These days, we have unlimited access to beautiful things, all the time.
There are lifestyle blogs that show off an endless parade of beautiful items you may or may not be able to afford. There are personal blogs that depict “perfect” lives with all of the messiness edited out. There is pinterest, a constant stream of prettiness and ideas you’ll never have time for. There’s tumblr. There are online shops. There are ads.
This endless parade of pretty is something I find myself adjusting to. It is so easy to zone out and stare. I’ve done it for more hours than I care to admit.
The constant craving
I recently heard a talk by Buddhist teacher Martine Batchelor in which she described the choice we have in how we react to beautiful things: we can react with craving, or with creative engagement.
She gave the example of a beautiful bouquet of flowers. You can look at it, see that it is beautiful, and then immediately think, “I want that for myself.”
Or you may look at it and think, “look how beautifully they’re arranged, why can’t I ever do it that well? What’s wrong with me?”
Or, finally, you can look at it and experience its beauty for what it is and engage creatively with it.
But what is creative engagement?
Actually, I wasn’t totally sure what that meant. I think I know what it means to fully appreciate a beautiful flower, but what does it mean to engage creatively with it?
The next day, I was out on my usual Saturday run along the Willamette river. It was a rare clear day with perfect blue skies. Deep winter hadn’t set in yet, and there was a gorgeous tree covered in glowing golden leaves. Below the bank, the river reflected the branches of hundreds of trees.
I stopped to admire the view and thought about this talk. I tried to really observe all the colors around me, the stillness and crispness of the air, the sound of geese on the water.
I had an idea then. What she described, this creative engagement with the world, is an artist’s way of seeing.
If you’ve ever tried to paint, you are probably familiar with how your entire way of looking at things changes. You become aware of things you never noticed before, like the way light and color and shadow work, and how everything is interpreted through your eyes and brain. Suddenly, the world is different. It’s like you’ve switched off auto pilot and are seeing things as they really are.
The same thing can happen when you draw a sketch, write a poem, make music. Your appreciation of the sensory world becomes deepened when you try to interpret them in an artistic way. You don’t have to be a great artist to do this. I think the mere act of attempting to create something can have a profound impact on how you think.
So, my question now is this: Can we creatively engage with consumer culture?
Can we look at pictures of beautiful clothes that we are supposed to want to buy and instead of reacting with desire (“I wish I could afford that”) or inferiority (“I will never look as good as her”), look deeper at what we find beautiful in them?
Can creative activities like sewing help us to foster these kinds of reactions?
Obviously, I think the answer is yes. I think that making clothing gives you the chance to appreciate the language of fashion in a totally different way, and to disentangle yourself from the consumption cycle without rejecting the beauty, nuance, and potential of fashion.
Of course, I don’t think you need to sew in order to engage creatively with fashion. I’ve seen many people who have different creative responses, whether it’s designing and sketching or putting together creative outfits. I just think sewing is a really effective way to change your thinking about clothing.
Do you feel that sewing makes you react differently to the siren song of consumerism? Or perhaps this isn’t even an issue for some of you?
I guess my question boils down to this: how does the creative act of sewing affect the way you “consume” fashion?