TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, August 22, 2008

Harry Chapin Sings & Picasso Paints: Flowers Are Red

I visited Spirit Cloth, Jude Hill's blog (which is full of eye candy!), and she had posted an old, type-written story about a boy whose creativity was erased in school. It reminded me very much of Harry Chapin's song, Flowers Are Red. There is a live performance of him singing it on Youtube, but embedding has been disabled. It's wonderful, so do go watch it! I found another rendition by Zain Bikha which is also good:

I loved Harry Chapin when I was in high school (yes, this dates me...) and was saddened by his untimely death when I was in college. I had never seen him perform live until I saw the Youtube video and was moved by his charisma and joy of life. I looked up his bio and learned that he had been an avid campaigner against hunger in the United States and in the world. He saw hunger as an insult to the nation. My memory of him as a rather placid folk singer has now been replaced with a new confirmation of why he meant so much to me back then. His song, Flowers are Red, was not an abstract statement about child development, but rather an indictment he really believed in. His legacy lives on through the music of his daughter, Jen Chapin:

Having freedom in how we see color, shape, and function pivots us into unchartered territories in art, redefining the old, translating concepts into what is relevant to our own lives. Achieving this freedom may often mean challenging powerful role models, teachers or parents, who are not comfortable with stretching boundaries into new parameters. My friends' kids know much more about the world than I did at their age, even though I had a cross-cultural experience and alternative education. Access to resources and multi-culturalism are just much more developed than they were 20 or 30 years ago. What we discovered back then is taken for granted now. But, there are still kids (and adults!) who are terrified of seeing in a new way, of coloring outside the lines. Many years ago, I taught art at an after school program in Chicago and I had a girl who was damaged in this way. The exercise was to put several dots on a white page randomly and then connect them into lines and see if a picture would emerge. She was frozen with the pencil in hand and no amount of cajoling could get her to place that first dot. I wondered back then who had done this to this child.

But, is freedom of expression and the ability to be creative actually art? Ah... the big can of worms... Tension exists between established crafters who have pursued a road of MFA's, academia, and high end ticket prices and the burgeoning indie craft movement, who are often seen as unskilled and unfocused. Throw some sequins on a jean jacket, add a dab of paint and now you are an artist. I listened to an interview that was very thought provoking between the two schools. I couldn't find the original interview, but, Imogene, another blogger spoke out against the judgmentalism she saw there. The IRS doesn't consider any of us artists unless that is our main source of income, so that might be one way of defining an artist.

I find the title of artist pretty useless. It's an easy way to tell people that we have a messy corner in our house full of supplies and that we make stuff. The path each of us takes towards recognition or fulfillment can go through any number of landscapes. But, I do believe skill is important. Whether someone makes goose costumes or woven tapestries for a living, I want to know that it's not going to fall apart in two months and something about it has to grab me as original. Skill takes a lifetime to achieve. Time weeds out the wannabes from the harvest of creativity. Several years ago, I read a statistic that 2% of graduates with a master's degree in art end up in an art related field. What happens to the other 98%? Well, I believe that that exposure to art will continue to speak to their life in some way.

Skill is also about freedom. With it, an idea in the head can become reality transformed into an object. I have many ideas in my head that I will never be able to execute because I don't have the skills to do it. This is where Picasso comes in. I didn't care much for his work until I went to his museum in Barcelona. Walking through the rooms of his drawings and paintings, respect grew inside of me. Talk about color! Picasso came from a traditional background in drawing and painting. He first mastered the ability to see and translate and then became free. Two eyes on the same side of a face came only after realistic portraits of men and women. We often start backwards: play with the eyes and colors first and then try to express what you really want to. I'm not sure there is a right or wrong way, but I don know that the process should be about exploring our abilities to our fullest capacity. Only then, could a body of work show such growth and transformation:

Having teachers and parents who allow us to explore our potential, to see color in a new way translates into a society that has flexibility and innovation. Maybe a nobel prize or two... I saw a documentary a few years ago which examined Japanese society and they claimed that the Japanese had never won a Nobel Prize. Their gift was of taking an idea that was already planted and perfecting it. For all the chaos, bigotry, violence, and poverty that abounds in the United States, this is still a place where ideas flourish. This is at least one aspect of American culture that I can embrace and claim with pride. Take it for yourself, too. Engage yourself in the creative process and allow it to grow like a field of flowers around you in every color of the rainbow!


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“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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