Merriam-Webster has a wonderful definition:
From the Middle English descripcioun, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin description-, descriptio, from describere.
“An act of describing; specifically : discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced.”
This “act of describing” is a primary task of the artist. Whether the description is rendered in prose or poetry, in a play or film, in music, dance or in the form of painting or sculpture, we attempt to describe what we know, what we have experienced.
“Discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced.” In the larger sense of “giving a mental image” we are free to express what we know in whatever way suits our intentions, our inclinations, and our skills.
As I continue my survey of work from the past decades I have shared drawings, paintings, prints, sculpture, book-forms, and textile pieces. I have been fortunate to be able to express my experiences in poems and prose as well. I am able to use a camera to capture experience in my own way. What comes to mind is the question “Why do we choose a particular means, material, or form to express this experience?”
Early in the work for “The Threads Project” I made a simple textile piece. It came to be known as “Tender Threads”. This was a rather narrow length of white gauze upon which I unspooled plain white thread, allowing the thread to fall softly onto the gauze. I covered the entire surface and carefully sewed it in random places just enough to secure it to the cloth. The edges of the cloth were free, with fine fringes of the gauze’s threads echoing the carpet of loose white threads on the surface.
Some time later a neighbor inquired about my work and asked if she might see what I was doing. So we had an “art afternoon” and I shared some of the current pieces. When we came to this newly-finished piece her reaction was most unexpected: tears. But somehow I was not surprised. Beyond the immediate visual characteristics of this simple cloth and thread were layers of association that evoked deep emotion. Reflecting on this now I wonder if a painting or drawing would draw such an effect. Or words? I somehow think that perhaps only music would be able to draw a similar sensation of evoking memory in such a profound way. Perhaps the cloth holds the most elemental, tactile memories of earliest life when a sense of love, security, and our introduction to the physical world is formed.
I have seldom felt the need to question which form an idea would take to best express myself. Somehow the proper form has been spontaneously given, that is until I began “The Threads Project”. Within this work lay the question which has directed many artists of our time, and I put this in the simple way that I have approached things: “Do the material and means affect the meaning?”
It seems clear to me that they do. That is not to say that one way is right and the other wrong. We live in glorious times when the material used to express our experience can be as varied as our ideas….from the earthy, tactile, and sensual to the purest mental concept, we are permitted to describe in the way which most suits the idea and the intention. One needs only to turn back the clock a hundred years to see how unlimited the range of expression has become…the book and page, the canvas, the stage, the stone and metal, all these are joined by moving images, by electronic image and sound, by no sound or image at all. And all are permitted “to describe” the huge range of experience that is available now to all. We still have the museum, the white box of a gallery, the black box of the theater. But now the experience is far more inclusive.
In my special love of drawing we are now permitted to think outside those boxes. A drawing can come from fire, smoke, and rain. From drips and stains and scratches. And from thread and wax as well as the familiar pencil and pen. And each way evokes a particular response.
“The Threads Project” was begun to address the question of disparity between “fine art” and “craft” with my particular emphasis on textiles. In the course of exploring this premise the work has led me to want to understand the significance of the means and the material that we choose to express our ideas- our experiences.
It seems fitting then to ponder this question as I continue to “mine the material” and share my work, whether in the form of drawing and painting, or textiles, or photographs, or in the written word.
All are meant to describe in whatever form is taken.
Below, from 2007, a “self-portrait”….a shadow, insubstantial, captured by the lens and shutter, created only by the absence of light~
How amazing that this detail from a drawing from another decade echoes this silhouette idea~
Detail from “VISITORS” pastel on black paper
And the 1979 drawing in colored pencil takes this back even further~
SELF-PORTRAIT (RED ANGEL) 1979
The link, the unique sensibility of each artist, gives the point of view, the cohesive nature of a life’s experience. We can, at some point, take a moment to look back and see the path we have taken in our quest to describe.