Thoughts from my deathbed

January 26, 2008 at 1:44 pm (art, culture, life, personal, thoughts) (, , , )

Hah – it’s funny for me to see my last post here talking about how I was developing a little head cold, when what what wound up happening between then and now is that I got my ass kicked by the flu – for two whole weeks. I never really understood why people spend the time/money getting vaccinated against the flu, but now I get it! It was pretty awful. I’m on antibiotics and codeine now and it is slowly taking its leave of me… but not fast enough as far as I’m considered.

So: No art from me for the last week, week and a half, thereabouts. Blah. I hope this weekend will be different and I can get back to work.

Meanwhile, laying awake at night coughing (or the alternative: dwelling between being awake and asleep, thanks to the codeine) gave me a lot of time to think about different things, time that I think I didn’t realize I needed. Maybe it’s because one of my last acts before getting my ass kicked was stopping by the craft section at B&N and looking at knitting books (my friends keep having babies), but one thing that I keep coming back to is this idea:

I have mixed feelings about my childhood, as I think most people do – I can’t say it was completely horrible all the time, nor was it some sort of Disney fantasy where everything was wonderful 24/7. It was a mixed bag, and I inherited traits from my family that I am desperate to get rid of and other qualities I am so happy they instilled in me. Falling into the latter category would be my parent’s absolute hatred for what can be thought of as “cookie-cutter culture” – whether it was fast food or craft projects for kids where you follow the directions exactly and make some sort of predetermined “art.” I remember my dad being profoundly disappointed with me when I proudly showed him a drawing I made using a stencil – it’s just copying, he said, what’s so great about that? I hadn’t thought about this in years until I visited a friend’s 9 year old daughter who proudly showed me a wood carving she made as part of a kid she got for Christmas – and the carving looked exactly like the front of the box. It took all I had to not recoil in horror.

I don’t agree with my parent’s assessment that copying (especially for children) is so horrible; copying can teach you all sorts of great skills and tools that you can use elsewhere (I learned so much from copying famous works of art in watercolor, for instance). But their greater point was that the imagination was the key, so much more important than the ability to render exactly or carve perfectly. This, I think, was the good part of the lesson and it’s the part I’ve tried to hold onto.

Likewise, the strip of 6th Avenue between 21st and 23rd is straight out of my parent’s worst nightmares: the Outback Steakhouse, the B&N, Olive Garden, Staples, Cosi, Starbucks, etc. Eating at a chain restaurant was like the lowest thing a human being could do in my parent’s eyes. The logic went: The coffee at the corner deli is inherently better than the coffee at Starbucks simply because it was made by a local business and not a corporation. This isn’t actually true – I’ve had some awful deli coffee, and while it’s funny that I developed a taste for Starbucks by freeganing through their bins, the fact remains that I like their food, period.

Ok, so where am I going with this and why is it relevant to this blog? Because I found myself picking through those knitting catalogs at B&N and realizing a disturbing trend. A book like Stitch and Bitch has been on the market for some time and seems harmless enough – it’s a knitting guide basically aimed to Gen X aging hipster women who want to knit and don’t want to feel dorky. It’s neat to flip through and see all the possibilities of stuff you can make and how you can make old patterns “cool” (along the lines of, Oh wow, knitting a skull onto that sweater is a pretty good idea). Although it elicited an eye roll from me when I came across it on the shelf, it didn’t really seem to be anything worth getting terribly upset about.

But then there’s the book Anticraft, and Punk Knits, and Domiknitrix – all designed to help remove the old-lady smell from your yarn and make it ok to knit if you’re of a certain demographic (which, horrifyingly, is the demographic I fall into, which is why this bothers me so). What started out as sort of a funnly little blip on the screen now feels much more pathological. It’s a whole mini-genre of books that act like a sheild to our inner cultural critic – No, see, I’m not old! I’m still cool! I’m knitting an anarchy symbol! That makes it ok!!

So this is what I’m getting at:
* It is inherently cool to make your own stuff, whether it is baby booties or handmade lace or (god) a luchbox purse cozy (or whatever). You don’t need a book to tell you this.
* It is simply better to make something with your own hands than to by a similar item from a corporation, meaning I’d rather see you knitting an anarchy sweater on the train than wearing one you bought at Hot Topic. But really, I’d rather see people around me coming with their own ideas of rebellion and how-to-be-different, rather than just assuming the ones that are handed to them.
* Punk rock is not a collection of hackneyed symbols warmed over from the 1970s. It’s about being independant and thinking for yourself and rejecting all that is soul-crushing in the world – not about making your dog a Sex Pistols sweater.
* What would be really awesome is if you went to the bookstore, scanned the patterns briefly, used them as inspiration and then left them on the shelf, and went home and designed your own damn sweater with your own symbols, colors, stitches, etc – something that expressed who you actually are.

Sigh. Punk rock and making things are two of the most important things in my life, so these thoughts have been burning in my head the whole time I’ve been sick. Now that they’re articulated (I could go on and on, but won’t), let’s get back to work…



  1. Andrew Thornton said,

    Very interesting observations and conclusions. My other “life” includes writing and designing jewelry patterns for magazines like the ones you mentioned. The artist in me who went to a fancy art school in New York City at first had big problems with this. I wanted to be making work that went into galleries and museums and was considered serious. But eventually I came to terms with this “other life”. What I was doing was providing a source of inspiration from a different vantage-point. At least I’d like to think so. And I think that creativity breeds more creativity. I think to myself how all the crafts and projects as a child I did come to play in my work… sewing and Pack-O-Fun…

    So, in the end, who knows how my designs and projects will one day inspire someone indirectly to be “serious” or to make their own work that does necessarily fit into a pattern already determined by someone else?

  2. amywilson said,

    Hey, did you see the artist Nick Cave* on the cover of a magazine devoted to beading? I thought that was really interesting. I think the sharp division between art and craft is ridiculous… I also think it’s the kind of thing we’re going to see change over the next few decades (I hope).

    I like your point about patterns being launching off points – I think this is well-taken. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing a pattern you like and making it just as it’s described (after all, what lead me to the craft section of B&N was a search for baby patterns, so I was about to do this very thing)… my hesitation is when doing this is marketed as somehow “punk.” It’s not punk; it adheres to a totally different tradition of craft-making that is completely valid, but it still isn’t punk no matter how many anarchy symbols and skulls you pile on it.

    * What is up with artists named Nick Cave and Phil Collins?!? My OCD brain can’t tolerate it.

  3. Baljit said,

    Last words from his mouth..

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