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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Musings: Art Outside the Box. Your Authentic Voice


I was talking with another artist friend about finding your voice. She's spent around 4-5 years now taking every class, pushing every limit, driving herself to the edge. She's a fine artist and an accomplished quilter. She's getting into her shows and she's producing madly. But she's still looking for her voice. She's looking for the art only she can do, the things only she can say with it.


Perhaps we're always still looking for our voice. One of the reasons I treasure the art/ quilt movement so much is that in many ways it's really been the first art form made almost exclusively of women past their childbearing years. Art/quilting couldn't have happened a hundred years ago. Women didn't live long enough to have the passion and drive left to truly find their voice and then the energy to say what they needed to say. Anatomy as destiny was a cruel road. It's not that long ago. Suddenly there's a groundswell of women who found a space in time to say something and a different way to say it.


I don't mean to dismiss male quilters. There are many fine ones, but men have always had stronger communication  skills and more built in confidence and entitlement about how they use them. One is rarely left asking what they thought. They'll tell you. They're good at that.


As women, we've had to fight for that voice. We've had to redefine what we do as art. We've had to build places to show it, tools to create it, new palettes of thread and cloth to work with. Almost all of this has been a grass roots thing, something sprung out of small groups at home. Until someone with a business degree noticed that quilters spend money, and it became a business.


 But in the middle of that, thousands of women have found a new way to say the unspoken, the unheard of, the heart's whisper, the moan of fear and pain, the laughter of raucous joy, all of that has bled its way into our art, through our quilts.


I think there's two parts to voice. The first part is the technical skill. There's a vocabulary in our skills that is the building block of what we say in our work. As long as you're working primarily with someone else's blocks, I think that voice isn't truly yours.


But then there's vision. That's truly unique. I'm always a bit wistful about the quilt fashions each year. There'll be a run on one subject or another. Someone will bring out a new book that touts a particular technique and you see it everywhere. I find that sad because under it, I know that I haven't truly heard that woman's  voice.She's working on technique or on eye candy, all good exercises on the way, but not her true voice.She's coming. Her voice is in the wind, on the way.


How many of us really have that courage anyway? To pull out the bits of our lives for display and to shout them into existence in cloth.


My voice is not safe. Its not  quiet. It's not even safe for me. As I speak my heart, my heart is out in public, beating, bleeding, bearing examination, bearing judgement. And yet, what else can I do? What else is art for?

2 comments:

dianedoodles said...

Ellen Anne,
Your statement: " thousands of women have found a new way to say the unspoken, the unheard of, the heart's whisper, the moan of fear and pain, the laughter of raucous joy, all of that has bled its way into our art, through our quilts ", rings true with me also. Each time I make a significant piece, which will not let me rest until it has "spoken", it is a part of me...my voice. My voice may change with the phases of my age, life, perspective, and challenges.
I enjoy reading all your posts!
Blessings, DianeL

Sarah E. said...

How marvellous! You hit the nail on the head. I particularly like the first paragraph, where to me is the summation: "But she's still looking for her voice. She's looking for the art only she can do, the things only she can say with it." Perfectly put. Thank you!

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