Monday, September 15, 2014

The Inspirational Magazine from The Textile Blog

A new project from The Textile Blog will be launched soon. It is to be a regular magazine that will project aspects of the creative arts through the work of regular artists from across the disciplines, not just textiles. Therefore, artists will be chosen from backgrounds in ceramics, glass, mixed media, 3D, fine art painting, basketry, land art, printmaking, illustration, and so on. I must admit that I have been mulling this idea over for a while now, and at last, it does seem that its moment has arrived. 

The title Inspirational was obviously not chosen by accident. The fact that inspirational and aspirational are also one letter away from each other is also not a coincidence. The magazine is to be one that shows the best that can be found within the human creative outlook on life, one that helps us understand the perspective that we all deeply share with the world around us. The magazine will be inspirational in sharing the importance that creative artists find in their understanding, through their work, of the value to be found in the non-material over the material, the unchanging over the immediate, perception over supposition, and so on. It is about the value of the perception of life, rather than over the perception of things.

In this respect, the magazine will not dwell so much on artist techniques, where work has been shown or sold, or what the artist had for breakfast. Instead, the magazine will concentrate on how each artist perceives the world around them and how that unique perception in turn becomes projected back onto the world through their work. It is the unique journey through life that we must all take, that in the end is of real importance. 

The first issue will feature articles about the work of Elizabeth Bunsen, Melanie Ferguson, Louise O'Hara, Shannon Weber, Jude Hill, Dietmar Voorwold, Amy Genser, and Joanie Gagnon San Chirico. All articles will be written by me, which I know is a lot of work, but to get this unique magazine out there, it has to be done.

This will be an online magazine, and not a paper one. There are a number of reasons for this. It means, for example that the magazine can be bought quickly and easily anywhere on the planet. Another and more personal reason is that I have a particular policy regarding paper. As far as my own writing output is concerned, whether through The Textile Blog articles or books that I have published, my paper trail is minimal, in fact I no longer own a printer. The more trees I can leave standing and huggable, the easier I will sleep at night - I have a thing about trees! However, as stated, this is a personal stand and not one that is judgemental of others. We all use materials that we need and value, and that is as it should be.

I have no intention of seeing any of the other rich and varied creative arts magazines that are already on the market, as rivals. I don't do competition, and therefore see the Inspirational magazine as an important addition to the media, not a replacement. However, I do think that this particular magazine will be able to show another facet of what it is to be a creative individual, and to allow people from varied backgrounds, to share in the experience that is that of the creative artist. I hope you will agree.

The magazine will be out on sale in October, but I will be regularly putting publicity out there on The Textile Blog twitter, facebook, and google+ sites, so no one will be able to miss the launch!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Curiosity and the Creative Artist

Illustration: Mark Rothko. No. 14.

Curiosity may well be a species trait, we are after all where we are today, and know what we know, from the micro to the macro world, because of a collective curiosity about the world in us and around us. But curiosity is also very much a trait of the individual. Through curiosity comes an expansion of personal perspective, the breaking through of barriers that contained your own limited projection of what you knew, and perhaps more importantly, what you thought you knew.

In many respects then, curiosity is our default setting, and although the popular conception is that 'curiosity killed the cat', that shouldn't hold us back from exploration. Yes, an individual may well get burned from time to time, but where would a life be without quizzical exploration, certainly it would be one that would be infinitely narrower, contained and certainly lacking in any meaningful expression of the true multiplicity that is life in its reality.

To grow as an individual is often not encouraged as rigorously as perhaps it might be. It is often seen with suspicion and scepticism by many. It can be surprising how narrow are the confines of 'normality' when it is preached by those who would save you from too much self-exploration. But curiosity, which is such a vital part of personal exploration, is by its very nature, growth, and growth of such significance that the individual involved is very often not the same person that others are familiar with, which can have a tendency to disconcert family, friends, community, particularly if that exploration dives within, rather than out.

Illustration: Midday wispy clouds. Photo by John Hopper.

Personal internal exploration, whether it deals with a wonder as to the reason for being, or where am I going and where have I been, which to be honest can amount to the same thing, is internal curiosity granted, but curiosity nevertheless. The world within can and is infinite in its variety, its meaning, and its dimensions for change. Nothing can ever be the same again once the curiosity for internal exploration is piqued. It is an enormously rich vein for externalising creative self-expression and should never be underestimated.

The creative world of course, thrives on curiosity. Each and every individual involved in the arts has their own personal creative journey to make, and each and every one uses curiosity as their guide. We notice and observe the pattern of nature, whether through leaf or season, bird flight or cycle of life. But the curiosity of our inner lives is also vital. Contemplation, calmness, an innate understanding within the framework of the inner self, the soul if you like, guides many artists along their journey and this inner curiosity towards inner exploration cannot be easily dismissed as some form of poetic licence. It is a tangible quantity, one that has guided the arts for countless generations and will continue to do so for generations to come.

The feature of outer and inner curiosity, material and spiritual, makes a creative artist the individual they are. It gives them a perspective not necessarily shared by all, and in some cases, can make life difficult for them. But this inner and outer life balance is a vital and anchoring element of what it is to be human. Balancing your inner reflective world with your outer substantial world is a way of understanding what it is to be a whole person, one that collects the feelings and moments in time that make up the journey of life, reflecting on and understanding those moments. 

Illustration: Early evening moon. Photo by John Hopper.

Curiosity then is the lifeblood of what it is to be human, but not merely the curiosity to know what lies over the next hill, or why a flower blossoms, or how a rock transforms, it is also the curiosity to know how you relate to all of those things, and perhaps more importantly, how they relate to you. Creative art is not just about expressing yourself as the ego; it is also about expressing yourself as the larger you. The understanding that you are part of the complexity of life and the universe, known and unknown is probably the most important voyage of discovery and curiosity that you will ever make, That you can then express that innate curiosity through creative artwork, in whatever discipline appeals to you, is a gift not taken up by many, but a vital ingredient in the outward perspective of us all.

Further reading links:

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Artist and the Critic

Illustration: Gaston de Latenay. Landscape.

From the larger society down to single relationships, many support the creative arts. However, many don't and the negative is often the louder and listened to more frequently than the positive. Doesn't make them right though. The constant barrage from the negative crowd that deem anyone taking a creative path as open for sneering derision for being bold enough to take that path, are not right purely because they sometimes shout the loudest and the furthest.

The negative naysayer has always been with us, possibly will be for some time to come, but they are mistaken in their belief that the creative arts are of no importance to the human condition. They are indeed vital and a necessary tool for our growth as a species. The positive projection of the creative arts is one of the lynch pins in the expansion of our consciousness across the following decades. It is therefore important that the expansion of artists across the planet is systematically encouraged. There isn't any point in seeing the arts as a fundamental building block in human development if there are no practitioners to back it up.

Which of course leads us directly to the critic, and more specifically, general and specific criticism of the creative arts. At times, it might well seem as if the world of criticism is a deep and dark force with the sole remit of destroying any form of creativity, certainly how it may seem if you've ever been on the receiving end. However, criticism in its own right is a constructive act, constructive being the key word. Constructive criticism is an art in its own right. It is the correct form that criticism is meant to take, the balancing of good and bad points about a specific piece of work or artist, criticism that tries to project the positive, making the world in turn a better and more harmonious place in which to live.

Illustration: F. L. B. Griggs. A pastoral.

Unfortunately, and particularly with the spread of the internet, a platform has been given to whole armies of self-proclaimed and often misguided critics who have, for some reason, the idea that to be a critic means that you have to be both negative and abusive. To say that something is 'crap' is a pointless act, a vacuous statement. What does it mean? How can you back up such a purposely closed and blinkered statement? It is the act of the juvenile, of the adolescent soul looking for attention.

The point of real criticism is to balance both good and bad aspects seen in a piece of creative work. To both praise the good elements and point out where weakness could be improved. It may well smart the fragile ego of the artist at times, but most artists are usually aware that improvements can always be made, otherwise, why are they on their specific journey in the first place? 

It takes a lot of guts to place something so personal and so entwined with your own character, your own view of life, your own essence, into the public arena. It really doesn't need a self-styled internet critic to savage and sneer. If they wound deeply enough they may well feel as if they have done a worthwhile job and hope to be admired and applauded by their own audience for taking down anyone who dares step out into the light. However, they can also deeply wound and unseat any fragile confidence that an artist might have, particular the younger artists who are just starting out. If there is something, we don't need and that is new potential creative artists falling along the wayside. We don't need less creative people around. We need more, many more.

Illustration: Otto Fischer. A study.

Some critics would tell you that their job is to sort out the good from the bad, to protect us from the terrible and the untalented. Since when? Many creative people in the past have gone through enormous trials and tribulations with consistent lack of support from critics and public alike, but nevertheless made a valuable and viable contribution in the end. So who can really be arrogant enough to believe that they can tell a winner from a loser? In art, there is no such thing. All people in their own right are naturally creative, and if some decide to take an artistic path then they should be supported and applauded for taking that very path. Critics should be seen as helpers along the path, not jokers with one foot out to trip an artist, whilst having an eye firmly rooted on their own audience's appreciation.

One last point I would make about at least some of the self-aggrandising critics out there as well as those closer to home, family, friends, neighbours, most have never been involved in the business in which they have decided to criticise, either through their own inadequacies or fears. It's worth bearing in mind the next time someone decides to tell you that you are wasting your time and that you have no talent. Just recognise what a sad and lonely place they must really have to inhabit in order to feel the need to put someone down in order to bolster themselves, and then just carry on on your own creative path, regardless.

Further reading links:

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Vital Connection with Nature

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panel.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the creative arts and nature are significantly linked, some would say inextricably. We are of course a part of nature, always have been and always will be. It courses through our veins on a practical level, runs through the nerves of our mind on a conscious and unconscious level, as well as running through our spirit as age-old memory, yearning and as a comfort. We are nature and nature is us. Walk through any wooded vale, cross any dusted plain, travel along any seashore and notice the calming effect that the natural environment has on all but the most desperate urbanite.

So why then would you be forgiven for thinking, when you look at the media projection of our contemporary world, which in many ways is a projection of the collective mind of modern day humanity, that our default setting, as far as our natural environment is concerned, is that which we find in our cities and towns, the urban? When we try to project what the environment is like in specific nations and regions around the planet, the experience of that plot of land, the first default setting is to see that land from the perspective of the city. It might be very interesting to see what life is like in New York, London, or Cape Town, what exhibitions can be seen, what food can be bought, what floodlit sites can be viewed, but what is it like to walk along the natural shoreline, woods, scrubland, meadows outside those cities? There is life outside the borders of the city and it can be just as complex and sophisticated as the urban, even more so, it is just a complexity that involves more than the human species.

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panel.

To be fair, for the first time in our species history, the majority of us now live in towns and cities rather than in the rural and natural environment. Therefore, our culture reflects that fact. However, the fact still remains that just under half of us still live in small communities set into the natural environment. The fact also remains that all of our major cities still sit, no matter how much to their chagrin, in the midst of the natural environment and are governed by the natural ebb and flow of that world, vitally dependent upon and moved by that environment.

The city has been around for a relatively small amount of human history, but it has begun to take precedence over the many other community lifestyles we have invented over the generations, particularly within the last few lifetimes. The danger now lies in the increasing insularity our cities have taken upon themselves to promote. It often seems to those who live outside the boundaries of intensive urbanity, that all of the meaningful connections with the natural world, those that have given us strength and succour for all of our existence as a species, are being casually displaced, seen as no longer necessary. The self-belief that the urban environment along with the urban lifestyle is now independent of the natural life of the planet seems to be overpowering. 

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panel.

This is delusional of course, but it is such a powerful delusion. When much of what you see around you is human-based, whether it be the city itself, or the life lived in that city, there seems little room for anything else. When what is projected by the media, in whatever form, tells the story through endless scenarios, of human-based stories, then life outside of those scenarios seems strained, imaginative, unreal. Yes, there is a rural, natural life out there somewhere, with trees and animals, dust and water, but it all seems so far away and not particularly relevant to the everyday life of urban humanity.

But we lose our connection with this increasingly fuzzy and distant world at our peril. If we lose our age-old relationship with the planet and lose the history of that connection, then we lose our soul, lose our connection with being and we lose our purpose of being. If we fail to understand that we are part, not apart from the natural world, then we cease to be human and we live a half-life, one dominated by self-imposed isolation and regret.

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panels.

So where can the creative arts fit into this planet-wide problem? The often intimate relationship that artists of many kinds share with aspects of the natural world, is often as fundamental and emotionally deep as that shared by our early ancestors, those who had never contemplated or imagined any form of enclosed community, let alone a city life. The relationship that many artists have with nature seems to come naturally, and has certainly been long-standing, ever since there has been human creativity; there has been a connection with the natural world. 

Even though many artists live within city boundaries, many are still attracted to and influenced by the natural world not as concept, but as aspirational connection. Many an artist has been aware, and many still are, that life without a relationship with the planet as a whole, whether that be human, plant, animal, sky, or earth, is no relationship at all, and by definition no real life at all. As the naturalist and environmental campaigner John Muir says:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

To my mind that means that you cannot unpick humanity from the greater community that is the planet, and from there the universe as a whole. Try separating ourselves from the universe by containing ourselves in our own self-perpetuating, but ultimately impoverished world and we unravel the complexity built up by the planet. Turn our backs on the planet with our own human made distractions, and we condemn both ourselves and the rest of the planet to the increasingly severe problems that are unfolding on a yearly basis.

Illustration: Marcello Nizzoli. Embroidered panels.

Only by emphasising the unbounded richness and rewards that are the result of our age-old connection with all on the planet, whether plant, animal, water, sky, or land, can we understand what it is to be truly human. That that connection should be emphasised consistently through the vehicle of the creative arts, should be seen as inevitable and necessary. The human artist should be celebratory of the beautiful complexity of life that constantly runs around them and through them. The artist has to play such a vital part in the healing process between our by now dysfunctional species and the rest of the planet. It is something many are called to, although few thanks are given. Fortunately, the artist usually gets to see the much larger picture and for that we have to be truly grateful.

Further reading links: