Sustainability in Artmaking

I’ve been conjuring spring, spinning yarn from which I’ll form floral designs to embed in felted scarves.  The yarn is fluffy, barely held together with minimal twist and lots of elements spun in — silk fibers, silk fabric strips, curly locks, kid mohair roving — to evoke the variations of flowers and flower buds.  I do the work in the minutes here and there as well as in solitary, peaceful hours in the studio that so often feel like some sacred time apart from the rest of the rush of life…

For much of the past eighteen months, overlapping the time that I started writing this blog, I’ve been taking care of our little granddaughter half-days during the week.  Choreographing my life around this sweet commitment has required flexibility and has led to many discoveries.   Because I longed to be within arm’s reach of her when she was a tiny infant, and wanted to use her nap times productively — and quietly — I learned how to spin art yarn using a drop spindle.  This new skill has energized my felted work, as I fuse the hand-spun fiber with feltmaking in all sorts of ways.

Every choice in life presents some compromise.  Not always “either/or,” sometimes this can be “either/and.”  Long studio days are infrequent right now; but my palette now includes lots of pastels, seen with new eyes, and inspired by all those hours gazing on a precious grandchild’s face.   In this chapter of life my mantra repeats: First Things First.  I have a lot of faith that my most important work — whatever that work may be — will get done, if I can quiet myself enough to work mindfully.

For years, our family has been a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Organic Farm, Village Acres.  Throughout the year, we get farm notes that help us feel connected to the daily concerns and details on the farm; and that inform us of what may be in our “share” box that week.   In reading about the careful management of “our” organic farm and all of their efforts to nurture sustainability, I am reminded of my own efforts to create a sustainable art practice.

So many issues are similar:  planning what and how to plant reminds me of my figuring out how to structure studio days; soil enrichment reminds me of being mindful of the physical demands of feltmaking as well as considerations for maintaining my art resources; the organic way of growing food reminds me to consider how “green” and non-toxic and unwasteful every aspect of my artmaking process may be;  the ups and downs on the farm (too much/too little/sun/rain/heat…) remind me to be resilient in my own work, and to have a can-do attitude; the business model of our well-run CSA, reminds me of how I want to do the “business of art” in my own life: personal, fair to all involved.

The “community” aspect of our CSA incorporates giving back to the community in many ways: by offering a convenient, local pick up location in town, and by including a variety of other locally-produced organic foods for sale at the weekly pick-up; and by hosting a yearly fundraising harvest event, to which members donate goods and services for a silent auction, that raises money to subsidize those who cannot afford to pay the membership costs.   Throughout the year, I donate some of my best work to local non-profit groups for their silent auction fundraisers, and it feels so good to be able to nurture the community through donating art work.

In considering additional venues for my felted work, I think about sustainability.  To “etsy” (online handmade marketplace) or NOT to “etsy” has been on my mind.  I don’t currently sell my work online, but people will contact me via email after seeing an image on my website/blog.  We’ll email back and forth, and I’ve sold work in this personal way.   It’s always thrilling — as if a piece of my artwork has come to life! — when I know that my work has connected with another person in some way and has moved them.  With a lot of art work, the artist knows the piece is good.  But with some work that’s experimental or very personally meaningful to the artist, any sense of whether the work is “lovely” or will be appealing is lost.  Objectivity doesn’t exist.  In order to sustain work at this depth, artists have always needed patrons so that the artists can take risks and creative leaps.  Patrons are another facet of sustainability.  Sometimes patrons are able to support artists in a material way; other patrons are more like muses whose encouraging presence is a source of sustenance.

To me, the definition of “craft” involves a level of skill that allows one to successfully achieve a certain outcome — more than once.  In artmaking, one aims to create something splendid; my sense of “craft” connects with understanding how this splendid creation happened and being able to do it again.  In mentoring other artists, I encourage them to think in terms of sustainability.  Even and especially in tough economic times,  beautiful and well-made art is cherished. Being a feltmaker and crafting one-of-a-kind scarves to keep people warm synthesizes practicality with luxury.   (I joke that I’m saving the world, one scarf at a time…) When I’m in the midst of focusing on studio work these issues of sustainability recede — and for a time  disappear altogether, in that transcendent “flow” that is at the heart of what sustains artmaking.

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Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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