Saturday, April 25, 2009
I love words, but I almost didn't graduate from high school because I was failing English. That has always been a little ironic given the fact that I am a published novelist and I dig the heck out of the written word. Granted I did struggle through diagramming sentences and to this day I probably wouldn't know a participle if it bit me on my adverb, but it was a badly timed appendectomy followed almost immediately by the chicken pox that was my downfall that year. I managed to make up enough of the work I missed to satisfy my other teachers, but Mrs. Boyce was a whole other story. "If you can not master the English language, you will fail at every thing else in life." I was quite sure that re-reading Beowulf for the fourth time in order to meet her requirements for mastering the English language was not going to make me a better singer...which afterall, at 17 was all that mattered to me. But I persevered with my assignments, begged her more than once to please let me graduate and I managed to walk across the stage with my classmates. I threw my cap in the air, stuffed my diploma in a box and headed out on the road with a band. I convinced myself that the D she ultimately gave me stood for Determined to leave town.
But now many, many years later (and I mean many, many) I find myself embracing languages of all types and not only that...I am teaching one. For years I delved into the language that is music. Anyone who learns how to read the scribbles of rhythm and a melody penned on lined paper should be considered bi-lingual. So, too, should artists who teach themselves the vast language of their mediums.
As I begin my workshop, KC Willis Collage Camp, I am learning that I am teaching more than the "tricks" I use to create my work. From the moment I offered the video series, people have been writing me and asking me if I feel comfortable showing so many others exactly what I do when I make the work of Lipstick Ranch. At first I thought, geez maybe that's not such a good idea, but I immediately considered it in a different way. Asking that is like asking a writing teacher if they feel comfortable teaching someone all those words that were in their book. They will take the same words, but they will tell a different story, just like a musician will take the same notes, rearrange them with his heart and have something entirely different than the last guy.
What I am teaching is the language of Fabric Collage. In order to learn this language they will, in the beginning, mimic my words as I show them step-by-step the sentences of fabric and trim that I string together. Their pieces will look like my pieces, just as when a musician first begins to play the guitar they will listen to music they like and play it note for note. It's only when they have a good working knowledge of what these notes do that they take off and write their own songs. Art is the same way. It requires a vocabulary of sorts. When I first decided to become multi-lingual I looked at the words that other artists put down on canvas and on collage and decided I wanted to be fluent in rust and rhinestones. I spoke all wrong at first, but that was ok. I decided right from the beginning that if I was ever going to be good at it, I had to first be willing to be bad at it. And I had to learn to trust the language I was speaking. Who knows where the words come from that fly through your head when you're writing, or what prompts my hand to move a piece of fabric into a certain place on a collage. Sometimes people will ask me where I got an idea. Beats me. That's like asking Miles Davis where he got that note. We're just talking the talk.
If you take my workshop, learn the language that I teach by showing you my words and sentences, become comfortable with their phrasing, practice them over and over again, and work like hell to create your own stories...books and books of them.
And if I were to ever run into Mrs. Boyce again I would tell her that I still can't diagram a sentence, but I am fluent in fabric. Enough said.
Posted by KC Willis at 10:35 AM