I used to always listen to audiobooks when I was working on textiles. Then I read Claire Wellesley-Smith’s blogs (here and here), followed by her book, Slow Stitch, and she’s begun to change the way I work.
I started taking the ‘phones out of my ears occasionally, and letting myself experience what happens in my own head without multiple forms of stimulation hogging all my attention.
I thought I would be bored. Instead, I enjoyed it. Over time, I found it relaxing to let my mind wander where it wanted, as I worked.
Then I got really sick with a disease that apparently can have a large emotional component. A large anxiety component. I started wondering what I had to be anxious about.
I’d left the earphones off more and more over the past six months. When I got sick, I started leaving them off altogether when I was alone in the house, as a conscious choice meant to help me process emotions.
Funny. I’d thought I was processing my emotions.
I spent fifteen years in psychoanalysis doing just that. Learning to acknowledge, understand, and address both the wild and joyous bright side and the wild and repellent dark side of my own head and heart. But when I left those ‘phones off and worked on textiles, all KINDA shit came up.
Last October, I filed away this paragraph for use in my On Art and Self-Doubt series:
All academic art programs revolve around Critical Theory, a discipline that combines psychology, political science, literary criticism and sociology to deconstruct culture. As an art student, you are expected to use this body of theory to inform [your] work. Once you’ve finished a piece, you have it critiqued by your teacher and peers, and they want to know what it’s about. If you say it’s about nothing, you’re gonna have a bad time, because it means you don’t understand the relationship between your work and the world around you.
Source: Jillian Evin, Medium
Having some academic experience with the components of Critical Theory, I tried to explain how textiles function for me in that context. My entire response was:
An older woman inspiring others to live harmoniously.
Sharing my passion for textiles with my community.
It’s more about the way it makes me feel than the way I look wearing it.
Which was really pretty lame and disappointing. That was seven months ago.
Yesterday I came across that little paragraph again, and after leaving those ‘phones off for several months and getting sick, I found I was able to come up with this:
How I feel as a maker functions an antidote to virulent aspects of modern culture, and transgresses what my culture tells me I am “supposed” to feel about myself and the world around me. I have never liked to be told what to do.
For instance, looking at my oxalis-dyed wool plunges me into the midst of a sandstorm.
I can almost feel the winds ruffling my clothes and swirling about my body. I can feel it against my cheek, lifting my hair off my neck and into the air, and those particular sensations have always been, although solidly based in the physical world, powerfully spiritual sensations to me, reminders that there are unseen forces that move and shake us, if not daily, than in a punctuated rhythm, throughout our lives.
I am reminded of Gertrude Bell* transgressing two cultures, learning Arabic and Arabian customs, mounting a camel, and riding out into the sandy wilds. Taking power into her own two hands. Reaching for the wild and the emotionful. Environment as love affair. Womanly power.
And being plunged that deeply into my own emotion, looking into the face of something that makes me feel so alive and wild and womanly, reaching for it, sitting in it, cannot be but an antidote to modern messages of my infirmity, my lacks, my insufficiencies, as a person and a woman.
This isn’t the definitive artist’s statement for me, but it’s a step in that direction.
And in fact, using my own creation to open a door to my own feelings—whether bright and joyous OR dark and repellent—is a really healthy thing to do.
Addressing our emotions is NOT something we’re keen to do in modern American** culture. Sitting with them, allowing them to bloom and course through us? Not done.
Admitting to fear or anxiety over upcoming changes, allowing those fears and anxieties to have expression and voice? Verbally announcing them? Discussing and deconstructing them?
No way. In my family of origin, that was considered admitting weakness. After fifteen years of psychoanalysis, I have a different perspective.
But that’s what happens to me, when I sit down to work on a textile. Not always so thoroughly as with the sandstorm, but definitely its little sister. I lose track of time. I work things out.
And I like it. It’s good for me.
*I read the book Queen of the Desert long before Werner Herzog made his (apparently) plodding epic, released in 2015. Ms. Bell’s fearlessness in walking out into the desert and into the Arabian world, transgressing both her English heritage and the rules of the Arabic world she so loved, fired my imagination. Female transgression of patriarchal moral code fascinates me.
**We could likely add other modern cultures to that, not just American, but I’ll stick to what I know.