I’ve written before about how I have an uneasy relationship with crafts — to put it mildly, I’m not good at crafting things, and it makes me feel anxious, like I’m somehow failing, especially in this era of a revival of interest in DIY in pop culture. I watch my friends create these amazing and beautiful things and I want them, but more than that, I want the experience of creating them. It’s not just that I think the quilts and socks and linoleum-block prints and more that my friends produce are beautiful and astounding, but that the experience of creating the craft seems to be as much a part of it as enjoying the pleasure of the craft itself.
Of course, I do own and treasure crafts my friends have made, including both gifts and things I’ve purchased from them in a professional context — I have two of Marianne Kirby’s prints, for example, hanging on my office wall. But I still persist in trying my hand at making things, and it’s an unmitigated disaster: Like the almost-complete sweater that’s sitting in my filing cabinet, where it has been for the last year, because I messed up the neckline and I can’t bring myself to pick it out, but I also can’t cover up the fact that it’s blatantly, uh, not even. Or the time I wanted to paint my living room and ended up mad as a wet hen, covered in paint, leaving ecru footprints across the carpet.
I have these visions of things in my head, and I never try to make them, because I know it would be a disaster. It’s not about having a mental block or a self-fulfilling prophecy or not trying hard enough. I’m just not a visual thinker, and I have come to accept in recent months that this is okay, and not everyone has to be good at everything. I can appreciate art without being an artist — in fact, artists need people who appreciate art in the world (although it helps when we have money to actually buy art).
There’s a reason my sense of personal style is slightly off, that my interior decor is reaching towards something but not quite there yet. It’s not that I don’t have mentors or opportunities to learn from the environment around me, but that I can’t quite pull visual environments together, even though I can do the same thing to words without thinking. If I was writing an essay to wear every morning, I’d nail it 9/10 times. But I’m not, so instead I sort of cobble something together, learning through imitation and feedback from those around me when it comes to what works and what really, really doesn’t.
But in the end, I just don’t think visually. I can tell you when something is jarringly visually wrong, but I can’t tell you why — and while I do film and television criticism and visual presentation is an important part of my analysis, and I’m very interested in the metaphors and statements made through visuals, I’m not as deft and adept as others at this, because my true skill lies in evaluating the writing, and the craft that pulls the story together in terms of words, deeds, and thoughts on the part of the characters and the actors who depict them.
Some people seem to believe there’s a hard line between visual thinking and other types of thinking: That you’re good with images, or with words, or with numbers, or with theoretical thinking, but I’d argue that’s not the case. All of us have some kind of mixture of these types of thinking, to varying degrees. Some of it may be innate, and other aspects of it are taught, but, ultimately, some people end up as very strong verbal, or visual, or numerical, or theoretical, thinkers, while others end up with more of an even mix. No kind is superior to any other, and no kind is less vital to society and living in a functional, beautiful, amazing world filled with art and books and advanced science and a myriad of other things.
I admire those with talents in two or more of these areas — I spent much of my life struggling with the fact that being a good verbal thinker didn’t necessarily mean I was inherently good at all kinds of thinking, although I’m a decent theoretical and logistical thinker. But I also think that society needs to stop promoting that idea that some kinds of thinking and some minds are better than others, and that some modes of expression are better than others. The visual thinker who makes crochet and crafts is as important as the sculptor. The talented romance novelist is as important as the famous star of literary fiction. The math teacher is as important as the mathematician. The philosopher is as important as the theoretical physicist.
Because we are all in this world together, and we all have something to bring to it. So I’m a walking craft disaster, and I have somewhat dubious taste. Luckily, I can turn words into beautiful and fascinating things, and I have lots of people around me who surround me with visual beauty, and who don’t mind making the occasional gentle style suggestion or furnishing me with the periodic fantastic art piece. All in all, I’d say I have it pretty good — and that I really should go pick that sweater out and accept the fact that I can only really knit scarves.
Image: Failed attempt at a sock, Ichunt, Flickr