I've been in pre- and post-defense land for the last month. On the day of my successful defense, my division leadership team surprised me with an extraordinary lunch. Then, my husband surprised me with a five day trip to NYC, where he surprised me the first morning at breakfast with a table full of friends who had also flown up for the long celebration, and then surprised me again at Tiffany's with a lovely silver bracelet engraved with my new academic title (Dr.) and the date of my defense. I surprised myself by agreeing to let a woman at a Macy's street fair paint my face like an aquarium filled with two kissing zebra-striped fish. My children surprised me by actually being interested in some works at MOMA. And, in line at Magnolia Bakery, the luminous Naomi Watts surprised me by being very cute and playful with my little roustabouts, so she is now my very favorite actress.
It took a while for everything to sink in--and it's still sinking. The honest-to-goodness page proofs for the first two chapters of my co-authored textbook arrived via FedEx yesterday, and it's an odd experience to see the words that flowed from my weary brain at all odd hours while I worked on this project made manifest in oh-so-professional form.
So, I've cleared the decks for new adventures. And, in one, I returned to the local quilting guild. Years ago I was guild vp and workshop chair, but I grew tired of herding the cats at both work and play . . . so I left. This time I've returned to be "just a member" and was delighted to find a few of the women I so admired still keeping time with the group. This should be fun. One thing I did at the meeting was applique--by hand!!--the first two stars of my online group's next small project quilt, Harvest Moon by Blackbird Designs:
It was actually very, very fun to make these stars, which is probably a good thing since I'll need 29 (!!) of them. It's my own peculiarity that I love seeing the raw edges become closed and smooth. I have the same feeling when I sew pieces together and bind a quilt. Closure! It's such a rare commodity everywhere else in my life.
I also ran around the blog-ring to catch up on everyone's work and was surprised to see that one of the group has dropped out. In her goodbye message, she wrote about the realm of art quilts and becoming a quilt artist. Her work is fantastic, creative, original, and wonderful, and she is without doubt an artist. But, aren't we all in some way? I am always a bit saddened and even a little angered when "art" becomes a divisor and when our creativity becomes tangled up in a reinscription of the high/low dichotomy that has historically kept women (among others) on the outside looking in.
My artistic tastes are quite catholic. I could sit for hours in front of a Holbein, de la Tour, Chagal, Matisse, Sargent, Kahlo, Rivero, Twombly, Bearden, Motherwell, Nevelson, Neel, and so, so many others. I grew up as an English grad student in the days when theory ruled the roost, so I cut my teeth on the intersection of aesthetics, textuality, and ideology, and can cleverly discourse on Kruger, Baquiat, and Holzer with the best of them. But, I've never been as gobsmacked by a work of art as I was when I stumbled on Liza Lou's shining force of fury and celebration, Kitchen, one day in Minneapolis or rounded the corner one rainy afternoon in DC and came across James Hampton's magisterial and poignant The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly. These are works that were most decidedly walled out of "art." Long before she was awarded the McArthur genius grant, Lou was essentially kicked out of the art academy for working with beads. And, the thought of Hampton working in unacknowledged quiet passionate reverence in his small garage on The Throne brings me to tears every time.
When the art/not art question raises its head, I always think back to these less-famous lines from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall":
"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence."
I love the pun in that last line. I'm happy to stay on the side of the fence where my 29 hand applique'd stars sparkle with a comforting and joyful low art glow.