Friday, May 16, 2008

Crazy Art

Must one be crazy? Mentally ill? Sick? To see the world with an odd tilt or from an unexpected perspective? I certainly hope not. Although, maybe it helps.

To the left is a painting of the Pantheon & Luxembourg Gardens (1944) by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She marched to her own beat, sought out risks, fought the established moral rules and barriers and battled mental illness her entire, short, life. In 1947 she died in a fire in the mental health institute where she was a patient. But she left behind a delightful collection of her art. Art that makes one look at things from a different angle. Allows artists to make their worlds tilt and whirl, allows still life to move and gives viewers more than one perspective at the same time.

According to an article "Mental Illness and Female Artists" by A.M. Ludwig, University of Kentucky: "The high rates of certain emotional disorders in female writers suggested a direct relationship between creativity and psychopathology. But the relationship was not necessarily a simple one. As the results of the predictive analysis indicated, familial and environmental factors also appeared to play an important role."

Some call this association between mental illness and creativity the "Sylvia Plath Effect." We think of Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, and composer Robert Schumann. Poets seem to be most at risk of being mentally ill, suicidal -- thus the Sylvia Plath reference. But whose to say that writing poetry didn't keep Sylvia sane and alive longer than if she had never picked up a pen?

Terms like outsider art, alternative art, seems to reference artists who are a tad off plumb. Art created by insane asylum patients Raw or Brut Art of the 1920s drew much attention partly due to Dr. Walter Morganthaler's book Geisteskranker als Künstler (A Psychiatric Patient as Artist) on Adolph Wolfli. The book introduced Wolfli to the art world. (His Wölfli's Irren-Anstalt Band-Hain, 1910 is shown to the left).

"Morgenthaler's book was revolutionary in many ways as it was not simply a clinical study but argued that a person with a severe mental illness could be a serious artist and had the ability to make important contributions to the development of art."

Today, Outsider or Alternative Art may seem a little crazy but by no means does it signify that the artist is certifiably insane, crazy, suffering any mental disease whatsoever. You could draw your own conclusions perhaps -- but then who is to say what or who is normal? Deborah Eve Alastra's Fisherman (right) is considered Outsider Art, but does it comment on her state of mind? Today we have loosened up the boundaries of 'normal' and 'sane' and allow ourselves to experiment, take risks, 'raise the bar,' move the goal line' or whatever you want to call coloring outside of the lines. We trust our own sanity enough to explore the depths of our minds and emotions and subconscious. We put the results out there for others to see, learn and grow. And often to simply admire. So I say, "Go a little crazy with your art! It's healthy."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Words and Quilts: Something to Shout About

Two things make my heart sing -- books and quilts. Okay, the husband and kids, still place number one on my top hits list. But books and quilts are what I turn to when left to my own devices. When I can combine the two, I'm in heaven.

How to combine books and quilts? Well let's see. Helen Stamm and Jeannie Kretsinger created the "What If" quilt seen to the right.

My heart skips a happy beat when I see words on a quilt. It just makes such sense that a quilt should contain a message. Maybe that's why we all want to embrace the story of Underground Railroad quilts and their secret messages in plain sight. The simple names and dates on crazy quilts make me smile, but when I see Susan Shie's work, I become quite giddy with all of the words!

Remember those autograph or friendship quilts where friends and family made blocks and signed them, or wrote a message on them. They were popular when the Wild West was being settled and the quilts were sent along as a memory of all the people they would probably never see again. These quilts have been popular on and off through the ages.

And the Red Cross quilts that had messages of support and comfort written on them and distributed to prisoners of war or wounded soldiers during several wars.

Or think about quilts that are made from book cover art. Make a copy on fabric of your favorite book's cover and stitch away. Perhaps combine various book titles to form a message of their own. You know "Lassie Come Home" plus "Meet Me in St. Louis" plus "Don't Stop the Carnival" or maybe "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" plus "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." Or want to electrify a quilt -- put Thomas Edison's biography and Nikola Tesla together on a quilt. Sparks will fly!

We've all seen the quilts that look like book shelves with all kinds of books on them. Maybe make a few to open up so we can read the opening lines. Warning. Don't chose Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" -- the opening sentence is paragraphs long if I remember correctly.

Or put together a quilt of the titles that most influenced your life. Or the authors. A little Alcott, Dickens, Jong and her Fear of Flying.... what a combination that makes! You could do a little psychotherapy in cloth just by piecing together the authors and books that influenced your life's path.

Or a children's quilt with kids lit on it. Or again, a quilt of your favorite childhood characters. Peter Rabbit and Madeline meets Junie B. Oh my!

Or your favorite foods and cookbooks and authors -- Julia meets Betty Crocker! Or sexiest chefs. Or old family recipes. You could even do a first aid kit using books you use as resources for diseases.... Well, the possibilities are as endless as the kinds of books. A bodice ripper quilt. An erotic quilt. Hmmm?

And then, there is the combination I'm enjoying today as soon as I finish this blog. Audio book and sewing. I'm going to put a CD from Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" into the old player and sit back in my crap (I mean craft) room and sort through fabrics. I'll cut, sew, create all to the dulcet tones of Davina Porter reading about my favorite characters: Jamie and Claire Fraser.

Books and quilts -- what could be more exciting!?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Let it all hang out

We are the sum of our parts. Not just SOME of our parts, but all. Which means, our memories are influenced by things we don't consciously remember or acknowledge. When making a memory quilt we need to put as many 'parts' of the life together. And see what appears.

If it is a memory quilt of your mother -- how appropriate since Mother's Day is around the corner. The photo shows Leslie Riley's journal quilt of her mother. And gives you an idea of one way of making a memory quilt.

Remember that Mom was first a child, a girl, a woman, a lover, a wife long before she was your mother.

Perhaps begin with a map of where she was born. A family tree, her favorite tree, whether she liked sitting under a tree and watching nature or preferred to experiment with foods in the kitchen. Who does she speak of fondly or with anger? What are her political leanings? Did she chain herself to a cause and carry a placard in the streets or did she quietly move to change the thinking of friends and family, raise her children to see the truth she embraced, or perhaps made an effort to ease the suffering under laws or inequalities she opposed? What era did she come of age?

How much do you know about your mother and her beliefs? What was her favorite color? What does that say about her? Did she like to let her natural beauty shine through or always wore lipstick and nail polish? Was she a war bride? What was happening in her world when she was making her life choices?

When I think of my mother, I see a flower garden quilt. She made several of those as well as the traditional double wedding ring, star of Bethlehem, and other star quilts. Why did she chose stars I wonder rather than log cabins or nine patch or basket quilts? Why do I think of flower gardens when I think of Mom? I think her major life decisions were influenced by her coming of age in the Great Depression. The flower garden quilt pattern was popular during that era and she had told of using feed bags as quilt patches.

The Great Depression caused her family's financial decline, their move into an apartment above the telephone and telegraph office in a nearby small farming town. It caused her to work for the telephone company as well as take a job waitressing in a diner to help care for her aging parents rather than marry. World War II took many of the men from the community and caused the women to shoulder more responsibility.

Because their apartment was located above a business in the heart of the town, she lived across from the hardware store and quickly met the owner's brother who had come to town looking for work and a new beginning.

And yes, that 'brother' became her husband and my father. Mom was also shaped by her religious beliefs, her church, her community of which her family had been members for generations leading back to when the land was first settled.

To make a memory quilt for Mom has to include so much more than photos of her and family photos. Maybe that's why I think landscape quilts make excellent memory quilts. We are never separated from the land -- whether it is covered with cement or tilled by a Massey Ferguson or a team of horses. And what happens on that land imprints us, leads us in the directions our lives will take.

Maybe we waste our time making memory quilts of others. We should work on our own. Mine must begin with a book, a library, a community. Typing lessons at the age of eight, learning to handle money and make change at the age of four -- both skills pushed me in a specific direction. Perhaps if we look closely at what made us who we are, we can make better choices when raising our children or influencing our grandchildren. Maybe a memory quilt needs to be a therapy, a way of finding out just who we are and why.

Collage certainly lends itself to that project. I'd love to see an exhibit of "Who I am" quilts.