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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

30 January, 2011

Feeding Our Minds

Birmingham’s Museum & Art Gallery is thriving!  Each time I visit, I am amazed at the sheer amount and diversity of people who are strolling through its galleries, stopping at this painting, or that piece of glass, reading the info boards and generally really enjoying the art and culture on offer in their city.  It thrills me that so many people see this as vital to their lives, bringing their children here for workshops and just to browse.

I hope MPs take the time to visit places like this to see how much impact art and culture has on everybody, not just an elite group of so-called ‘educated’ people, before they wield the financial axe too vigourously and cut off the lifeblood of the creative impulse that will help us rise out of our current financial climate!

I was there for a meeting of the Midlands Textile Forum, a textiles group from the West Midlands.  The group has seen a shift in its fortunes, along with many other organisations, but what is emerging is a leaner, more coherent group of committed artists who are undertaking a major exhibition this year in the Nicholson Institute in Leek, called Inspired by Flora, based on both the natural inspiration, and also the muse, and integrating influences of William Morris and The Arts & Crafts Movement, which led to the Society of Arts and Crafts in the US.

Leek was an important place in the Arts & Crafts Movement, because this is where the dyer Thomas Wardle had his dyeworks.  The quality of water in the River Churnet was what he required for his dyes and he did extensive dye research, visiting India on a number of occasions, and creating a reputation that had people like William Morris seeking him out for his expertise in traditional and natural dyes.  Jane Morris was a designer in her own right, and she and William created some wonderful designs which local women embroidered for them.  The Leek Embroideresses became highly respected artisans and the local museum (newly refurbished and opened last year) has some beautiful work on display.

So we are delighted to be holding an exhibition in this lovely rural market town with its impressive gallery space, and we will be working like the clappers to create some lovely pieces to grace the airy and beautifully well-lit room. I’ll post more information about it nearer the time and hopefully some images too so if you can’t visit in person, at least you’ll get a peek….

Back to feeding our minds!  Last night, I was reading a book called  “Why Does E=mc2 ?  (and why should we care?)” by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, and was getting no-where fast so I went up to bed feeling very sleepy.  Just as I put out the light, my brain woke up and started firing off ideas, one after the other, which thoroughly woke me up and had me imagining wonderful fabrics and amazing textures!  It was just as if my brain needed to be thoroughly confused and in a state of blah before the subconscious could break through and give me the ideas I’ve been suspecting were lurking in the background!

So even if you don’t understand something, that incomprehension can be the means of feeing your mind for something that does mean something to you!!

Long live the vagaries of our minds!!!

23 January, 2011

Are men who do textile art superheros or spoilt?

Filed under: Art,Education,Life,Philosophy,Psychology — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:00 pm

Did that get your attention?

I thought it might.

What I’m talking about this week is something that raises temperatures, emotions and voices.

Why is it that the small proportion of men in textiles seem to get lots of attention and publicly lauded?

This question was raised at a group of textile people I was at recently, and the discussions were, in turn, calm, heated, curious, annoyed, dismayed and, at times, hostile.

It’s something I’ve been curious about for a while, noting that there are lots of women involved in textiles, but of those women, only a comparative few really become well known, whereas there are comparatively few men involved in textiles, but of those, a far larger proportion become well known.

It’s a worthwhile topic of discussion, and it leads to some interesting viewpoints – not least the role that women practitioners play in the elevation of their male counterparts.  The discussion mostly hinged around the roles that men and women have traditionally played in society throughout the ages, and that, for many, these deeply rooted roles are still in place today.  Women’s role was very much a supportive role ‘behind their men’ and to some extent, this is still observable in how women behave around the men in textiles.

One of the character traits that men display more overtly perhaps is confidence.  A bold approach, an assertiveness and an inner belief that what they do is valuable and worth consideration seems to be an enviable male characteristic that can be observed in most workspaces.  Compare that to women’s more conservative characteristic of doubting themselves and the validity of their work, and the dichotomy is obvious.

Another possible factor is confrontation.  Hard-wired from early human days, men are largely much more capable of dealing with confrontation, and challenges, and even relish the opportunity.  It’s interesting to note that in philosophy, a topic noted for its argumentative and confrontation nature, the overwhelming number of practitioners are men, and they are beginning to realise that it’s because of this confrontational aspect that women, whilst interested in the topics and discussions, are not entering the profession.

I know that even though I am a confident person, I personally shrink away from confrontation, sometimes almost childlike in my attempts to avoid dealing with a confrontational situation.  I know too, that there are women who are excellent in confrontational situations, but ironically, they are often seen as ‘hard-nosed’ or ‘bullish’ and therefore not very feminine by both men and women!!  How two-faced are we as a society?!!

Getting back to the famous men in textiles, I posed the devil’s advocate question – is it the women in textiles who are actually creating the imbalance, by fawning over the men who are there, and elevating them to a higher level than they actually deserve, in comparison to some of the female practitioners?  Are women themselves dissing their female colleagues?

I’m not saying here that the men who are rated in the upper echelons of the textile world don’t deserve to be there (here I go, avoiding confrontation again!!).  In my opinion, some do, some don’t.  But that is based on their abilities, their art and how their work appeals to me, a subjective viewer, not because they are male. And I sometimes wonder why the artwork I’m looking at is there at all, apart from the fact that it was made by a man…

What I am raising here is that it is women’s own attitudes that allow the imbalance to exist, and their own characteristics that keep them away from the limelight.  Watching how some women can react when someone else gets favourable press/sales/comments has been a real eye-opener, with bitchy comments, snide expressions and subtle (or not so subtle) digs.  I myself know that I have been guilty of a jealous thought or two on hearing of someone else’s success, even though I am pleased for them.  That, I think, comes from an insecurity in how you see yourself.  It’s ironic when you know consider how supportive women are of each other in general.

Here comes my pacifist, smoothing over confrontation character.  This article is meant to make you reflect and think deeper on this subject.  I’ll try not to take personally any comments that you make shooting me down in flames!  But what do you think?  It would be interesting to get some male opinions on this!!

PS  The group of people who were discussing this were happy for me to write about it in my blog, but didn’t want to be identified.  We were all women.  What does that say………  ?

16 January, 2011

Method in the muddle

Filed under: Life,Psychology,Publications,Weaving — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 1:00 pm

A while ago, I wrote a post saying about how my brain lags about 3 weeks behind everyone else when I’m doing a course or a workshop or something similar, and that I’m usually in a total fuddle and have to let my brain just filter it through in its own sweet time.  (And I’m not kidding about the 3 weeks!)

I knew I wasn’t a total oddball by the reaction when other people in conversation look so relieved and say, oh I thought I was the only one like that!  No, don’t worry – there’s quite a few of us out there, though perhaps 3 weeks is a little excessive!

And now, there’s even a book about it!  You Need This Book To Get What You Want.  (That actually is it’s title!)  I haven’t read it – or even bought it – but apparently, “feeling confused can be a good thing because it’s usually a sign you’re about to learn something new” according to the authors of the book, Mark Palmer and Scott Solder.  Errr – yeah – got that bit – it’s just the length of time I feel confused that irks me! 

It seems we just have to be patient because “that peculiar sensation you feel” (ie cloth-headed!) “when you just can’t get your head around something comes from the fact that your subconscious is getting down to work”.  Oh, right, so something’s happening then! 

“What’s really happening is that you’re not confused at all!  The conscious part of your brain may feel confused, but the subconscious part is busy processing everything it knows to get you the answers”  (So why does it take 3 weeks then?!  You can’t tell me I’m Einstein and my subconscious is ploughing through the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica!)  I’m not normally quite so heavy on the sarcasm, thankfully, but my initial reaction was – phew, thank goodness, and my next reaction was – so tell me something I don’t know!!

They finish up this short article from Psychologies magazine with the reassurance – “If you’re prone to getting in a muddle about things, don’t freak out next time – instead, try to relax.  And look forward to that moment of clarity you’ll inevitably have once your subcionscious has done its job.”

It’s just as well that weavers can deal with delayed gratification, because I have to wait a long time for that moment of clarity!!  But I have to say that once it hits, it’s a most wonderful feeling!! 

It seems to me that there are books being published that cover just about every thought we’ve ever had.  Soon there’ll be no more vacant wondering moments, because someone will pounce out waving a book, saying – “you don’t need to wonder about this anymore because it’s all in here!” 

Forgive my curmudgeonly stance, but from time to time I like just to sit and be vacant, wondering about such things.  A good think about something that really isn’t a big deal (until it is!).  I find it fun, relaxing and stimulating at the same time.  And a good way to start a conversation with total strangers….

PS  There’ll be a book telling us how to start conversations with total strangers before we know it!  Sorry, what was that?  Oh!  There’s already a small and growing library!     

Have a good week, and don’t forget to include one or two of those vacuous, non-essential, wondering moments!  ;^))

9 January, 2011

Government approval for craft!

Wow!  I nearly fell off my chair when I picked up the latest edition of Crafts magazine from the Crafts Council.  There was a 4 page excerpt from the coalition government’s minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning, John Hayes, extolling his belief in the validity of craft in underpinning a strong society.  The full speech can be read here :  http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/speeches/john-hayes-skills-and-their-place

Part of me thought ‘oh yes, we’ve heard all this before’ but as I read on, I began to get a gut feeling of ‘maybe this time something will come out of this’.  The speech was given in October, so it’s not hot off the press, but it highlights the disparities that we as practising craftspeople have faced daily for years – that the arts/crafts divide is still alive and kicking hard even though most of us actually know that we need each other.  It also validates the complaint of reduced vocational training and qualifications.  Local adult education classes which cover crafts have almost disappeared from the curriculum.  Very few areas can now access weaving, lace making, wood-working, pottery and other evening classes in practical crafts.  It’s all based around ‘academic’ courses and we are all the poorer for it.

But here we have a minister talking about the importance of craft in education, as hobbies as well as livelihoods, in sustaining and supporting the remaining livery companies and guilds, in encouraging the new crafts that are developing in software design and network engineering.  Here is a short excerpt to give you a flavour :

“..the higher the skills levels available in an economy, the more they add to the value of products and services, the more profitable the economy as a whole is likely to become, the more jobs it will support and the more business we will win from other countries. And raising skills levels brings social as well as economic benefits, like better public health, lower crime rates, and more intensive engagement by individuals in the sorts of voluntary and community activities that fuel the common good and power the national interest.

“The second area where elevating the status of craft would bring benefits is social….  these days, in most of Britain, the hard-won skill of individuals has been subsumed by soulless, impersonal ubiquity.  ..The benefits to individuals of acquiring new skills, whether for work or for private satisfaction, are reflected throughout society.  …

“The third area where we need change is cultural…admiration for skill, even when it doesn’t involve production of an object, is an integral part of our culture..and admiration for a physical prowess and physical skill doesn’t end with the onset of adulthood.  It’s part of our wiring, part of that complex bundle of impulses that, together, make us human.”

He goes on to talk about what we as a society together with the government can do about it, and it seems to be reassuring for those of us who have long cried out for re-instatement of vocational practical courses and technical colleges rather than universities of everything-under-the-sun which dilute even academic achievement!!

The excerpt in Crafts finishes off with this :

“…what I want to show above all is that our society will benefit greatly when those that make policy understand what popular culture has always known.  That skill, craft and dexterity give our lives meaning and value.  They are at the heart of our society.  Craft should be honoured and those who master it revered.

“So while we work to encourage the learning of practical skills, we must also work to build demand for and recognition of them.  Ours will be – must be – the age of the craftsman.’

Amen!!  I never thought I would be so behind a politician’s speech!!  Now let’s see whether the rhetoric is followed by action which we can join in with and work together to achieve!!

2 January, 2011

New Year, New Challenges

I’m very excited about 2011.  Not about the financial and political situation we find ourselves in – we don’t have much control over the bigger picture there – but about things that we do have control over – our choices and how we choose to react to life’s challenges.

This year I start my MA.  I’m really fortunate to have found a course where I can write my own programme of study, and see where it takes me.  My raison d’etre is texture in weaving, and my starting point for the masters is the geography/geology of extreme landscape, translating that through weave, and also the philosophy of landscape – how people react to the conditions in which they find themselves through living in extreme landscape. 

Sometimes it’s the journey rather than the destination that is important.  I don’t know what the outcome of this journey will be, but the planning alone is exciting.  Through doing quite a lot of background research, the more you read and absorb, the more you realise there is to know.  This journey is already bringing together so many aspects of my life that I didn’t realise were connected so completely.

I love science – especially physics – although I have never been a scientist.  At school I preferred history to geography but as I got opportunities to travel, this changed through experiencing new cultures, new people, new customs, new landscape.  

Weaving is related to geological processes (at least in my mind).  Weaving is seen as a slow process compared to fine art.  So is the history of the planet compared to human history, spanning eons of time, not a few centuries.  This fits in with my fascination with deep space – that is even longer reaches of time than geology! 

A few years ago, I discovered fractals whilst on a walk with my previous dog, Kym.  That led to a new appreciation of maths!  Most of it is beyond me, but I do get the broad concepts even if the specifics leave my brain as mush!!  Geography and fractals are very closely linked…  the length of a coastline expands as the unit of measurement gets smaller, and cinematic and computer graphics using fractal algorithms to generate mountain ranges and landscapes. 

I also have had a fascination with minerals as long as I can remember.  Now, with a growing understanding of plate tectonics, I am learning more about the creation of minerals and how the slightest changes in state can result in tremendously different variations. 

A more recent interest is philosophy, which really came to the fore when my son went to uni, and is now being fuelled by learning about the philosophy of art, craft and landscape. 

What bliss!  To be on the verge of a project that encompasses so many of the topics that float my boat!  I can’t believe my good fortune but I sure as heck will do my utmost to use this opportunity to the best of my ability.  It sounds corny, but I really do feel blessed that, like a branching river, so many streams of interest are coming together into one path.  Whether it goes through canyons or broad river plains, this is going to be one exciting ride. 

I wish you your own exciting ride through 2011 and hope that, even if it’s not what you anticipated, you will find joy and achievement in the journey!  Let’s raise our glasses to each other, and have a virtual toast to adventure and camp fires!