I started a new class at the Sophia Center yesterday. I always emphasize that it’s about creative process, rather than creative product. We can all live in a rich, creative process, and in fact, in my not-so-humble opinion, living in a way where we’re deeply connected to our creative process is the only way to live a full life.
For whatever reason, the quilts from Gee’s Bend keep coming to mind, urging me to write about them. (Maybe because I forgot to mention them in both my pre-class presentation to the students and in yesterday’s class.) So here’s the story if you don’t know it already: Gee’s Bend is a very poor, isolated African-American community (surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River.) The residents’ ancestors were slaves on the cotton plantations, and subsequent generations stayed on the land as tenant farmers. Because of the river (there was no ferry service) and the poverty, this community was isolated from everyday American culture and in fact, has been called by historians “another civilzation.” The people in this community were too poor to purchase quilts and blankets, so the women stitched together quilts from scraps of worn-out clothing and old feed sacks. By now, the quilts of Gee’s Bend have been on display in every major museum, nationally and internationally. Many experts have hailed them as the “most important modern art in our century.”
Seeing them on exhibit, I was overwhelmed by the pure, pulsing Spirit that seems to emanate from the quilts, to say nothing of their extraordinary beauty.
If these quilts don’t clearly show that you don’t need years of prestigious art training in Paris to make exceptional art, I don’t know what does. The Gee’s Bend quilts speak for themselves, or should I say, “glow for themselves.”
In Native American and Aboriginal cultures, making art was all about having a conversation with the Gods. There was no thought given to whether an art object met an external criteria of “beautiful.” The crudest art was often the most profound, and the simplest artworks were the most accomplished.