Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Artistry

This is going to sound terrible. But here goes: My whole life I have been good at things. Not everything, mind you. But more than, say, three things. I can draw a bit and I can sing. I'm a terrible dancer, but I'm a moderately successful cook. I can sew and I can knit, I can edit and I can write. But only recently, at the ripe age of 33 (why now?), do I find myself wondering what I am REALLY good at.

It's an interesting question. I remember my friend Chad telling me in high school that he wasn't very good at a lot of things, but he knew for damn sure that he could sing. And sing he could! And sing he does! Knowing him over the last 20 years, I have seen him embrace that passion, fine-tune it, affect others with its loveliness. And that is a wonderful thing to witness.

But I was always spread a little thinner. So I wasn't the best singer, but I played in the band. And I wasn't the best actor, but I always got cast. I strummed my guitar, fudging my way through country ballads, and focused more on laughing than learning bar chords. My life, and all of the activities I have ever chosen, have been infused with laughter. (Which reminds me, I am very good at laughing.) And there is an important point here: art, for me, has been blessedly free of ego. I can laugh at a creation that flops, or admire a creation that turns out well. Failure does not really bother me. I'm not a quitter, and I rarely enter a creative venture imagining that I will get rich.

Last weekend, however, at the In God We Trust backyard bazaar, I found myself looking at my handmade wares--my bags and turbans, my t-shirts and hair clips--and wondering what drove me to make it all and why I want to sell it. The joy, for me, has been creating the collection. Seeing the fabrics I have chosen, how I put them together. The moments when I get off work and walk home extra fast, eager to get started on a new idea that just popped into my head. Staying up late on a Saturday night, just to finish a project, see if it worked out. But the joy, for me, sort of leaves the building when I put it out into the world. Standing at that booth, I felt this unspoken pressure to measure my worth in dollar signs. And it made me, I swear to you, want to just start handing it all out for free. Like a lunatic, pressing bags into stranger's hands, insisting that an interested customer just take the t-shirt, take it!

I didn't, of course, but I found this urge interesting. And so I have been asking myself this week, why do we create? What do we hope to get out of it? Why do I write this blog? Is it about me or about you? Or is it something that we think about together, as we create, mutually feeling a need to throw our thoughts and creations out into the world?

As I flipped through recent photos to share with you today, this was the only one that made sense. It is a tunic that I made from Alabama Studio Style. Extra-large t-shirts, cut up into pattern pieces and hand-sewn together. It sat partially made in my to-do pile for months, and then recently I decided to finish it off. When all of the pieces were sewn together, it was fine, it was good. But when I added the binding around the collar and the neck, the garment underwent a transformation. The herringbone stitch, worked in tan thread, takes hours and hours to complete. It's complicated, time consuming, and absolutely worth it. It turned a plain tunic with wonky straight stitches into a piece of finely made decorative clothing. And as I sewed it, I thought, I'm making an heirloom. As a person who makes things, this is the moment that we long for. When we stop rushing, when we discover a combination that makes the materials sing, when we take the time to make it right, to make it perfect, to make it fit. When we can't stop looking at what we've done with our own hands.

So I keep returning to this: I don't know yet what I'm really good at. But I know that I was really good at making that tunic. There is artistry, and there is ego, and then there is the sublime. I'm keeping my eyes open, searching for the latter.


  1. I think you and I are the same -- pretty damn well-rounded, but still figuring out where we "shine." I've always thought we had it pretty good, though. At the very least, we know how to have a great time, pretty much no matter what we're doing.

    (That said, I'm totally jealous of your tunic.)

  2. Totally jealous of your tunic, too, like Erin said. Now, will you please model it in a picture for us all? I saw that in person (although not quite yet finished) and it was lovely.