“Milli could take a thing that was a nothing…and make it…a something! She found things other people threw away… forgotten things, rusty things. She cut them, bent them, pulled them apart, and joined them together in amazing ways.”1
Making and objects. For many artists these are the predicate and the subject of their lives, a grammar involving bodily engagement, considered reflection and the production of a class of objects defined culturally as, in some way, beyond the ordinary. But how does one take this “nothing,” and turn it into “something?” What fuels the process that Arthur Danto refers to as “the transfiguration of the commonplace?”
It is in discussions of this transformation that words like inspiration and creativity arise. Danto’s choice of the word transfiguration implies the divine and the mysterious and, although the definitions of both inspiration and creativity vary through time and across cultures, they are frequently associated with a sort of alchemy that defies rational explanations, or causal relationships. Artists’ talents are sometimes compared to shamanic powers. But how do artists access these extraordinary states? How do they connect to the conduit that endows them with the capacity to create remarkable objects? Does creativity involve a god like creation of something entirely new? Or is an artist more like a tinker, constantly fiddling with an existing set of materials and techniques and, in the process, developing an intimacy with the medium that results in new forms and meanings?
above: Kay Lawrence Water is Everything
For the four tapestry artists, Murray Gibson, Peter Horn, Kay Lawrence and Joanne Soroka, inspiration flows from a variety of sources, and the resulting creative products assume a diverse range of forms. From starting points as varied as mythological, historical and literary textile practitioners, the pearl diving industry in Australia, NASA photographs and family genealogy, these artists have developed multi layered narratives. The narratives explore human psychology, delve into the mysteries of time, investigate human’s relationship to the land, celebrate those whose lives may not be marked by history and unveil the beauty of the universe. Their source material includes drawing and painting, borrowed images, collage and actual objects. The artists’ inspiration comes not only from intellectual sources but also from bodily experiences, the processes of making and serendipity. Their use of layered imagery, metaphor and multiple viewpoints reflects a complex and multivalent approach to the subject matter. In their creative journey they have embraced not only the woven language of tapestry, but also other materials and techniques. For all, the fit between the content of the work and the means of expression is an ever-present concern that leads to wide ranging explorations.
The reflections these artists offer in their essays on inspiration and creativity offer a unique opportunity to delve into an artist’s creative experience. It is revelatory, inspirational and, of course, leaves us with new possibilities in our own lives.
“And nothing, after that, was ever the same as before.”2
above: Murray Gibson Three Fates, detail of Clotho
above: Joanne Soroka Golden
Inspiration & Creativity, a project hosted jointly by the American Tapestry Alliance’s Web Exhibition and Educational Articles programs presents the viewpoints of four internationally recognized artists: Peter Horn (Germany), Murray Gibson (Canada), Kay Lawrence (Australia) and Joanne Soroka (United Kingdom). Each artist has generously offered his or her perspective on the creative process through an essay published as an Educational Article. Each artist’s work is featured in the concurrent, and eponymous, Web Exhibition. My thanks go to the artists, who have created such inspirational work and have also taken the time to share their process through the written word. To visit the web exhibition, click here.
1 King, Stephen Michael. Milli, Jack, and the Dancing Cat. New York: Philomel Books, 2003. np.