The main drive in all the work that I do is unravelling what wellbeing means on the personal level. We are informed, educated, legislated to look after our health, but what does that mean personally. Here I explore how the creative process can tap into a sense of wellbeing for the artists concerned:
Artists over the years have treated the act of making as a way of managing their feelings and assisting their own healing. Discuss a range of artists who have made textile pieces in response to emotional or physical difficulties they have experienced, or as part of their own healing process.
“When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I have a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness” (Louise Bourgeois)
Why do I (and many others) feel better when creating and making? This is the question I have been asking myself over the last few years. Having spent a year doing an experiential Art Therapy Diploma and now a reflective based Art Degree , I cant help question how and why it works?
Is it that our inspiration feeds our creativity and it is the expression of this that gives us our place in the world?
Is it that in the creative process we lose ourselves and connect to something that is greater than our pain?
Is it that touching and engaging with materials actually soothes and nourishes our souls?
I will be bringing these questions forward over the next year of my life, attempting to answer them in a way that gives me some sort of satisfaction around how and why.
Thoughts as I go Along
I have read a variety of reading material that has enabled me to see this question from a variety of angles. I have used this research to further question my own practise. Am I talking about the use of craft, the individual artist and their inspiration, or the world of textile arts? Below is a selection of my reading that has challenged me to think further and question deeper.
17th February 2017
I’ve spent the last few weeks consuming books. Yet, I fear that I may have landed myself in the reading cul-de-sac. I seem to become caught up on a particular aspect of the why. This why seems to involve an age old debate about why people are drawn towards textiles. Of course, connected to this is why I am drawn to textiles? Why do I enjoy the feel of cloth and using mediums such as stitch and thread. Yet, the focus of many of the books I have read, books such as String, Felt and Thread by Elissa Auther and Thinking through Craft by Glenn Adamson speak more to the debate about where textiles lie with regard to the world of fine art. Is it my primary concern that Robert Morris and Eve Hesse used string and felt in the 1960s to challenge the status quo within the world of fine art? Did they simply chose to use these materials because they said something against sculpture rather than for the use of textiles. Am I choosing textiles for the same reasons?
24th February 2017
There is a lovely chapter in this book by Carole Tulloch with a quote from Alice Walkers. She talks about her memories of her grandmother growing up. she states:
“I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible – except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have” (Walker 1984: 241-2).
I’m finally starting to get some references which regard peoples ‘state’ when they are in the process of creating. Tulloch connects to this idea that ‘the creativity which emanates from an individual is not simply concerned with creating or making objects, but is simultaneously about maintaining representing the individual, the self’. I am beginning to unravel some of the complexities of the questions I am posing. For example, can I talk about creativity and the effect it has on the self without mentioning spirit or the collective consciousness. Is creativity possible without any of these? And the reason why this is important is there is a part of me that wonders who is ‘doing’ when I am creating. And if an artist is processing their world, their emotions, their stresses or problems through the materials they are using, are they tapping into something ‘else’ to help them achieve this?
I also started touching on the Process Artist’s again, this time being drawn to Robert Morris’s writing on the importance of the process versus the end result. I think back to a book I read on the Light and Space artists of California in the early 1960’s. Their focus rested so heavily on the environment that the object was not important. To artists such as Robert Irwin it was space, to Robert Morris is was process. Robert Morris states ‘Whatever else art is, at a very simple level it is a way of making.’. For me, it is the process of creating, the act of expression, that lies at the core of my practise. I am less and less concerned with the end result. Or am I more concerned that the process expresses the sentiment and story, even more than the end result.
2nd March, 2017
This book is like a breath of fresh air and allows me to start to form some basic links between the individual, the material, the collective and more. Again, I am drawn back to the question about who is creating when I create?
What Collier raises in me are questions of individual verses creative consciousness. It seems that the creative process allows artists to comprehend themselves and the world they live in through their own unique perspective. Yet, Collier also talks about how the artist looses themselves equally in the process of making. The artist can be in control of their conscious thoughts or be moved to create by something beyond themselves. I often find myself lost in the process while I am making. So both the individual and something greater are involved? Bringing this idea further, is the concept that despite being a unique individual experience, as the artist uncovers their own layers, they tap into something that is deeply common to all humans.
17th March, 2017
Again, another book that had a significant effect on my thinking is Tim Ingold’s Making. It is Ingold’s ideas about what making is and what materials are that most effects me. I really enjoy the way that Ingold looks at the nature of making not as an assembly but as a procession. One step followed by another step. There is something in this process that is connected to an artists ability to slowly discover themselves through making. I notice that I rarely start with an end result in mind, but rather I make by listening. Listening to the material, asking them for the next step.
What is also lovely about Ingold’s work as he places equal emphasis on material, artist and process. He places the artist or the maker from the start as a ‘participant in amongst a world of active materials’. There is a relationship that forms, between the maker and the material. They join forces in a rather active process of ‘bringing them together or splitting them apart, synthesising or distilling, in anticipation of what might emerge’. I am beginning to see evidence for something that intuitively happens when I make. I hadn’t seen it in this context before.
3rd April, 2017
I’m advised to read some material on Japanese aesthetics, looking particularly at Wabi Sabi. I really enjoy the core principles of Wabi-Sabi that state:
All things are impermanent
All things are imperfect
All things are incomplete
It is an area of conflict within my own practise – the desire for control and perfection verses the organic flow of the creative process. I am surprised that many of the artists who inspire me, mostly using thread, string and yarn, are either Korean and Japanese. Something to research more.
12th April, 2017
Reverting to Art Therapy research
After doing some considerable reading on art and health within a general context art, I begin to get drawn into the world of art therapy and occupational therapy research. In some ways, I wanted to stay away from clinical practise and examine more generally the references and stories of artists. Many comments were made by participants in the studies I examined that I could understand and relate to, but there was something missing. There is something conflicting about asking textile artists why they find textiles enjoyable or healing. I always seem to fall back into my textile work, to a place of comfort. Yet I continue to draw and make in ceramics, glass or wire because I am always wondering if there is a better way of expressing what I want to express.
24th April, 2017
I begin to bring it all together and write. I feel as though my exploration has lead me to so many more questions that answers. It is like I am still not satisfied in what I am finding. I seem driven to understand and look at this idea of healing through making from as many angles as possible. Yet I continue to dismiss the answers that I am finding. I am most interested in direct statements made by artists with regard to their own creative process and material choices. I feel as though the intention of these artists remain as pure as possible. They were driven to create, to make forms from what they were experiencing in their lives. And as they reflect back and look at these pieces, they can then see how these processes helped them on their own journeys of self discovery or self healing. Perhaps I will be able to see more as I reflect on this over the summer.