Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sorting Through Text & Textile

We like to sort. We get satisfaction from grouping things. As children it helps us understand the world. We learn to sort objects into groups by using different classification systems, and if we are taught well, we learn that we can divide up the world many different ways and none is necessary right or wrong. Say we have a red candle, a green lamp, a green flashlight, a red pillow, a green tent. We could sort by color, function, by material or by number of syllables. Even as adults we can sort differently; the act of resorting gives us a new way to see the world and our art. Some sorting methods separate people, some can bring us together. Part of our duty as artists is to find those unifying links.

In Touch, 2011 (in progress)
I've written 40-ish interrelated stories, and I'm overwhelmed trying to figure out their order. One professor suggests I sort them into different categories: chronological; by character; age of characters; theme; emotional tone; or by format. The context will change as I resort them. Different threads will be emphasized depending upon the order. While the order cannot be right or wrong, the material might be better communicated one way rather than another.

What happens to the context when we look at paper made from cotton and call it a textile? Does it change how we approach our work? Material. Threads. Context. Text. Textile. I got an email from one of my bookmaking students telling me she had been talking to a writing workshop group about how paper was made. She said, "we also thought of our task as writers to be 'fiber artists' in a way, both metaphorically, in terms of our weaving of stories together, and literally in terms of our connection to paper."

I think what is exciting about the discovery in the text/textile discussion is that if you look closely enough, all art is linked. When I teach writing to art students I start from the premise that all art is about seeing. When we say "Oh, I see!" we are saying we understand. I always hope to get to that "aha" moment: literally, metaphorically, or both. In order to see you have to focus on one thing at a time. Turn it over, explore its edges, feel its weight, discover its weakness. These are things you have to do with your materials, whether they are fibers or words.

Some people claim you can't teach people to write. I believe my writing teachers are teaching me how to see by turning, exploring, feeling, discovering: in summary, learning different ways to sort.

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