Recently I have been mulling over thoughts about these tricky three Is. At first Instruction seems easy enough to separate away from the other two. But I don’t think that it’s domain consists only of workshops, lectures, and how-to books. We learn so much by perception, by example, and yes, by influence. We even receive instruction by pursuing inspiration.
So, a tangled ball of threads. It is not always worth spending time separating out individual threads from such balls; but the activity sometimes forms an appropriate distraction while the back burner is sorting out more serious stuff. And in any case I thought it was long past time that I contributed something to the Cafe.
Which of these three Is comes first? I vividly remember travelling home from town on a coach, wetting my finger to fill in the magic drawing book: the colours were embedded in the paper and released when wet. I also remember my great uncle taking me to see mosaics being restored. And the moment of decision when my portrait was painted at the age of four: ‘I want to be an artist’. So much is coming at us, and we are grasping so many different elements and aspects of life in those earliest years that I cannot separate influence, instruction, inspiration. I can just be happy that I received all three.
After my career in publishing was over I drifted towards work with fibre and design because these were areas in which I had some little hobby experience and some adjacent practice respectively. I plunged way out of my depth by deciding to enter the world of knitwear design. Not enough instruction there – but on the other hand it was a fun learning curve which I would never have enjoyed had the instruction come first. But it was lucky that disaster was not financial, because such ventures can be costly mistakes.
Inspiration in the form of an exhibition of international contemporary embroidery drew me to a more focused instruction at workshops in the UK Embroiderers’ Guild. There I learned so many specific skills, but also learned new viewpoints. The question then arises – ‘how do I want to use these skills?’ So many of the brilliant teachers were artists whose work I would never want to copy, because what they made did not express who I am.
Was it the inspiration or the influence of the coincidence that I took up the Embroiderers’ Guild workshops in the year celebrating the anniversary of India’s independence? I went to a fascinating lecture given by Anne Morrell on Kantha quilts, followed by a workshop on quilting with silk where I tried out the Kantha running stitch on my samples. Bingo!
Background instruction in looking at and learning about art came not only from my seeking out as much input as I could, but specifically at university where I took classes in Aesthetics as part of my degree, and a year’s course in History of Art influenced not only by my pre-existing leanings but particularly because the principal lecturer was David Talbot Rice, an expert in Byzantine art (which I had been surrounded by in my childhood in Thessaloniki, Greece). While at university I was also filled with inspiration by the gallery owner and artist Richard Demarco who was extremely generous with his time and his experience. All this instruction on how to look was influencing me in seeking out inspiration.
When I first thought about making serious art I found it extremely difficult to extract my thinking from the influence of my previous expertise in commissioning illustrative art. Both ideas and how to illustrate them were filtered through my publishing experience. It has taken me a long time and much re-adjustment of thinking to let my mind flow into my own expressions. It can still be an insidious influence to encounter wondrous art in a style to which the immediate reaction is ‘I should make work like that!’ It can take so long to get past such a self-destructive approach, and I still find from time to time doubts creep in about what I’m doing and how I am doing it.
It is essential always to want to improve, and to welcome instruction, influence, and certainly inspiration – but all as nourishment to becoming better at what we do. Because in the end the real question is not which is which, but what are we doing with it all?