Monday, June 20, 2011
Creativity on the street
Spring in Regina is a time for thinking about creativity, about art and craft. In spite of unfriendly, wet, changeable and challenging weather, Thirteenth Avenue filled up in May with curious, cheerful, friendly people who promenaded and bought everything from dog biscuits to handmade soap, from remarkable inventive jewelery to ceramics that asked questions about what pots are really for. What are we looking at? And what are we looking for? (These are two different things.) In part, we're looking at a community, at a particular kind of community, one that works very hard all year to mount the Festival, and we're implicitly sharing and applauding those values. And as we troll the streets, nodding to one another and petting one another's dogs or admiring children's painted faces, we're creating community; we're coming out of those claustrophobic houses that kept us warm but gave us cabin fever to celebrate and admire what other people made during our brutal, cloudy winter.
Making things: jewellery and dog biscuits, baked goods and the pots to we serve them on, knitted sweaters and ironmongery for gardens. There have been times in my life when making things got me through. Deeply depressed, I could nevertheless promise myself to knit five rows in a simple sweater, to end up knitting ten and feeling that I was quite a bit more competent and in this world than I had thought I was. What is it about making that disciplines us all winter and brings us out on a rainy street in the spring? In part, it's the self-respect that comes with craftsmanship, that hunger to do something well--no matter how simple--that I spoke of in my post on Craftsmanship (December 5, 2010). Let me quote Bill Reid again, because his words are so central to this idea: "One basic quality unites all the works of mankind that speak to us in human, recognizable voices across the barriers of time, culture, and space: the simple quality of being well-made." There's an implicit self-respect and self-reliance in making something and feeling that you've made it as well as you can, given where you are in the journey toward becoming a craftsman.
We think about creativity again in later June at Bazaart, but here the dynamic is a bit different because this is a juried event. No dog biscuits. Some of the artisans query that fine permeable line between art and craft. And as I people-watched for a while, I noticed that there's a curiosity here that is different from that you see on Thirteenth Avenue, where people seem to be wandering in a colourful, playful market. At Bazaart, people can't quite decide whether they've walked into a gallery or a shop. I think it's an ambiguity that's quite good for us, that challenges our preconceptions. It must be hard for the artisans, though, to be told their work is wonderful, only to have a sympathetic and potential buyer simply drift away. For many of them--certainly for the young ceramicists in the MFA program here--Bazaart is their bread and butter.
Because one of the main characters in the novel I'm working on, Soul Weather, is a potter who's just graduated from U of R with an MFA, I've been talking to ceramicists and even taking classes. I'm hopeless at a pottery wheel, but at least it gives me a sense of how challenging throwing something as simple as a mug (never mind a teapot) can be. As a result, I found myself this fall on Jenn Mapplebeck's thesis committee, which taught me a great deal about the creative process. In my earlier blog on Craftsmanship, I suggested that one of the tidy but problematic distinctions between art and craft was that we use craft in our daily lives, but that art seems to stand apart. Another distinction I could make is that craft emphasizes the making and the tradition of craftsmanship behind each work. Art, while it still needs to be well crafted (an assertion some curators would find problematic and only reflects my own taste) also needs to have a new idea. In the language that is often used now, particularly about traditional crafts like ceramics, a piece needs to "interrogate" the very foundations it's predicated on. Thus Jenn's teapot at the top of my blog is long past pouring tea; rather, it gestures towards the still life paintings and the compositions in those paintings called vanitas, and reminds us that even things have lives and that these lives take surprising turns. Other works, like the teapot and stand on the left, teem with life.
And here we come to one of the most important qualities I think a work of art should have--as well as an answer to why we put up with crazy wind out on the front lawn of the MacKenzie Art Gallery or dodge the rain at the Cathedral Village Arts Festival. I think art asks questions and forces us to engage in a conversation--even in the minimal conversation about what Jenn's lattice teapot is for. And the moment we start asking questions and having conversations, we've created the community we need at the end of a long, isolating winter.
If you want to contact Jenn about her work, you can reach her at Jenn.Mapplebeck@hotmail.com
In the meantime, you might want to read this interesting article in Britain's Daily Mail on how good quilting is for us. It exercises everything from our visual aesthetic sense to our math and problem-solving skills.
I'm planning another post soon on "Creativity on the Street," but then I want to talk about gardeners and the outside-the-box creative things being done at Regina's Food Bank.
at 8:43 PM