Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Maze on the Way to Ping

Creativity at work is like the discovery of a new path, the solving of a puzzle. It does not matter that the puzzle has been solved before, what matters is that you are able to follow all the steps and solve it yourself, getting closer and closer, as the excitement builds, until, ping!, you find the answer.

A good teacher gives you that final clue that lets all the pieces fall into place: that aha! moment we all have had, and I think seek to re-create in the process of creativity, and in the process of teaching and learning. A good teacher wants you to have that aha! moment too, to share in that joy.

That moment can come from the most unexpected sources. I'm never sure which teacher will say just the right thing, or which idea will lead to the solution. You have to try a few, more than one, keep at it.

When I sign up for a class what I look for is that person who is on the path themselves, winding through the maze on the way to ping!, whatever it is we are seeking, as opposed to someone whose own work is static, who has been doing the same thing for years and years, and might have it down pat, but who is not seeking. The latter teacher might have great things to say, and have great work to show, but they've said it too many times, packaged it too many ways to make it new and exciting.

I know: I've been there. I have taken several twists and turns in the weaving I've done over the years, from fabric to beads through dyeing and spinning, to arrive back where I started: simple weave structures, simple looms. When I notice my teaching get stale, my work no loinger reflects that path, I change course. I drop classes I have taught, and try out new ones. There are fumbles along the way: new classes take a while to settle in. But most people are willing to suffer a few glitches, in the face of enthusiasm.

Not everyone who was on the same path as I am came to the same place: some people have instead delved more and more deeply into complex weaves, complex looms, complex structures.

But I winnowed out the features that are important to me: color is one, and the use of my hands is another. I'm not here to learn how to use a machine, I'm here to watch as my hands create something of the twists and turns that are yarn, color and fiber.

In my last post, I mentioned the need to balance old and new teachers at conferences. A further thought engendered by your comments is that the old (and I use that term with discretion) teachers are what people new to the craft are seeking, and the *new* teachers are what the veterans in the craft want.

If you are new, you want to learn from the *names*, the people whose books are on your shelves, the people whose commentary is quoted when others talk about our craft. You want the broad answers to the Big Questions, like how do I hold my hands so I can get the results I want? Which materials will give me which results? What tools do you recommend? May I try out lots of tools so I can pick my favorites?

But if you've been around a while, doing the work of the craft, your questions are more refined. You want the final puzzle piece to drop in place, and for that you need colleagues, mentors, people on the same path, seeking that same puzzle piece.

In recent years, I have found some people whose online presence indicates they are seeking, sharing, discovering for themselves, and eager to present the wonder that is their latest piece, their most recent discovery, their newest twist in the wrinkly fabric. It makes it both easier and harder for me: When their subject is of interest to me, a similar path to mine, I want to take classes from them, follow their path. But I also have these winding steps that I am following, that I want to see to their twisted conclusion in quiet work in the solitude of my studio.

So I am picky about how I spend my time (and, yes, money) in classes. I want a solid basis in technique with an overlay of experiment, an overlay of What If?

I would take a class from Phiala, or Abby, or Michael, in a heartbeat. You can read the excitement they have in their work through their web presence, whether it is thoroughly answering questions in an online forum, or presenting their process on their personal websites. They have done their homework, and while their work is rooted in tradition, it is not bound by tradition. They know the back story of the work that they are doing, and they are exploring.

They have also taught for a while in smaller groups, or more local groups, and are poised to move into a larger arena. And there are people like me who want to sit with them, and listen to the ping! of their thoughts on weaving, reeling, twisting cards and pulling heddle bars.

They remind me of my friend Elaine Benfatto who, a few years ago, was online as the Urbanspinner. Elaine taught a few times at SOAR, and I was privileged to spend an afternoon with her, going through her latest work, tossing her library, and talking of future plans. It was exciting, so full of potential, and very fun. Elaine's textile work is on hold, for now, while she deals with some family issues, but she will be back. I know it. And I will welcome her back and try to probe what she has been doing, textile-wise, in her time away.

In the meantime, I have *met* Phiala, Michael and Abby online and have admired their work, and their willingness to share their path of discovery. They move in a forward direction, and are willing to help people climb onto the path they are exploring. They did not pick the most common of paths, the path where it is easy to find mentors, easy to find information, easy to find patterns or direction.

They picked their own paths.

And that is the key, I think. Whatever excites you, follow that path. No matter that people wonder at how you spend your time; only you know what excites you. It may take a bit of seeking, a bit of trying everything, until you settle on your way. Take those classes that sound intriguing, find the teacher you need, but don't stop questioning, exploring, and hunting for the path that is truly your own.

This Fall, I'm hoping Abby, Phiala and Michael will converge at SOAR. If so, there will be sparks. I'm so glad I get to be there too, and meet them. Well, OK, I already know Abby. But as a colleague, I will get to know her better.

And, Michael, as a cautionary tale perhaps, I signed up for your class at GGFI in January.

You have been warned :).


Blogger claudia said...

I do very much miss Elaine, and hope she returns to the fiber world.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Peg in South Carolina said...

You have captured many of my thoughts but with far better grace and clarity.

4:06 PM  
Blogger ShuttlePilot said...

Your post today reminds me of a passage from the Arthurian legends refering to the Quest for the Sangreal -- where each knight enters the forest at a point he, himself had chosen -- for to enter where there was already a path, meant that he would be having someone else's adventure.

There truly is nothing new under the sun when one thinks about it -- but what is new are the modern materials, and are our own explorations and interpretations of the basics. Someone somewhere, has come before us -- it is only perhaps, that their footprints have faded and the path has become overgrown.

Others among us find comfort in the well worn path, and the tried and true, especially at the beginning of the journey.

Loved this blog!

9:07 PM  
Blogger Marie said...

You've been "me-me'd". Go to my blog and read the rules. Don't shoot the messenger.

2:27 PM  
Blogger June said...

I miss Elaine, too. I haven't spoken to her since I moved away from MA. I learned so much from her... Hope she comes back someday.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Freyalyn said...

What a deceptively simple way to put this into words. Of course, I'd expect nothing else from you....

How lovely to have such teachers available.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfect post at the right moment. Thanks.

Perhaps we learn the rules so we can break them, eloquently.

Thanks and praise for our online connections! Art can become isolating, yet we still seek respected mentors, teachers and critics.

3:57 AM  
Blogger Daddy said...

As always, you phrase things so perfectly!

I'm very much looking forward to class in January - a mix of trepidation and excitement, because it's such a big step, but it should be FUN!

7:05 AM  
Blogger Juno said...

That's it exactly, that ping moment - in all of life, not just fiber life. The people we need are the ones that keep us moving, show us new paths, and share the excitement.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Phiala said...

Your posts continue to be thought-provoking and challenging. After a couple of days of cogitation, I've put something down at
- too long for a comment!

1:55 PM  
Blogger Just Me said...

Your thoughts also raises the question of what happens to excellent teachers who don't have a significant web presence. My favorite weaving teacher, Becky Ashenden, who for me has always had that "ping" no matter what course I have taken from her- doesn't have a blog, nor is she on the yahoo "groups" lists. What will happen to a teacher like this in the future if they are not plugged into all this modern technology? How do we find those teachers who REALLY don't march to the same drum- even where computers are concerned?

3:30 PM  
Blogger amyfibre said...

yes, yes, YES!

May I share your thoughts? with the MWA Board? with the Guild program people?

Thank you for articulating this so well, and so simply.

7:06 AM  

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