I was watching a movie last night called “Infamous.” It’s the story about how Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood. Harper Lee is his best friend. In one portion of the movie, she is being interviewed about Truman and his book. She talks about how Fred Astaire said that every time Judy Garland sang, a little piece of her died, that’s how much of herself she poured into it. Harper said she thinks the same thing happened with Truman when he wrote In Cold Blood. It simply took so much from him that he didn’t have much to give to his writing after that.
And this really stuck in my head. Especially with the death of Heath Ledger so fresh, you have to wonder how true that is. The entertainment news has been implying that his recent performance as The Joker in the new Batman movie drove him over the edge. That it resulted in needing sleeping pills and anti-depressants and the combination of those and some pneumonia medication is what did him in. I admit that I’m sad he’s gone, I think he is a phenomenal actor. It was clear that he emptied himself for every role he played, he left nothing unsaid.
I look to my own art and wonder if I’m capable of that. How much of myself is really present in what I do? How much am I willing to give away in order to really make myself heard? How much are any of us willing to hand over?
I’ve never believed that I can explain where my ideas come from. They have sources of inspiration but beyond that, they have a life of their own. The projects I try to control are often the ones that tend to fail and I have to leave for dead. The ones that use me as a means to an end are the ones that really come alive and make people pause.
I’m not sure anymore what facet of the art world I fit into. I’m not sure I’m keen on certain venues and I struggle with the arrogance that is attached to much of the gallery world. I do know that once you make the decision to show your work, they pull from you to get what they want and don’t stop until they are done. It can really wear on you after a while and maybe that is what Harper was talking about. Maybe it’s the idea that the truly great work is the work that breaks you in some way. The work that changes you, the work that makes you into something that you weren’t before you started it.
These questions are important to me right now. I’m struggling with whether or not I should continue the art quilt series I’m working on that deals with violence against women. To do this work means to take it all in. To feel each practice, to understand the ramifications of it, to know what life for the victims is like. And I do view them as victims, even if their culture demands it as normal.
It’s important, it needs to be seen. It needs to have a voice that it hasn’t had before. Trapping it in fiber makes it unique. It takes a medium that is soft and comforting and stains it with violence. The contradiction is unsettling. I have one piece completed and another almost done. The speed with which they come together is unnerving. They are done, literally, almost instantly. There is a complete lack of control on my part.
I’ve promised myself that I will begin working again in February. Kind of a little bargain I made with myself. I’m hoping to complete a dozen pieces for this series. I have topics for eight, which means I will have to dig deeper and look harder for the secrets that women try to hide.
And even now, even before February has arrived, I find myself wondering just how much this work will pull from me. Just how much it will take and if every time I will be willing to give it everything that it needs. It has a life of its own, one that I will need to absorb in order to finish it. But this direction feels right, it feels like this is the piece of the puzzle that’s been missing. And I know that I will see it through to the end.
How much of yourself do you put into your work? How much are you willing to give in order to really make it say what you want it to?