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Archive for April, 2011

Art or Craft

Art or craft.  This is a topic that comes up a lot among henna artists, and today I was hanging out with silk painters and the same issue arose.  One person complained that there were people “out there” who don’t take the art seriously and they production paint and sell things cheaply — which cheapens the Art and devalues the Artists…. so they should charge more.

Seriously? I think there is a wide spectrum between art and craft and FINE ART and low-end art.

My parents are fine artists.  They SEE something universal and try to convey that with their artwork.  My father has never achieved his goal and thus has never exhibited his artwork.  If fact, I’ve never seen his paintings and sculptures, but he talks about them a lot.  My mother hasn’t quite reached Nirvana, yet, either, but that hasn’t stopped her from sharing her art photographs with others.

Me, I’m not sure I do art.  I make things because it makes me supremely happy, and I like to share what I make with other people because it makes them happy.  I can draw flowers for 6 hours straight and if my clients are happy, so am I.  I get into the moment of creating that henna drawing and try to infuse each one with joy.  But none of us are confused about whether or not it’s Fine Art.

I draw henna designs on shirts and bags and lamps and silk.  They make me happy.  But I don’t see them as ART.  I’m a craftsperson.  I do the best I can, but no-one is going to see the meaning of life, the universe and everything by looking at my henna or other drawings.  However, if they make people smile, then my work is done.

henna inspired silk blouse

Hand-painted and jeweled silk blouse

Henna on lampshade

Indian-style bridal design hand-drawn in henna on a lampshade

Money. The silk Artist who was complaining today said that the other folks who sell things for prices that most people can afford were selling themselves short and cheapening all the other artists’ work as well.

I’m all for charging what an item is worth.  But I have to admit that my t-shirts which take 1/2 hour to draw are not worth as much as the blouse I hand-dyed, took 3 days to embellish, and encrusted with swarkovski crystals and glitter.  If I charged what the blouse was worth, it would not sell.  The silk Artist would say it’s perfectly OK for it not to sell because you maintain its value that way.  The practical person in me says, “Um, I have to contribute to the mortgage payments and food budget…”

The silk Artist lamented that there are no real patrons of Art anymore….me, too.  I’d love a sugar daddy…um, patron.  But for every Michealangelo who was patronized, there were a zillion guys out there selling their stuff by the river trying to earn enough to pay their rent…. Did those popular artists who hawked their wares by the Tiber cheapen Michealangelo’s work?  No. But I sure hope they were able to pay their bills!

I think there is a place for all of us on the art spectrum.  There’s the stuff we produce with as little labor for the results as possible (my t-shirts) and there’s the labors of love (my silk blouse — which I did not sell; I had to give it to a friend b/c I knew it would make her supremely happy.)  The silk Artist creates such beautiful and intricate things.  She pushes herself and her techniques and the artform in bold directions.  The rest of us are inspired by her, but we can’t afford her work.  I hope she has a patron….

Anybody want to be my patron?  Hmmm.  Guess I’d better keep making things that sell…

reposted from Musings from a Hennaphile, September 23, 2010

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Why henna?

Why don’t you do real tattoos?

That’s a question I get fairly often, and my standard response is, “I’m scared of needles.”

And that is true.  Poking people with needles is incomprehensibly terrifying.  But the other truth is, I love henna.

The first thing I love about henna is that it is made from a plant.  Henna powder is simply ground up henna leaves and it is up to me to transform that powder into a powerful staining paste.  I mix in lemon juice and let the paste sit overnight to allow the dye to begin its release.  The next day I add in molasses (to help the paste stick to the skin and also for a silky smooth texture) and essential oils. Lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils all have monoterpenes which help make the dye easier for human skin to absorb.  And the other essential oils I add such as geranium, vetiver, and ylang-ylang have aromatherapy benefits.  As I mix the paste, strain it, and pack it into cones, I feel like an alchemist, creating something that will not only stain the skin a beautiful color, but also improve your mood just by smelling the fragrance.

Next, I love to draw.  And more specifically, I love drawing the kinds of designs you can draw with henna.  I love lines, and henna is all about lines.  I also love the challenge of drawing on people where the surface is always a bit different — I love making designs work with the contours of human arms, hands, shoulders… each design is new and fresh because each canvas is unique and wonderful.

And third, I love how henna has a process, a lifespan.  The paste is only the first step.  After that flakes off, the bright orange stain is left behind — and that mixes with the body chemistry and oxidizes with the air to create a highly personal color.  The color that I get with henna may not be the same color that you get — even if I use the same batch.

I love how henna deepens in color, then gradually fades and all the shades in between.

henna, persian design, orange

Henna is bright orange at first

persian henna design, temporary henna tattoo, brown

The next day, the design has deepened in color

It’s magic.

OK.  There are concrete scientfic reasons why henna works.  But I embrace them as magic.

Henna is beautiful.  It lifts your mood (both with fragrance and design) and it lasts long enough to appreciate it, but doesn’t outstay its welcome.

No needles required.

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