Seven years ago, when our sons were 17 and 21, we ended up in New York for a short holiday together.
Jim and I decided to let our sons choose what we would do and where we would go as both he and I had been to New York on numerous occasions, alone and together.
One morning our youngest, who was into heavy metal told us about an art gallery he wanted to visit. Off the beaten path, it took us a while to get there. As we walked, our son enthused about this great artist whose work we were about to see.
When we finally found the place, it was simply a numbered door on a side street with a small sign saying “Sacred Chapel of Mirrors.” It cost money to enter so I decided then and there not to go in. After all, I thought, if the art appealed to my son, I probably wouldn’t like it. I wasn’t a particular fan of the music he liked and so assumed I would feel the same way about his taste in art. Not one to waste money, I said, “I’ll go and have coffee round the corner and you can come get me when you’re done.” My husband chimed in, “Yeah, I’ll go with your mother; you two go ahead.”
Our son did not hide his disappointment. “C’mon!” he pleaded, “This guy is amazing. You’ve got to come up and see his stuff.”
Surprised that this was as much about sharing the experience with us as seeing the show himself, I knew enough to be a “good sport.” Little did I know this was not a sacrifice I was making!
We climbed the stairs, paid our money, and entered the Sacred Chapel of Mirrors, the gallery of artist Alex Grey. His work was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It spoke to me and frankly, it blew my mind. The next two hours were an explosion of colour, energy and creativity as we ooh-ed and ahh-ed our way through the gallery.
In the gift shop, our sons had the opportunity to chat with Alex and his wife/fellow artist Allyson Grey who went out of their way to encourage them to pursue their art. We left energized, awed and inspired. “See,” my son said, “I told you.” I put my arm around him, “Yes,” I agreed, “You were absolutely right.”
We bought a book that day: The Mission of Art by Alex Grey. I pulled it off the shelf just last week and began reading randomly: “Wise artists respond to the call of creation by peering into their own hearts.” pg. 18
After decades of abstinence, last year I started knitting, weaving and sewing again. This time round, I am interested in my own creative process as well as looking forward to a fine finished project.
An idea comes to me out of the blue. I get excited. Then I start the worrying. I start backing away from my vision and think “Maybe I should follow a pattern so I get something that turns out OK,” which is the fabric arts’ version of “Paint by Number.”
But I forge ahead, into the unknown, trying to bring into reality the vision in my head. What I notice is that every time I hit a hurdle, a moment when I’m not sure how to proceed, the automatic reaction is: “Who can help me with this?” This is not to say that there aren’t times to ask for help, but when my default is to defer to others, that’s a problem. Am I willing to forego my own creativity in deference to someone else’s?
For the little jackets I’ve been designing, weaving, knitting and sewing there probably has been as much time put into tea drinking and pounding the path as there has been into the actual project. With each new challenge, my fearful side blurts out: “Oh no, what’s the ‘right’ way to do this step?” and “What if I wreck the jacket after all this work!?” and “I can’t do this, it’s too hard!” These are all excuses to try and avoid what I imagine of as “failure.” You see, I was educated well. I’m afraid to do things “wrong,” to make a “mistake,” and to get anything less than an “A.” The following default can tempt me: “Maybe it’s better to do nothing, than to do something wrong.”
I try and listen to these blurts with kindness and humour because fighting/avoiding/condemning this worried young part of me just increases its anxiety to be heard. So, I take my scared little kid out walking so it can breathe in the air and feel the sunshine (sometimes), and relax enough to hear , “This is not a crisis.” The fearful part of me needs to be reassured over and over that all I’m doing is having fun, trying something new, learning and creating. I’m not trying anything dangerous. Not yet, at least!
Usually a walk is all we need. After exercise and fresh air, my comforted kid part is ready for a nap. Then I can settle down and continue working until she’s startled awake when I face a new challenge or problem, and she shouts: “We don’t know how to do this!” and all the attendant feelings flood back in.
So when you see the most recent jacket I’ve finished, there’s more to it than meets the eye. There’s the object itself, but also, sewn and knitted in are a thousand decisions and moment by moment experiences. Imbedded are fears and visions faced and embraced. A little kid’s jacket with huge learnings!
I’m grateful to my son for insisting I see the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors that day. I’m glad I accepted his invitation, that I allowed my assumptions to be challenged. And I’m blessed by the unexpected support I received this week from an artist I met years ago. I’m already pumped about my idea for the next jacket!