am a writer of sorts and a creative soul, crafty artsy by my own definition for the sheer joy of it, have nothing prestigious to show for it but bold enough to call myself such and be happy just the same. :) I hope that helps for just one persons definition. PS I have written some of my best personal writing by the river primitive camping at Peekamouse Mountain , do you ever go up there? :)

Our Neck of the Woods said...

I have really been thinking about the writer thing for a while. I don't feel comfortable calling myself a writer, but I don't know what would have to happen for me to feel fine with giving myself that label. I do feel like I communicate much better with the written rather than the spoken word, so maybe that should be enough for me. Maybe if I were paid for my work then I could call myself a writer? I guess I'll grapple with that forever.

I do love your artwork! It was so neat to see the transformation of the piece. I think it's really lovely :)

Pat Riesenburger said...

This post touched something in me, Ashling. I am 51 years old and it has only been within the last two years that I can respond to the "What do you do?" question without feeling like a bit of an imposter when I respond that I am a "Fiber Artist." Silly, huh?

Ashling said...

@ Pat....silly only in that I wouldn't hesitate to call you a fiber artist; I've seen your work up close and if that's not art, I don't know what is!

@Tammy & Willow, and others who commented in the same's good to know I'm not alone in my existential angst! Perhaps in naming ourselves, we create that reality...