elysemarie's blog

Please Art Responsibly

I have been asked how I am able to reconcile my work with my beliefs. How can I work in an industry that perpetuates an empty focus on appearances and consumption, when my beliefs value ideas and actions?

This is a struggle I have dealt with for years. I am driven to create. I am at my best when I am making something, designing and creating. Regardless of whether I give/sell my products to other people, I still find great satisfaction and pleasure in designing and creating them.

To art is to be. For me, creating and designing are forms of arting, are forms of being. We art, we be, in order to have experiences that increase our awareness of this being. Designing and creating are forms of arting for me, along with writing, traveling, observing the little things, listening to music, researching images and textures, and studying feminism and politics. These are all forms of arting in which I find pleasure, meaning, and satisfaction. In this way, arting and art become an action, and spring from an idea.

See, I have no problem with an aesthetic experience. An experience is an event, it is an action. An aesthetic one opens your mind and senses to something in the world. It reveals. It too, is an action. In fashion, I do find an aesthetic experience. The feeling of slipping on a soft chashmere sweater on a cold morning; the line of a strap across a back; the weight and smell of a leather handbag; these are all objects that serve as an aesthetic prosthetic, and aid us in having a deeper experience with some small aspect of the world.

Less philosophically, I have also wrestled with this paradox on a more practical level. I also enjoy creating things that serve a function of utility. Clothing does this to an extent. Clothes protect the body from rain, wick away heat on a hot day, or insulate the body from the cold.

However, as I studied fashion, I came to realize something was missing. I first intended to focus on evening wear, then later, designer sportswear (in layman’s terms, the clothes we wear to work and class everyday but high fashion), but I found these to be empty. There was none of the meaning I was searching for in the things I create. Fashion was an empty cycle, one perpetuating a beauty culture that objectifies all people (women included) and focuses on consumption rather than ideas. It was Andy Warhol that said everything in your closet should have an expiration date, the way milk and bread do. It was a endless spewing of more shit into an already shit-filled world. Furthermore, I have never had any wish to buy into that lifestyle. I have never wanted to move to New York, live in an over-priced shoe-box apartment, slave for Calvin Klein for a salary hardly above the poverty line and be stuck in that downward spiral, never able to leave or go anywhere for the rest of my life.

This didn’t cut it for me.

The missing thing was time.

True, everything is temporal. Even this earth is a fleeting dot in the midst of the endlessness of the universe and its infinite probabilities. My life is nothing more than the tiniest molecule of fly vomit in the grand scale of all existence and possibility. But if someone has a true aesthetic experience, it makes a memory, a sensory moment that reveals the the richness of simply being and impact’s somebody’s day for the better.

This is the reason I have switched my major to accessories design.

Yes, it is still part of fashion. And yes, I understand that there are still the shoe and handbag whores out there, gluttonously consuming and then defecating their pink-patent waste into the earth’s landscape. If we didn’t have this culture of consumption with its cell-phones, money, credit cards, wallets, receipts, compacts, and lipsticks, we wouldn’t have a need for handbags. If the earth weren’t covered in concrete, we would need only the soft ground, not rubber soles beneath our feet. However, I am a realist. I know that depriving myself of the pleasure of arting isn’t going to change this. And even people that realize this cycle and strive to avoid it still have things they need to carry with them. They still need things that function, so that they can function as responsibly as possible amongst the mess.

By starting my own accessories business, I can use a business model to create socially responsible products that sell for their own useful merits, not as part of the fashion cycle. I can create things that are useful for years to come, rather than just another piece of garbage that tries to replace appearance with experience. I can create only what I need, in limited numbers, instead of thousands of pieces that are spewed and regurgitated over and over down the fashion chain until they end unused in a Goodwill bin somewhere. I can source materials that are quality and safe, and will eventually disintegrate back into the earth I came from.

I know I cannot topple the fashion and beauty cycle, with its consumption and objectification of humanity. But if I can impact one person, then I have done something. If one person buys a pair of my boots rather than a pair of Ugg knockoffs that will be in the landfill in two months, I have made a difference to the earth. If one person can easily find their keys in the same pocket of a handbag for ten years, then I have done my job. If one teenaged girl asks her mom for one of my bags that she discovered while adventuring with her friends in a local shop, rather than buying the bag on the cover of Glamour because it tells her it will make her more desirable, then I have had a positive influence in a youth learning the value of experience over appearance. If I make a wallet that someone buys tomorrow and 50 years from now a child sneaks into his grandfather’s bedroom to touch that worn smooth leather and smell its age, then I impacted all those people that associate that long-loved piece with the man they love, and for that child I have created a memory that will last long after my body is gone and is food for the trees. And in making a memory, I have captured a moment in time.

And this is truly arting.

This entry was published on August 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm and is filed under artist statement, essays. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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