Being True to Your Art

As the new year began, two well known but divergent artists made their final farewell: Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), French composer and conductor, on January 5; David Bowie (1947-2016), English singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, on January 10. Though they lived in radically different realms of music, they shared some similar opinions about creativity.

Pierre Boulez at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2004).  Photo by Franganillo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Pierre Boulez at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2004). 
Photo by Franganillo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

n a recent email, one of my readers cites Boulez for his influence on her determination to stay true to the art she wants to make, not the art that anyone else might expect or the art that captures the latest market trends. In an interview, Boulez said:  You must not think really of reaching an audience. You must think first to express yourself.
That means creating anew, rather than relying on the same old familiar things that have become comfortable and garner public appreciation, not bothering to change. Because of his constant experimentation, Boulez often met with criticism and was called an enfant terrible. That never stopped him.

Bowie was a master of shapeshifting, embodying multiple musical styles and personae, even becoming a painter and an art collector. His philosophy about creativity? He liked to shake things up: 

Every time I’ve made a radical change it’s helped me feel buoyant as an artist.

David Bowie at Rock am Ring Park Music Festival, Germany (1987). Photo by Jo Atmon. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

David Bowie at Rock am Ring Park Music Festival, Germany (1987). Photo by Jo Atmon. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

The emails I received about the passing of these musical stars coincided with an email from another reader. Her anecdote resonates with the statements they made. As one of the only fiber artists in a show, she learned that, in the gallery's guest book, one visitor left the following comment: ""Why is there fiber? It is not art." A lively debate ensued. The upshot was that, afterward, the person who wrote the comment conceded that he was starting to understand, like the galleries themselves, that fiber art, in its many forms, is ART.

The people engaged in fiber art could bypass the barriers and rejections as well as the lack of understanding and simply take up watercolor or oil painting, long considered fine art. But, as Boulez remarked, first we need to express ourselves--in the medium and ways in which we want to express ourselves. People have to catch up with us, rather than we have to follow their dictates.

From Wassily Kandinsky (1913). Rückblicke. Berlin: Sturm Verlag. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

From Wassily Kandinsky (1913).
Rückblicke. Berlin: Sturm Verlag.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

When Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) disappointed the critics with an exhibition in Berlin in which he didn't present what he'd done before (the explosive colors of his Munich period), he reacted against them with these words:

They barricade themselves against anything new. But this is precisely where the artist's task lies: to fight, to paint against the commonplace. Art must push forward. Mere explosions in art are ultimately boring.

It's not surprising that all these quotes came to me in this past week. Before 2015 ended, I knew of at least five fiber art shows in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, though there were probably more. I had a chance to visit four of them (and had two of my own works in one of them). Given the person's negative reaction to fiber as not being art, it was extraordinary to have all these exhibitions running simultaneously--two in museums, two in arts centers, and one in a community foundation building. To me, this is an indication that people, museums, and galleries are finally catching up with what others have known for a long time: You can be as artistic with fiber as you can be with clay, oils, watercolors, ink, or marble, maybe even more so.

What follows is a mere handful of images (there are hundreds) from these shows demonstrating the vast variety of fiber artists being true to expressing themselves, whether there's an audience or not. It turns out there is one, and it's growing.

"Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi," by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi," by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

Detail of "Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi" (stainless mesh, paper, yarn, indigo, pencil), by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo).  "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

Detail of "Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi" (stainless mesh, paper, yarn, indigo, pencil), by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). 
"Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Collecting Shadows" (flax, sewing yarn), by Raija Jokinen (Helsinki). Fiber Arts VII, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Collecting Shadows" (flax, sewing yarn), by Raija Jokinen (Helsinki). Fiber Arts VII, Sebastopol Center for
the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Parallel Dimensions" (recycled wool, wool blends, cotton)), by Maureen Whalen Cole. STRATA, SAQA Northern California/Northern Nevada, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton CA.

"Parallel Dimensions" (recycled wool, wool blends, cotton)), by Maureen Whalen Cole. STRATA, SAQA
Northern California/Northern Nevada, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton CA.

"Grey Funnel" (continuous grey ribbon), by Sabine Reckewell. The Sculpted Fiber, The Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA.

"Grey Funnel" (continuous grey ribbon), by Sabine Reckewell. The Sculpted Fiber, The Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA.

"Annie Creek" (textiles, weaving), by George-Ann Bowers. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Annie Creek" (textiles, weaving), by George-Ann Bowers. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Bridge 4" (merino wool, yak, silk, mixed media), by Jenne Giles. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Bridge 4" (merino wool, yak, silk, mixed media), by Jenne Giles. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation,
Novato, CA.

Questions and Comments:
What does it take to be true to your creative vision, regardless of what's currently popular?
What holds you back from taking the next leap in your artwork and not caring what anyone else thinks?
Does it disturb you when an artist takes a different direction from his/her work that you love? If so, why?

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