Sometimes we come to art THROUGH pain or maybe others of us are trying to resolve pain VIA art. Either way, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two for many. It’s one of the reasons I love Judith Scott’s (d. 2005) fiber sculptures. Like her contemporary outsider artists working in art brut or visionary art, Scott’s story is heartbreaking and hopeful all in one.
Her cocoon eggs or pods are life-size interwoven pieces of a thing, layered on top each other, with no real pathway and yet cohesive design. She stops just at the right millisecond and the work has the distinct feeling that there is neither too much nor too little. Each are complete thoughts and in them we can read her longing for her absent twin, her bottled up emotions for what she must have experienced in childhood, her communication for everything unsaid or unheard, and our inability to ever really know. There is also her emotive confusion and her love…many parts making a whole. And thank God, we’re not the only ones who feel so tightly wound and unplanned and alone like barren birds needing a hug or five.
Classified as a sculptor and an American fiber artist, Scott never repeated a color form or scheme and she liked to include precious objects and miscellaneous detritus (often “acquired” from others) in her wool wrapped interpretations. She was born with Down Syndrome which rendered her mute and deaf. When she could not be educated along with her embryonic twin sister, she was exiled off to Columbus State Institution for more than 30 years, where her clinical notes read like my elementary report cards. Does not get along well with others, restless, eats messily (still do), tears her clothing, beats others (well maybe not but I often WANT to). Scott surmounts her coexisting challenges and teaches us how to look at ALL art – what is it, what’s in it, what does it mean, and how does it feel.
Her story is not only a testament to art programs for the disabled and what they can mean in one’s life (Scott came to art through such a program and then went on in 1985 to co-create her own The Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland). The truth is that somewhere in there, in spite of the pain, is the beauty that art exists for us all. Scott poses the question, which comes first – the chicken or the egg? Which is dominant, which holds the greater meaning, the joy or the sorrow?
For more information on Judith Scott, see The Brooklyn Museum’s 2015 show Bound and Unbound, Judith and Joyce Scott and The American Visionary Art Museum: Judith Ann Scott.
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