Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Myth of the Tortured Artist

Our culture holds onto a myth that artists need to be filled with grief, stress and turmoil in order to create great work. That work that's made about depressing topics is “better” or more serious than work made by happy, well-adjusted artists.
pinched from Daniel Sroka Open Studio web site

Olivia's sketchbook for her art class

We can't get dark and serious for too long in our house. We're perky people. I add as proof that I've actually been confronted about my perkiness as baffling and inappropriate for an adult. That was from a friend so God only knows what clerks and waitresses and Chip's co-workers and bus drivers think-- we try not to dwell. The next part of the story therefore should not surprise. Two months ago, homesick, gut-punched by the loss of her grandfather and isolated by an ocean from family and friends, Ally announced with clarity and purpose, "I'm lonely. I'm going to knit a friend." Sylvia, thankfully, but a declaration of pain, Ally-style. So she knit herself a unicorn. Not a scary, twisted, black blob of a stuffed animal....a purple and yellow unicorn. Olivia followed suit with a pink alien.

The Jolie-Pitt Family

We've all made human friends by now (although imaginary, mine seem to drink all the wine) but the comfort from that creative nesting two months ago resonates with us still as we continue to create art in all forms as a soothing outlet in our daily life here. At home in Madison, I think we suppress a lot of our stress without actually dealing with it. We drink our General Foods French Vanilla International Coffee (no, not really, but the simplicity of that little can of flavored whey being the classy and easy fix for stress circa 1976 just cracks me up) and "relax" in front of the television, IPod or computer, but maybe it's just smoothing the day's edges and distraction from working through the feelings. But with only 10 channels, spotty Internet access, few phone calls or friends dropping in and minimal comforts of home available here, it has forced us to turn to our hands, imaginations and artful collaborations with one another for diversion and comfort.

Cherwell School girl does ukiyo-e Japanese printing with potatoes instead of wood

Ally arranged a trip to town today specifically to buy art supplies for her art class project on printing. OK, well, yes, we did also stop at TopShop, Zara, Claire's, Gap, Primark, Boots and Waterstones. She's very seriously putting so much positive energy into this project, as Olivia is putting into hers, far more than I've seen in most school work at home. In addition to the knitted sibling army, they've also knit a baby blanket jointly, knit scarves for themselves, and done huge loads of sketching, journaling, coloring and decorating their rooms with found objects. They're fiber artists, painters, sketch artists, collage artists, authors and designers. It's hard to squeeze in an art class in high school without taking away from schedules overpowered with academics. I don't think in the end it will be a calculator they'll whip out when they feel sad, lonely or bored as adults, so I am glad for this time when Art class is king. In the future when needed, they'll hopefully flick that artful flint like they have here and spark a little pile of pine needles into a roaring fire, fed by their resilience and innate desire to express their feelings positively and creatively. With admiration and thanks, I write this post for them. Quite unexpectedly, their artful pursuits have been powerfully gratifying, unifying, nurturing and healing for our whole family.

Screen printing by Ally Warhol


  1. Oh Julie
    It is so wonderful reading your blog! I read the part about Alyson knitting a friend and then saw the "Jolie Pitt family" caption and started laughting out loud - Justin was seriously wondering what had happened to me!

    Hope all is well and that you have a great trip to Italy. I'll try to keep writing! Barb B.

  2. Thanks for posting a comment, Barb. I need to know every once in awhile that somebody's looking otherwise, it's not as fun for me. I should have gone right into sketch comedy writing back when I had a brain.
    Have a good trip to London!

  3. Frankie and I love the Carrot that Ally knitted, and feel honored (and, honoured) that she gave it to me. Sometimes I worry that Carrot is lonely away from the Jolie-Pittknits. We took Carrot in the backpack and showed Mom, Tom, Mike & Angie over breakfast one morning here in NYC. We all agreed that the girl can knit. And that a carrot, perfect though it is, is a funny thing to knit.

  4. She is a pragmatist. Had way too much orange left over from Leanne's present and needed to use it. Given your epicureal life with Frank, I think a carrot is a very appropriate stuffed animal for you. Hope I used that word correctly.

  5. Very excited to see the all the art created by O & A. Did see the Jolie Pitt knits when we visited in an obssessive knitter myself, I can say that they were quite impressive. I think that those 2 girls are quite talented. It makes me smile to see their "interests" show up in their art - Allison's warholish print of her beloved cows and Olivia's teddy bear sketch wearing a cross necklace. So sweet.