Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On Ambition

I've been meaning to write something about my shop name. I'm so used to it now I hardly even notice the words anymore, funny how that happens. But in 2007 when I was dipping my toe into the Etsy waters for the first time I spent a lot time trying to find a name that would work for me. I hadn't decided "what" I was going to sell on Etsy and my interests are varied. I'd spent years perfecting papermaking and collage techniques and origami folds (even made up some new ones). The shop has settled into crochet, mostly because that's what I was producing the most of for Christmas time and post Christmas 2007 I didn't want to stop. I wanted to make more and try more things. 

But back to ambition, in art school I, like every other painter, was told that I needed to work big. Size is a test of the integrity and strength of your idea, your composition, your technique, etc. You can fudge things on a small scale that you can't get away with on a 6 foot canvas. Mistakes can't hide. You must be confident in order to work on a large scale. The painting becomes the environment and you interact with it differently, and so on. I love large paintings and I've made a few that I truly like, but in the end, as with any one-size-fits-all piece of advice, I started to pull away from it. In retrospect, telling student painters to work big seems like an exercise. Or perhaps not, we say the same thing to artists at the gallery sometimes. Anyway, when I graduated with my undergraduate painting and drawing degree I immediately started working small. Very small.

It was partly as a reaction against my painting professor and an acknowledgment of my new freedom, but it was strongly informed by what I was reading in feminist theory. Big was bold, confident, the only way to go -- big was masculine. I come from a long tradition of crafters with crochet, knitting, needlepoint, and sewing projects tucked away to be pulled out at any moment and worked on until the next chore, child, meal, or task came up. These are small modest projects beautifully worked, flexible enough to be started or stopped at any point. Rather than the isolated artist in the studio, these pieces were made within the presence of a community - at the kitchen table, on the sofa, sitting around in the backyard. I started playing with interchangeable parts and small scale projects, mostly paper collages and small charcoal drawings bound into artists books. I like the idea of discrete units that seem negligible until they are combined and added together they are stronger. Maybe it's the metaphor that I like and the resemblance to quilts. Like any piecemeal project, quilts can seem modest in pieces, but they are ambitious. Even a scrap of a quilt means, or is evidence of a desire, to be an entire quilt - quite a project! 

I returned to these ideas about craft and women's work when I was doing my thesis and read so much more. This entry isn't footnoted and I don't want to get it wrong, so forgive the generalizations - maybe I'll put up a reading list later. I think I started working small after college because I found some personal identification with that kind of work. I've seen a lot of post school artists do so because they are forced by the constraints of the kitchen table or bedroom floor, but I still had my studio at that point. After I lost my studio, well, that's another post. After a few years I stopped making art and stopped calling myself an artist. I don't identify with it now and I'm okay with that.

In 2004/5 when I came back to crochet full force I started making things that were less than functional, then completely baroque and fantastic and we started taking photographs of them. In 2006 my photos were in a faculty show in Oklahoma and in 2007 one of the crocheted pieces was in a juried art show. I have no aspirations for this work as art. I enjoy making it and I'm thrilled when people are curious about them, but my ambitions have changed. Tempered by my experiences working at museums and galleries, I don't want to be on that side of it. I want the work to be complex and imaginative and fantastical and away from this world.

Which brings me back to ModestAmbition, you won't find any of my "less than functional" crochet on Etsy. Not at this time. I want my Etsy site to stay on the commercial functional side. My "modest ambition" is to figure out how to make something that might sell and thus allow me to make an enhanced future, therefore using the open marketplace with creative and crafty muscle to supplement my lifestyle, one piece at a time. The ambition is big, but the means are modest.

The photographs in this post where taken by Todd at White Rock Lake and are of a piece that I gave him for his birthday that year, 2005.

No comments: