14 January 2010

The Knitter & Artist awaits the apology

The Cuddly Hubby left the 2 November 2009 Newsweek out for me to read. He kindly turns down the corners of articles I might find interesting. Obviously, it has been a busy time recently, since we're ten weeks behind. In this particular issue, Cuddly Hubby has marked a column by George F. Will entitled, "Magnificence Democratized." It requires a response.
The article is about Antony Gormley's Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square. If you listen to Brenda Dayne's Cast On podcast, you'll recall how excited and thrilled Brenda was to get to be one of the plinthers. For 100 days, 24 hours a day, each hour a different person got to be up on the plinth. Over the course of the summer, 2400 ordinary people each got one hour of fame. Participants were free to do whatever they wanted. Some made political statements. Some performed. Some did ordinary things. And some knit.

Mr. Will derides this democratization of achievement. Clearly, he is bothered -- possibly offended -- by the idea of literally putting ordinary people and their activities on a pedestal. But what bothers me as both an artist and a knitter, is that he uses knitting not once but twice in his article as an example of the banal.

"Some plinthers, as they were called, just sat and knitted."

"One purpose of his Trafalgar Square project was to make 'artist' a classification from which no one can escape because everything, even just sitting and knitting, is an expressive activity, and therefore 'performance art.'"

For his offense against knitting, it is tempting to put a curse on Mr. Will, that he may never again know the comforts of a warm muffler, thick mittens, or properly fitting socks; and that all his extremities may be chilly even in the warmth of August. But curses aren't nice, so I shall leave that as a mere fantasy.

Perhaps Mr. Will is unaware of how much joy the Fourth Plinth project brought? If a significant descriptor of art is that it affects our emotions, then the project certainly succeeded. I enjoyed listening to Brenda Dayne's podcast partly because she was so thrilled and so happy. That is a wonderful sort of joy. And it was a very public joy that was shared with her listeners as well as the people who were in Trafalgar Square to witness it. I suspect that many other plinthers had similar joyous experiences. In the middle of a very un-joyous 2009, I think this is rather wonderful and humane achievement.

But Mr. Will also is concerned about the definition of heroism and fame. "Can something that is valued because it is scarce -- say, fame or heroism -- be declared ubiquitous without becoming banal?"

The Women's Studies major in me is ready to rip up that bait. Mr. Will, of course, is using the common male definitions of military or political achievement. Saving lives, saving civilization, making life better for thousands or millions of people is absolutely heroic and worthy of accolades. But Mr. Will is forgetting the core of heroism -- putting the needs of others before oneself. Many of the Great Acts of Heroism involve putting a life in jeopardy so that another may be saved. But each day, every one of us gets 24 hours. How do we spend it? We'll never get it back, and each hour, each minute, each second must be spent in turn. When we spend that time on another or with another, we've spent a precious resource. And we may not spend it by saving a life, but we may spend it in a way that makes another life a little better.

And so, to remind Mr. Will and others out there, let me write down some of the Great Things about knitting.

  • You can express your interest in the mathematical genius of the universe in the way patterns are created, or in the geometry of a single line becoming any possible three-dimensional shape. (Can someone please send Mr. Will a knitted Kline bottle?)
  • You can express your own personal creativity -- knitting can be a playground for your soul. You can achieve the tremendous satisfaction of bringing something beautiful into the world.
  • You can express your love to someone in a way that is gentle and warm and functional and that will go with them. You can turn intangible love into a tangible object. You can wear something knitted by a long-dead aunt or grandmother, and still feel that love across the years and beyond the pale.

For one summer, Great Britain celebrated not the rare people and rare acts of the past that made civilization as it is, but the common people and common acts of the present that make civilization happen every day. I ask you, Mr. Will, was that such a horrible way to spend a summer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's a little hard to see what's objectionable in the plinth project--it's not as if they were proclaiming "What we're doing here is the equivalent to building Chartres" or something like that. And it's hardly equivalent to celebrity magazines either.
-Fraser