I’ve been working on Shirley and her dollhouse/stool for quite a while. This piece is the largest and the most complicated of any of the papier maché dolls that I have created. I think all of the pieces makes it seem as though I’m not making progress on it. When in fact, I’m completing each small piece, putting it down, then moving on to the next small piece. Repeating this process over and over has resulted in a lot of finished pieces, that need to be assembled into the final, large, finished piece. Shirley has turned into a 3-D create-your-own-puzzle sort of pursuit for me.
There are other reasons that Shirley is taking a while to complete. One reason that keeps floating to the surface is that Shirley has a tremendous amount of personal elements. Then there is the fact that for the first time in quite a while, I decided to use text in my artwork. So, I think I’ve been trying not to second-guess my instincts regarding the text. I finally decided to use the text because there just didn’t seem to be a way to communicate the concepts. Writing the word was the most expedient. Or, in my case, appliqué-ing and embroider-ing them out.
A significant part of me is terrified about what the words say. These statements are weird and wrong and embarrassing for me to say out-loud about myself. Part of the embarrassment comes from the place of having to then explain exactly where they come and why. I have had decades to live with the words. The words and statements have become little satellites to my personal identity. They are part of my identity, but then they aren’t. They’ve just been caught in my identity gravity and I never quite shook them loose.
I hate explaining my artwork. It’s not because I’m upset that people aren’t ‘getting‘ my work. The problem is three fold. First Fold: I am me, and other people are, you know, people who are decidedly not me. Second Fold: As the artist, I somehow make the assumption that just because the act of creating the artwork has helped me ‘figure things out‘, that the same deeply personal revelations should be just as clear to the persons viewing my artwork. And for the Third Fold: I feel as though I sound like an idiot.
The people who have been following my creation of Shirley have no idea that one of the reasons I chose the name was because my Aunt Katie’s name was ‘Shirley Kathryn’. She went by Katie. People won’t know that we were sometimes called, ‘Big Katie’ and ‘Little Katie’ to differentiate between the two of us. They won’t know that the two of us decided we didn’t like the big and little monikers, and made the decision to call each other, Shirley and Elizabeth (my middle name) and that no one else was allowed to call us by those names besides us.
My Aunt Katie was an integral part of my life. I sometimes felt more understood by her than my blood relatives. She was an incredible woman who had a great deal to do with the person I am today.
That’s just one reason to choose Shirley as a name for this piece too.
There’s part of me that feels that if my artwork requires a great deal of additional explaining, then I have somehow not communicated my intentions clearly. These beliefs are the mental left-overs of working in graphic design and illustration I think. When I begin a piece now, I’m starting with nothing more than a need to make something and an attraction to colors and forms. The meaning develops as the artwork progresses. My personal act of art creation aides me in discovering what the individual piece of artwork is about. My personal art creation process diametrically opposite from the creative process I employed as a graphic designer and illustrator.
“Make an ad that for this hat. Show the hat. The price is $17.99. Put the store address in the ad too.”
“Huh. I haven’t used green in a while, and I want to use a balloon for the initial form. Round. I want ROUND.”
I know I wasn’t a very good graphic designer or illustrator. But when I feel like people don’t understand my artwork, I suppose I kind of feel like a two-time failure at art.
I think too damned much about these kinds of things. I had a dream once, years ago, in which I was in a building that was falling down on top of me. I looked up to see an I-beam coming straight for my head and I thought, “Oh no. I won’t be able to think anymore.” Even in my dreams, thinking things is a big part of my life.
I need to get away from these warped kinds of ideas. A person can like my artwork and not understand where it comes from, or why I created it at all. Knowing one of the reasons why I chose Shirley for this dolls name doesn’t suddenly make the art better than when you didn’t know it. It doesn’t diminish their enjoyment of my artwork. My artwork is experienced in an infinite amount of ways by the all the different people who view it. Everyone brings their own lifetime of knowledge and experience to the instant in which they interact with a piece of art. A Gen-X’er may get my nod to Fisher-Price Little People, but a Millenial may think, “Why does she keep making these weird little poop-shaped people and yellow houses?” Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are wondering why my dolls don’t have faces.
And then, there are people who think that all artists just smash a bunch of materials together without much thought at all about anything and then just sit back and call it art and let the money roll-in. But that’s a topic for another blog post at some point in the future.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Monday,
Talking Heads, Life During Wartime, Live Performance 1983: I have a vague art-school memory of my classmate Christa saying that certain lyrics of this song were very similar to being a senior visual communications student. I have to agree. That final semester did feel as if we were living during some kind of wartime.
Talking Heads, And She Was (Official Video): I sometimes joked that upon entry to a graphic design program, new students were handed a variety of things that they were to become associated with, because you know, graphic designers — and art students — are supposed to be quirky, or really weird. “Welcome to art school! Here are the complete recordings of the Talking Heads! Enjoy the Weird!”
I think I need to do some re-reading of John Dewey’s Art as Experience. I’m so glad that I can find it online to read. Not all of it, but a nice chunk of it. Google Books can be a good place to find texts online that you have difficulties finding elsewhere. I’m in Finland. I can’t just head down to the library or local book seller and pick up a copy.