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52.28 ... artistic

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posted by Karen Larsen alias KarenMarleneLarsen on Wednesday 18th of July 2007 12:23:13 AM

Highest I know on Explore # 230 on 7.22.07 . . . . . So, as you might imagine, I was the "artistic" one in the family. And it wasn't necessarily the most flattering assessment. It somehow acknowledged that I saw things differently than my parents and siblings. That I had a talent for making things look attractive. That I was good with my hands. But it also implied I was the one out of sync with everyone else's experiences and desires. The unpredictable one. The (assumedly but falsely imagined) impractical one. The one with my head in the clouds. My family, though they loved me, treated my interests and talents with the same sort of tolerant but skeptical misunderstanding that most of society bestows on most artists. "How did this one get to be one of us???" I imagine most of those reading this essay occupied the same position in their families. There are some people who develop finely honed skills and interests in areas that are narrow, but deep. For lack of a better word, I think of them as specifists. Medical specialists who read professional journals on their beach vacations ... for fun. Baseball fans who can recite stats for their favorite team going back 40 years. Cooks who can make a perfect beurre blanc without looking at a cookbook. Sometimes I envy them. I, as is rather obvious from my photostream- and my distressingly complex resume- am a generalist. Without writing a book, it would be impossible to make a list of all the things in life- both vocationally and avocationally- that interest me. I'm the curious type, and like to think of myself as an intellectual adventuress. As opposed to the specifists of the world with their extremely deep puddles of expertise, I swim in a vast ocean that's quite shallow... with a few larger holes that surprise you here and there below the surface. It's not that I prefer it that way... but after all these years I've made peace with the fact that this is the way I am. Though I vaguely remember drawing a bit as a very young child, it was on the summer playground that I began tumbling down the slippery slope of art. I was the princess of popsicle stick jewelry boxes. The doyenne of tiny-tile & grout ashtrays. Reigned supreme in the realm of gimp lanyards and keychains (I mastered twelve patterns!). Headed the team on sidewalk-chalk murals. Made everyone their grocery bag costumes for the end-of-summer parade. Seven of us lived in a 4 room house with three small closets, so my mother had quite the task figuring out where to stash all the "art" I brought home each week. Still... both she and my dad worked hard to support my interests. With little money to spare, I always had change for the craft supplies at the playground. They bought me a "John Nagy Learn to Draw" set (you put a piece of plastic on the TV screen and drew along with John). And when the craze started, they bought me the popular "paint by number" kits. Paper dolls, clay figures, embroidery, beginner knitting, baking "fancy" cakes. I don't remember ever being told I was making too much of a mess, or denied what I needed to make those messes. My dad bought me a Kodak Brownie camera when I was still in elementary school. And the list of artforms I explored expanded exponentially as I got older. As an adult, I've narrowed a bit the list of art projects I pursue, but it's still pretty broad. I paint a bit (costume renderings, scenery), knit and embroider, make paper sculpture, design block prints, batik easter eggs, teach "surface design" for fabric, sew everything from personal clothing to elaborate period costumes, create soft-sculpture, and sculpt puppets in a wide variety of media (paper mache is still my favorite). And there's a lot of "art" in my everyday life. Though you wouldn't know it from my present home, I've dabbled in interior design. I've made wedding cakes and bridal gowns for friends. On the bookshelf in my studio there are manuals for how to make another half dozen types of art I've not tried yet.. When I was working toward my MFA in costuming and theatrical design, and heading toward a career, I stopped thinking of myself as "artistic" and began to think of myself as an artist. But it wasn't until years later, right after I'd begun to make a meager living as a quiltmaker, that I had the breakthrough that let me think of myself as an Artist... with a capital "A". I had started out making the traditional sort of quilt that involves repeated pattern. That felt "artistic". Then I started making those quilts in wool instead of cotton- both because I love the deep and rich tones of the wool, and to differentiate my work from that of thousands of others who make quilts. The next step up the mountain came when I took a weekend workshop with the amazing Nancy Crow ( The workshop wasn't to teach us to make quilts like hers, but an opportunity to talk about inspiration and techniques. I walked into that weekend as a traditional quiltmaker, and walked out as a quilt artist making more abstract work. But then one fortuitous day about 20 years ago I walked in to an exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum called "New American Landscapes"... or maybe "The New Landscape"... and had one of those rare cathartic moments. There was one particular "painting" that was made up of about 30 smaller paintings. and there was something in that rather bland, but interesting work that got some wheels turning in my head, and caused me to see an entirely new, completely unique way to approach my own work. I rushed home to "begin anew"... and the first art quilt I made in the new style is the one that finally opened doors in the art world for me. It was accepted into a major biennial competition- Quilt National" , toured internationally, was published in several periodicals and a book, and proved to be my initiation into the-then small- circle of acknowledged and accomplished art quilt makers. Later, better art quilts were made, other competitions were won, more quilts were published, solo shows occurred across the country, and other milestones achieved... but that first day when I sat down at my drawing table to design "Colors on a Rainy Day" was the day I began to think of myself as an Artist. Alas, just because you're an Artist doesn't mean you'll make a good living at it. My skills as a maker of studio art quilts far outshone my skills as a marketer and self-promoter, so after more than a decade of living in genteel poverty, I gave up the glamour of being an artist for the glamour of being an arts administrator. Which of course has its own considerable rewards. As alert readers of this "blog" know, I'm currently looking for my next professional challenge, and so of course have been thinking longingly of the days when I got to wake up every morning looking forward to making interesting and beautiful Art.. So now I'm beginning the cycle again. One of the things that keeps me sane while I look for the right job is taking breaks from the resume slog to go out on "camera outings". I approach picture-taking like everything else... I'm a generalist who's interested in taking photographs of pretty much anything. Buildings. Flowers. Odd shadows. Colorful what-ever-they-ares. Lately people. The process makes me feel artistic. Friends are encouraging. If I study it enough and work hard enough at it, maybe some day I can feel like I've become an artist in the medium. And if I'm very, very, very lucky, someday I'll have another epiphany, and find my own unique voice.... ... and then I can create photographs that I consider Art.

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