How do I know if today was a milestone, a moment of having arrived? For the first time I entered two art pieces in a competitive juried show. Does that make me artist? What if my art is not juried into show, then am I an artist? Do I have to win an award before I can be considered a real artist? What has to happen for any of us to believe that we are actually who we are trying to be?
I started working with fibers when I was a child, moving through the years from intricate embroideries to macramé wall hangs and mixed fiber mandalas. My experiments moved to looms and baskets and other types of weaving. At some point I took a ceramic class and found I had a knack for throwing clay. All the while, however, I was moving through school towards a “real” career, and was steered away from the arts by well-meaning advisors. My arts fell to the way-side, as did my intense piano lessons, and I earned several degrees in both the hard and soft sciences moved up a career ladder.
And then, the universe stepped back in and I was hired by a small art college to manage the general education curriculum and lead several accreditation teams. Suddenly I had to dig into art history, learn the differences between impressionists and expressionists. I had to be able to discuss 2-D and 3-D design courses, color theory, and articulate notions of graphic design, illustration, and interior design. I was asked to help judge the “best of show” that included paintings, sculptures, mixed media, and other pieces. After leaving art behind, I was now immersed in it.
But I was also surrounded by professional artists and art students who had lived and breathed and studied and created art for years. They knew how to draw and paint and design. They could quote the history of art from the Goddess of Willendorf to current exhibits in the Museum of Modern Art. And I knew how to knit. Not the history of knitting, or modern artists who use art as a way to link traditional women’s crafts to art, or public installation knits, or even the way knitting was used in fashion. I could not even when asked, which I often was, explain the difference between craft and art and where my work fit in that spectrum. Clearly, I was “crafty” and not an artist. So when beautiful skeins of yarn found their way into my stash I produced wild scarves and invented “random acts of knitting” as a way to spread kindness.
And then there was a blizzard over winter break, and I had hours and days with nothing to do but play with color and texture and stitches. With no one to stop me or critique my work I invented patterns and stitches, and blended yarns in wild ways. The results were rough at first, and then interesting, and then beautiful. By the end of the break, I had enough work to sell at a fundraiser art show. When that work was sold I made more. Sell for a fundraiser, knit more, repeat.
But today something changed. I walked into the CORE Gallery and entered two pieces in an open juried show in a real gallery. Today I defined myself not by the voices around me, or the fear, or being silenced or judged, or the old lessons about behaving and fitting a mold, but by my own standards and values. Yes, I am an artist and my life is my canvas.
Dr. Elisa Robyn, a modern-day Renaissance educator and leader, is the author of The Way of the Well, a spiritual romance, and Pirate Wisdom, lessons in leadership. Her eclectic career positions include geologist, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Futurist, and Innovative Mojo Coach. Currently, Elisa is an executive director at Regis University. She holds a Masters degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her most current writings can be found at: