2.22.2006

symbols as cliche

I'm working on a big piece, well big for me. It's around 3 foot by 4 foot. The working title is 'Dancing in the Light of the Moon', subject to change. This piece has done a lot of its own decision making, veering off into directions I never intended. For instance, the background fabrics started out as an attempt to replicate the rolling hills and fields around the river here. That's a little hard to see now as it wanted to be dyed fairly dark.

Anyway, it's time to quilt it. I want to convey more of the dance feeling, and my first thoughts were of adding a Kokopelli. I can see him playing the flute in the bottom left corner, some little moonlight sonata, enjoying the moment.

But then I became obcessed with the thought that Kokopelli is too overdone as a symbol, has become a cliche, some kind of southwest joke figure. Do we have the right to claim anything as a symbol in our artistic lives, or are we limited to things that come from our personal past, our personal culture? Is living in the same country that Kokopelli's inventors lived enough? Does using him step over the line of trendiness, becoming trite in the process?

And if I invent my own symbol, what does it convey if no one knows the background of that symbol? I use the kayak as a symbol in a lot of my work, but it's never a very realistic kayak, and only occasionally does it become instantly identifiable as a kayak. And does the viewer think the same thing as I do when they think 'kayak'? I think of floating down the river, leaning back and staring at a rising full moon, my hand trailing in the water. It's a peaceful symbol to me. But if someone else is a whitewater kayaker, I can see that the symbol would be entirely different.

Maybe I just overthink these things. Maybe I should get back to the mind space where the quilt would tell me what to do. Maybe this is part of, a continuation of, the doritos principle--do it, I can make another one...

5 comments:

Ann Miller Titus said...

So imagine dancing in sand or some other medium that leaves tracks. What would the pattern look like? What patterns would go with various kinds of dances? Waltz vrs polka vrs whirling dervish vrs a virginal reel.
What dance would be inspired by that moon? What traces would be left in the morning?

There's a haiku in there somewhere.
Ann

Pat's Place said...

Interesting questions/observations...

For me, symbols are a universal sign language, some moreso than others, of course. Jung spoke of "archetypal symbols" and others refer to major cross cultural symbols as "spiritual" in content.

I find I like looking at life events/situations symbolically because it helps me to detach from the emotional and the rational ways of being and moves me more deeply into the essence of things.

Most often, it's enough to simply enjoy symbols and reap the benefit of their messages to us, no matter how subtle those messages are to the conscious mind. In my opinion, symbols speak to the unconscious self ever so much more than to our consciousness. And the messages get across at the deeper levels, or so it seems to me...

As to your use of Kokopelli in your quilt, if you "can see him playing the flute in the bottom left corner," why don't you just go with your creative muse and allow him to play his moonlight sonata on your quilt? If you want to understand more about your own inclinations as to WHY Kokopelli has come to you via this quilt, you could explore what he means to you, to your life, to your present circumstances, to the meaning of your quilt... or not. Sometimes it's best to simply enjoy the symbols that pop into our lives when they come and to use them to the best of our ability in our art when it seems right to do so! Who cares why? It's just what's so...

bj parady said...

I'm coming to the conclusion that I probably do overthink these things...

It occurred to me after posting this that maybe I could use a luna moth dancing in the moonlight instead--probably because the symbol in this work that says 'moon' to me is the color of a luna moth.

I keep coming back to Kokopelli though. I have concerns that he's overused, but that's heavily influenced by a trip to the southwest I made last year, where he definitely has moved beyond cool into trite and often out of place and overdone. On the other hand, I live in the midwest, where you hardly ever encounter him...

So probably what I'll do is sleep on it, think on it until something seems right...when it's done, I'll post a picture of it.

Caitlin said...

From the other side of the world - I don't see Kokopelli cropping up very often, but he always reminds me of a prankster/joyous manchild. symbols are personal as well as universal - if that makes sense! Yes, they might say "southwest USA" to some viewers, but to others they might have a much more personal meaning. Or no meaning at all (I suspect if your quilt was seen by an australian audience, most people wouldn't know that he WAS a symbol.) If he's turning up, he's there for a REASON - go with it, but think about why he wants to be there.

bj parady said...

good points. I am probably being ethnocentric in my fretting; it's hard not to be living smack dab in the middle of this continent...but the actual truth is that he wanted to be there, so now he is--a little obscured by the heavy quilting around him, but he'll be there happily playing in the moonlight. And that's why he wants to be there, I think, to capture the moment of bliss.