Oftentimes the quickest way to squelch an otherwise enjoyable impulse is to couch it in academic terms. For example, thinking about “a brisk morning walk” evokes benign images of fresh air, dew-spangled grass, pastel skies, and perhaps birdsong. “Reducing cardiovascular disease risks” sounds not so enticing.
What if you love to knit? Do you envision a pleasant fall of scarves, mittens, and hats worked in glorious colors of wonderfully soft yarns? That’s closely allied with considering “sensibilities of material and material understanding, making and haptic perception” but you mightn’t ever guess so unless you read this scholarly paper or one similar.
Set aside for a moment the “ugh” feeling of antipathy sometimes engendered by reading abstracts to journal articles, and look for the twofold joy that awaits in academic treatments of interesting subject areas.
First, there is a peculiar triumphant satisfaction in translating dense and occasionally arcane language into vivid, easily recognizable form. For instance, in the example referenced above, “sensibilities of material and material understanding” means “I know how to choose my yarn and my needles, and I pretty much know how this hat is going to come about.” “Making and haptic perception” have to do with “I respond to the way this yarn feels, looks, and knits up.”
Second, academic research is very much about taking time to explore new facets. Isn’t it fascinating to think that even a commonplace endeavor – such as creative arts – can be understood from so many angles? What fun to consider one’s personal creative practice, for example, in an entirely new light.
“It is not art’s obligation to make people feel comfortable.”
Christine is studying the intersection of social activism and crafting. Epistemologically speaking, she is locating relevant voices in the field, positioning her learning within a theoretical framework, and contextualizing that theory within structured applications. She uses her studies as a way to critically consider the power of art in social change.
Does that sound formal and distant, or what? What does all that actually mean? What is she doing, really?
Christine is meeting and observing art activists at workshops and rallies near and far. She is reading books, blogs, papers, and other firsthand accounts of craftivists, their disciples, and their efforts. She is looking up definitions, and defining for herself, the terms of art she encounters in her readings: yarn bombing, craftivism, upcycling, theater pageant. She is looking for scope and range, observing that “…actions which are highly aesthetic and art-heavy tend to get way more media coverage.” “The other end of the spectrum included things like dressing up as carrots and handing out pamphlets. I was not a fan of this idea. In my opinion, art should be used politically to get people to see the gravity of a situation. It is not art’s obligation to make people feel comfortable.”
She incorporates her new learning into her existing personal creative practice, getting ever better with knitting needles, sewing machines, and re-visioning found items from the campus Free Box. She invites her immediate community to join her in weekly craftivism circles where she facilitates the exchange of skills and ideas. Through practice, experimentation, workshops, and observation she is developing her craft both in the artistic sense and the applied community-level sense.
In other words, Christine synthesizes her interests in creative art and her interests in provoking social change, resulting in an independent study which transcends the library, desk, and computer screen. She is living her learning, using art as a way to connect activists, messages, and recipients around the world.