I have spent the last six months re-evaluating just about everything in my life, from personal relationships, to how I spend my day, to what is the most essential part of my artwork.
It is a tedious task. You would think it would require an afternoon in an armchair, thinking; a few conversations with close friends; an analysis of the bank account. It certainly does, but it is so finely detailed and so incremental I can hardly tell when any progress is being made.
One of the more amusing things I have experimented with while considering the subject, was to take a number of things I had made, ranging from a small hand woven tapestry to a hand-printed tea towel of the sort I sell at the farmer’s market, to be entered in the “Open Entry” section of the local 4-H fair last week. When in Rome, I thought….
I thought it would be interesting to lay out a few things I spend my creative time on, to the kinds of people who are deeply involved in 4-H around here. I am sure we have a lot in common regarding topics like cooking, good vegetables, and what constitutes a well-sewn seam. It was, in fact, a sort of astonishing experience.
First of all, after paying my $1 fee per entry, I had my items examined by the intake crew. Hand-printed towel? I didn’t sew it, only printed it? Hmmmm. Let’s put it under fabric, hand-painted. OK. No mention of whether the design was original (why would it be?).
Second entry: the tote bag, made from my own design, quilting fabrics and ribbons. Category: sewing. Subcategory: totes. Oops! I noticed just before handing it over that the stitching was far from perfect. I had just been thinking about the wonderful design of my fabric.
Third entry: a hand woven tapestry of a butternut squash, in a nod to all the lovely vegetables entered around me. Not mounted, so they could see the back, (I quickly surmised that, since it was not framed, it would have a hard time competing as Fine Art, so entered it under “crafts”. Of course.)
What a palaver! was it stitched? no! painted? no! what then, woven? hmmmm. Well, next year they guessed they better have a category for Hand Woven. So it went into Crafts: Misc.
At this point I was thinking longingly of how relatively easy it had been to acquire an MFA from Cranbrook, where these distinctions might have been debatable but the world of definition was ever expanding.
Five days later, after a busy week, I returned early enough to see the exhibition and then collect my poor trusting entries. The results were humbling. In a world where every entry gets a ribbon (think youth soccer), I still was deftly and strictly judged. All were happy with my cute printed (painted?) towel, which depicted a local kind of melon. Blue ribbon there, and all potential factors deemed Excellent. The tote bag only got a red ribbon, as the stitching was “faulty”, though the colors were noted to be “nice”.
The hand woven tapestry? Well, the judge felt that its usefulness was questionable, the finish so-so, the materials appropriate. But it was “very cute” and had “nice muted colors”!
Butternut Squash, handwoven textile, 11″ x 10″, 2014
At the end of this trial, I felt satisfied. I had undergone a trial by my current peers in a rural community, and had been judged “good”.
The larger question remains, though. Do I want to remain among people who are bemused by my activities, or do I want to return to an arcane community which holds great meaning for me but leaves my current neighbors untouched?