Man I was hooked to my old medium for a very long time. I think too long. I spent more than thirty years with it, and was very very committed. I was schooled by people who were colleagues and contemporaries of the few who took textiles in a new way back in the nineteen seventies. I loved pattern, fiber, thread. I still think that pattern is the filter we all use to view and understand the world, and whether it is true or not, I tell my students that.
It is strange what you remember from your life: small events, significant little statements. Any therapist knows that is what you seek in trying to untie problems. I remember an angelic looking blond man in art school who was a Viet Nam veteran. Having had maybe two conversations with him in my life, what he said to me was a simple thing, but totally out of my tunnel visioned understanding. Funny thing is that I remembered it. He said that his art was subservient to his life. Meaning that it would change, it could change, but the life was more important. I should have listened more intently to this twenty five year old who had survived the guerrilla warfare and drugs of that American episode. And my reaction was a blind commitment to an inanimate thing: textiles. That was a hole that I did not dig myself out of for a long long time. Pretty stupid.
I told my painting professor what this man had said to me. All those painter men were incredibly macho. This professor, the same guy who told me to go home and have babies, said about this veteran: “Yeah, he paints quilts”. So much for the crafts.
It is very scary to give up the sophistication with which you approach your art when you have produced in the same way for years and years. You know the people in your field, the movements or ideas that are old and have been done, and what is truly new. Not so if you start something new on your own, outside of academe. Of course, age and experience should enable one to find what they need. And for me, teaching has helped me a lot with courage.
I choose not to talk about craft at all in my art history classes. I touch on all the important art ideas, the most monumental works of Western Art, and for a student that is probably going to only take one art class in his life, the crafts are not that important. When I was in school, and worked in the slide library (remember those?), the crafts were filed under “Minor Arts”. To be more politically correct, the label was changed to “Decorative Arts”, I think, and “decorative” is not a positive word when undergoing an art critique either.
I did an “Annunciation” once, in my own style. Also a piece called “Dream of Adam”. I was in a mood where I wanted to tackle the same big issues that the great artists of the Renaissance did.
It is true that one never really learns until they teach.