Creating Art Like A Song

I have struggled with my artistic individuality for years. It’s not that I’m not unique, it’s that my work IS unique….unlike what I see elsewhere. When I create my clothing lines, they are fun and funky and different, but I always keep an eye to trends and what other artists are selling. That seems to be where my inner conflict or discomfort originates.

Being influenced is different than trying to influence yourself. The first is about an unconscious absorption of what one sees and experiences that becomes evident as one expresses oneself creatively. The latter is not so natural, it can be artificial, superficial, and feel uncomfortable. Creating something “to sell” is being a crafter. Of course, there is nothing wrong with crafting, but owning that I’m an artist implies creating one-of-a-kind, original, unique pieces. Trying to be authentic, true to myself and trying to somehow fit in with trends is a conflict for me.


I was walking recently and listening to a song in my I-pod. There are some things about this one pop song that I really love.  The whole sound is sort of scratchy-old time sounding. The intro chord progressions are not traditional “rock/pop” sounding.There are vocal runs that sound improvised. There are some growls and tone changes that just get me jazzed. At one point you can hear the vocalist giggle. And once she cusses under her breath. I was boogieing  along (it’s a rural area—no one was watching!), thinking about all the things I love about this song, why I keep listening to it, and then I had an epiphany.

The aspects of this song that I love are what make it really unique. The singer has obvious incredible vocal skills, but that’s not what keeps me coming back. It’s the stuff that is different, not traditional sounding for the genre that I love. It’s the parts of the song that sound like maybe they aren’t supposed to be there that I love. It’s the sound of free-wheeling improvisation (it may have been planned, but it doesn’t sound that way.)

And then I realized maybe these are the same aspects of art, of my quilt art, that other people may be drawn to. And these are the very aspects that make me comfortable with my art not looking like everyone else’s. I feel confident that I have the skills to do what I do. It’s the fear of being different that undermines my confidence. If my work doesn’t look like some others’ work that sells or gets acclaim, is that OK? Will someone want my work?

The answer, I believe, is yes. I guess sounding like popular music gives you a better chance of selling more records. Or just being forgotten for sounding like everyone else. Adopting techniques and materials that are currently popular could help me sell more work. And it increases the chances of my work not being noticed because it looks like everyone else’s. And, most importantly, it doesn’t really make me feel good.

So many artists are struggling to express themselves creatively but at the same time make something they can sell. Artists. Crafters. Trying to be “unique” and at the same time adopting popular trends to help them sell more.

Creating works of art from textiles that are genuine, not adopted from popular trends is not the easy way to go. It is risky, just like aspects of that song I like. That song sold a lot of copies. I’m not the only one who liked that funky, unplanned, raw sounding song. And if my art is funky, appears to have an aspect of being improvised, and a little “raw” rather than perfect, then that’s fine. It’s more than fine. It’s Amy. Other people like a little boogie with their art, too!

Ghosts In the Holler Landscape Quilted Wallhanging

I thought I’d share more of the story of this, my favorite wall hanging.

This cabin was built by my husband’s family in far southern Illinois and was occupied for many generations. It was a large, close family who shared holidays and large reunions every year. This is a photo of the family taken in 1953 when the home was still occupied by my husband’s great-grandfather.

When I first saw the home 12 years ago, it was falling to ruins, covered with vines and occupied by snakes. I took several photos (which I cannot find now) and started a wall-hanging based on one of them. The view is from the side of the cabin, with the lean-to kitchen at the back. I created the basics of the building and landscape, then set the project aside.

During the last year I had a new vision for the project. “Ghosts in the Holler” was born. The history of the family in that home, the hard, primitive lives, the joyous gatherings have survived in the stories told by later generations. I believe that people’s spirit or energy can stay in a place or thing and sometimes we can sense it. Looking at this old home I could imagine the spirits or ghosts that might still dwell there.

I used a number of techniques and mediums to portray the ghosts in this place.  I printed parts of the family photo on a variety of fabrics to use in my wall hanging.

Do you see the faces in the cabin?    

I took this close-up of his parents and inserted them in the doorway of the lean-to in the rear of the cabin. The faces have been painted with inks to blend in with the rest of the greenery that is overtaking the home.

I love how the whole piece turned out. It’s unusual, it’s a bit mystical, and stretched me creatively.

Sharing My Spirit

I have a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University. In Piano Performance and Pedagogy. And I don’t own a piano. Haven’t for most of 30 years. Isn’t that sad? Not really.

I started piano lessons at age 5. I don’t remember the lessons, or the joy of playing my first melodies. I remember the minute minder sitting there perched on the side of the piano, ticking..ticking..waiting for the *ding* that said my 15 minutes of practicing were up.

I had begun ballet lessons when I was 5, also. I loved ballet. I loved the stretches, the exercises. I remember doing 90 kicks with each leg…front, side, back, 10 at a time….it was exhausting and exhilarating, finishing and knowing I could do it. I can still envision the studio with all the mirrors and the bars mounted on them. I don’t remember the performances.  I had terrible anxiety, even at that young age and was probably too nervous to let the joy of performing dance sink in, but I do remember loving my costumes.

When I was turning 9 we moved to a new city. My mother made me choose which lessons to continue—ballet or piano. I wanted to study dance, but I knew very clearly what my mother wanted me to study, so I chose piano. And that was my choice, and my reason, at every turn throughout the rest of my childhood, college and grad school.

And that is my biggest regret in life.

I still have such a passion for dancing. Nothing makes me feel better. Sometimes when I see people dance they look SO serious, even sad sometimes. I wonder why in the world they are out there. I cannot stop smiling when I’m dancing. I think I exude joy and fun and sexy and every good thing I can feel. Sometimes I go to a dance not feeling the best, not really in the mood. But I go anyway. By the end of the first song everything has changed. The “high” I get from a night of dancing lasts me through the next day.

I suspect this what all performers feel when they are happy—passionate– in their art. There is the natural high from adrenaline but there is more. There is an exchange with the audience that is palpable. There is a shared emotional adventure that is greater than can be felt without an audience.

I could deeply appreciate the emotional journey I took playing a piece of music. But sharing that with an audience brought me such fear it overshadowed/completely dimmed the light and joy I could/should have felt.

Fear of hitting the wrong note. Fear of forgetting where I was. Fear of stopping and not being able to

start again. Fear of being judged.

I never feel that when I dance. And I never feel that when I create art with fabric.

I can’t “hit the wrong note” because I’m making up my own piece. I improvise. I create rules and boundaries where I need them, leave them out where I don’t. And I don’t have to play where someone will judge me before they hear or see the story I’m telling. My passions take me to that zone of sheer joy that puts me out of reach of hurt from criticism. The stories, the steps, are so obviously from my heart that the passion can be felt by others.

When I’m doing what I love to do, I believe my spirit shines through and touches others. They can turn away, they can not like it. But I don’t care because sharing my spirit cannot be wrong.