Jennifer, over on Craftstylish, posted an essay about the meaning of making. As an art therapist, these are the types of philosophical questions that are on my mind daily, so I was happy to read them as phrased by someone else and Jen did a great job with a focus on the reputation and perception of people who engage in certain crafts. Behold (emphasis mine):
I haven’t dipped my toe into the world of scrapbooking [. . .] As I ponder the profile of the scrapbooking enthusiast, I think it’s for folks who like to bring order to something and create a perfect world even if their lives are chaotic and messy. Come to think of it, I could use some order. Cue the jones for acid-free paper…
The opposite of pristine and controlled, silk screening seems gritty and radical. I desperately want to try it. It seems counter-culture, very Haight-Asbury in the ’60s [. . .]
After seeing Erika Kern transform a T-shirt in a couple of hours through the magic of embroidery, I view embroidery fiends as not only traditional and elegant but also meticulous with a side of inventive. Or maybe that’s just Erika.
Art therapists are trained to consider the inherent qualities in various art media and use them to their advantage when working with clients. What’s interesting is that I can trace the thread of my own psychological growth through the labyrinth of my meanderings in arts and crafts and media.
I mentioned before that I had a meaningful love affair with pottery when I lived in Boston 9 years ago. At the time I was profoundly depressed, lonely, untethered, and riddled with anxieties. In hindsight, I realize that working with clay, smelling the earth, allowing myself to get messy, and working on the wheel were exactly what I needed at the time. The process of centering — of muscle-ing a hunk of clay into a stable position on a spinning wheel — of finding stillness in the midst of chaos — was a big part of my transformation. Then, once you had crafted the “perfect’ piece, you glazed it and offered it up to the kiln god. The kiln, that paragon of unpredictability, would either accept your offering and bless you with a beautifully glazed bowl, or it would chew up and destroy whatever piece you had devoted your hours to. Dealing with that unpredictability reduced my anxieties; it had to.
I later went through a bookbinding phase. This was sparked largely by my first love: writing. (Writing’s purpose? To incubate my rebellious and revolutionary thoughts quietly, until I could escape my repressive upbringing.) I made journal after journal out of boards and papers and fabrics, as though I were a robin building a nest. The beauty and richness of my current life has hatched from the “eggs” I laid in those journals. There, I questioned, experimented, railed, accepted, cried, destroyed, exulted. And then, at the end of the day, I could close the book — contain it all neatly inside — and move on. It was the only way I could make it through grad school. I would go to the books, make a tremendous mess of things, and then close them up so that I could go about my work.
Other phases have included watercolors (letting go of absolute control, learning to “go with the flow”), screen printing (productivity, planning), self-portraits (body image issues, self-exploration), altered books (questioning authority), and more.
My current phase is very textile driven — sewing, quilting, embroidering. I’ve postulated that there is a sort of healing taking place — a stitching back together after the ripping-apart of a difficult breakup, the physical effects of a traumatic surgery, and a long convalescence. 2008 was a time of yanking and pulling and tearing. I enter 2009 with needle and thread in hand, ready to follow wherever the line of stitches leads.
What about you? What do you gain from the things you make?