For the past ten years or so, I have been making art work that involves needlework on an ambitious scale. It was back in 1998 that I started a project called Baby Pictures that still hangs in our local family health center in Queens. The project consisted of about 65 little handknit sweaters that became backgrounds for baby pictures that I had collected and copied from people around the world. Each person also wrote their name, date of birth and three things about themselves. The piece was an attempt to encourage the people in the waiting room to feel less afraid, to remember that everyone has been a baby once, and that we all have more in common than we might think, especially in our wonderful, multi-ethnic neighborhood. At a certain point in making that project, a woman I knew said something along the lines that I should be making those sweaters for real babies not an art project because that was a waste of sweaters that could be doing real good. And she was an artist herself.
Since then, every time I have made a new project, sooner or later, someone and sometimes many someones tell me essentially the same thing: I should have been knitting or crocheting that for homeless babies instead of wasting all that yarn on art.
This pencil project has generated far more press than any of my past projects and so lots of people have seen it and commented on it and, inevitably, there are many who have said "what a waste, you should be knitting for the homeless".
To those who say that, I have ask this question in return: if you believe that it is a waste to use yarn and knitting skills to make art, then do you believe that it is a waste of ink and paper for a poet to write poetry? Should they be using their ink and paper to write first aid manuals? And what about painters? Should their paint be used to paint homeless shelters and the canvas to make clothing for the homeless?
I will probably always get those comments as long as needlework remains one of my main media. As a friend often tells me, I need to get a thicker skin. But then, if I had a thicker skin, maybe my art would be...even worse!