Inspiration; where does it come from? And what do you do with it when you have it? I, being a writer, write it down: endless notes, ideas, configurations, interpretations, quotations. I have always been an inveterate note-taker, so this is my default mode. Words conjure more for me than pictures, although I do, on occasion, make sketches.
I have just spent a week, well five days, at the international convention of the Studio Art Quilt Associates here in San Antonio, where inspiration abounded (including from the architecture of the Art Deco Drury Plaza hotel above, built in 1929, where the event was held.). I am proud to say that one of my art quilt pieces, “Busted,” was juried into the exhibition at the convention (see the Gallery), and I was encouraged and supported by the critical commentary I received. More than that, however, I was inspired by some of the other works on exhibit. Wow! What people can do with fabric and how they can translate not only their ideas, but their feelings about those ideas, is …well … inspiring. Other artists inspire and challenge me to do better.
And then there were the workshops and seminars. One of the speakers, Miki Rodriguez, herself an accomplished art quilter and instructor, inspired me with her challenge to take a risk, to dig deep into your heritage and put yourself out there in your work. Likewise, the keynote speaker, Jane Dunnewold, an accomplished art quilter, teacher, and author of several books, spoke about the need for an artist to take care of herself and nurture an unfolding creative spirit. Again, “digging deep” was a recurring theme.
When the conference was over, my art quilt, “Art Glass Quilted” (again, see Gallery), arrived back home after its six-month sojourn from the initial show at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Abilene , TX, to the Museum at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, to the Dallas Quilt show in March. It was nice to welcome the piece back again, and to see that it had withstood its journey well, even though I had been concerned about the fragility of some of the embellishments on it. This will forever be a special work for me since it was my first art quilt juried into an exhibition. Hopefully, with new-found inspiration, there will be more.
And so I am thinking about more. I am reviewing my notes, looking at my sketches, and reviewing some of the projects I’ve had in mind for quite a while. I have to decide where to go next. I want to grow, but I also want to settle into a style that is uniquely, recognizably me. Yes, I want to enter future exhibitions, but I don’t want to simply try to meet specific guidelines for a particular exhibition; I want to do work that is from my heart, my memory, my experience, my passion. I want to do work that only I can do. Don’t we all?
But now here I am today, after a week of inspiration and another week of trying to process it all, right back into the ordinariness of my ordinary life — filing my income taxes, doing spring clean up, attending to mundane chores like laundry. Whole mornings and whole afternoons evaporate in a fog of good intentions. Life intrudes; obligations intrude; the world intrudes. They say that “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” The challenge to that meme is to say “no,” to insist on the priority of your plans and to find the time, the place, and the space in which to nurture the creative spirit.
I used to tell my students that “a real writer is a person who writes,” who doesn’t just talk about it or think about it, but who actually does it, regularly. Moreover, a “real” writer generally seeks an audience, wanting to share words and ideas and thereby contribute to the broader conversation of humanity. I think this is true of all artists. The purpose of art, any art, is not only to be a form of individual self-expression, but to be a means through which others might be engaged and inspired.
And so here we are back at that word again: inspiration. Ultimately, inspiration produces work, something that can be evaluated, shared, used or enjoyed by others. Those who pursue the arts, especially those who don’t make a living at it, are often reluctant to call themselves “artists” thinking the title presumptuous, but I think considering one’s self an artist is a matter of seriousness of intention. Everyone starts somewhere, of course, but some go further to build skills, establish a process, and perfect a practice that will ensure ever better results. That, to me, is an artist at work. I’ll leave it to critics to argue about the end product, whether something is or is not art, but from the humblest attempts to the greatest masterpieces, all art matters — even bad art!
Collectively, the arts (or lack thereof) define a culture and keep it alive for ages to come. And that notion, in itself, is inspiring.