Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When all else fails, make something

Whether you knit, sew, garden, cook, “craft,” or make “art” (the quotations are there to include all who make something, whatever your making “identity”), it’s likely that, when you make something, you are working something out. For me, it could be something as simple as a hectic week, a re-connection with the earth, an expression of passion, healing a loss, a release of pure joy.

Making something can also be a way of expressing outrage, sadness, a call for justice…even when your cause seems unwinnable. Take, for instance, The International Fiber Collaborative.

Artist Jennifer Marsh is collecting 800(!) 3-foot square panels to cover an abandoned gas station, as a means of addressing our country’s dependence on oil. She needs fiber artists to crochet, knit, sew, stitch, quilt, or patch panels for this project. She also needs donations of yarn for the gas pump handles which she will crochet herself.

Some commenters on her site have questioned the purpose of the project, with the unspoken question being, “Does art really make a difference?” I guess it depends on what you mean by “make a difference.” Does it change minds? hearts? policy?

I do believe that some art is pretty navel-gazing and self-indulgent. When I’m in a contemporary gallery, sometimes my working-class, practical Indiana background gets riled, and I start muttering things like…”These people need a real job. Don’t they have anything better to do? I can’t believe someone actually gave them a grant to come up with that. I could have made those scribbles.” (When this starts, T. knows it’s time to get me out of there before I start talking with a Southern accent--yes, in my part of Indiana, there's a distinct drawl--and walk right up to the artist/gallery owner/nearest patron and launch into a full-on, anti-elite, anti-art establishment, anti-anything smacking of bourgoeisie...well, you get the picture...rant.)

On top of that, if you’re making art about social justice, global warming, environmental destruction, and the like, I’m not going to be able to really take your art (or you) seriously if your lifestyle choices reflect no intentionality about those actual issues. Not that there’s ONE right way to live your life, but there are some things we know and can do--reduce our energy consumption, reduce our driving, eat local foods, buy fewer things--for starters. Making a movement in those directions seems imperative.

But The International Fiber Collaborative? I LOVE it. I love that the handwork of people from all around the world will make something beautiful out of something ugly. I love the irony…an abandoned gas station as a symbol of extreme dependence on petroleum. Most of all, I love what it gives me…that’s me, the one who takes her choices about how to live in harmony on this earth Very Seriously. Who speaks Very Earnestly at community meetings about the importance of This Issue or That Issue. So Seriously and Earnestly that I am quite sure that I can be just as annoying as the aforementioned self-indulgent, navel-gazing artists.

Will we “win” this issue of dependence on oil? End wars related to that dependence? Reverse global climate change before it really is too late? It pains me to be unsure…to think of my children and theirs (and yours) having to cope with the destruction wrought by mine and previous generations.

In the meantime, I can make something…yes, there’s some self indulgence there…it will make me feel a little better, but it will also mean one more panel towards that 800. Will it make a difference? It will make a difference for me. It will provide me with some hope, with a creative outlet, with a way to bring up the subject with other people, with a way to connect with others who care about the same issue.

And I can make a difference by telling other people...so, go to the website, make a panel, donate yarn, help with the installation, go to the reception(I'm planning to--we could carpool!). Tell a friend, drive less, consume less, make a change. Do something! No, don't just do something. Make something!

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