Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

An artist

February 26, 2015

I recently saw an exhibit of the work of Judith Scott at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit runs through March 29. Some of the work is beautiful. Some is deeply emotional, especially once you know her story.

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I quote from the Brooklyn Museum’s web site:  “Judith Scott’s work is celebrated for its astonishing visual complexity. In a career spanning just seventeen years, Scott developed a unique and idiosyncratic method to produce a body of work of remarkable originality. Often working for weeks or months on individual pieces, she used yarn, thread, fabric, and other fibers to envelop found objects into fastidiously woven, wrapped, and bundled structures.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, with Down syndrome, Scott (1943–2005) was also largely deaf and did not speak. After thirty-five years living within an institutional setting  for people with disabilities, she was introduced in 1987 to Creative Growth Art Center—a visionary studio art program founded more than forty years ago in Oakland, California, to foster and serve a community of artists with developmental and physical disabilities.

As the first comprehensive U.S. survey of Scott’s work, this retrospective exhibition includes an overview of three-dimensional objects spanning the artist’s career as well as a selection of works on paper.”

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This being a garden blog, you might ask why I’m posting images of Judith Scott’s work. I think a garden should evoke emotion, sometimes powerful emotion, even disturbing emotion, as these works do.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen February 27, 2015 at 6:40 am

Hi James! Been following, but not posting lately. Thanks for this interesting piece – and I don’t think garden blogs have to stick to garden topics. Creativity and its sources and/or manifestations are all good. I really liked the Center’s statement, especially about artistic production, not therapeutic goals. Reinforces a belief of mine that art (especially for those with disabilities) does not have to be about fixing something, but can be about expression.

Don’t really have any meaningful comments on the pieces, as my taste is geared in other directions. But hats off to the work the Center is doing, and to Judith Scott for putting her work out in the world.

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James Golden February 27, 2015 at 10:06 am

Karen, I actually found some of the pieces upsetting. They made me uneasy. But that’s some sign of their power.

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Karen February 27, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Interesting. As a former weaver, some of the pieces reminded me of what you definitely don’t want your warp to look like – and a bit of how easily things can descend in to chaos. Then I got to thinking about how what we know or don’t know about an artist can impact our viewing of their work. A bunch of other thoughts, but I can imagine some the pieces being unsettling.

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Susan February 27, 2015 at 2:53 pm

James–The first thing I thought of when I saw these was your garden. Yes they made me uneasy in the same way. Order on the edge of chaos.

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James Golden February 27, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Interesting that you say that, Susan. I, of course, immediately related them to my garden, holding them side by side, comparing, looking for differences and similarities, in my mind’s eye. I’m much more comfortable with the linear objects. The bulky, rounded ones seem to hide or obscure what’s inside. I think that’s where the uneasy feelings reside.

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sarah February 27, 2015 at 6:42 pm

I let out an OMG when I saw this post, James, as I’ve known of Judith Scott’s work for a while, coincidentally, but never expected to see it on your blog. You might be interested in this: http://judithandjoycescott.com/ which tells more of Judith’s story (and about her twin sister Joyce, who enrolled her sister in the art center where Judith’s art-making took off.) In my other life I worked for nearly 25 years for a book publisher that specialized in books for parents of kids with developmental disabilities, so we did lots of books on Down syndrome, autism etc. We published a collection of art by people with dev disabilities a couple of years ago and that’s when I learned about Judith (and that this show was planned at BMA.) In fact, Joyce Scott wrote the foreword to our book. So in a round about way, Judith added some gravitas and validation to our project thanks to her sister.
I’ve gotten used to her work. But when I first saw it, I felt as if there was something buried deep inside some of these pieces, literally and figuratively and that was unsettling. There’s something obsessive about them, too, I think. But I love them. Anyway, I wouldn’t have associated this work with your garden, in particular, though I think one of these works would be a wonderful “found object” in a garden, your garden, in fact. It’s great that Judith has gotten a big show in a major museum (she’s blown the cover off the “outsider art” label), though some of her work has been shown in other well known museums. Too bad she didn’t live to see it, though it’s hard to say how much it would have mattered to her. It was a wonderful surprise to see Judith’s work your blog!

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James Golden February 28, 2015 at 9:21 am

Thanks for this “back story,” Sarah. Six degrees of separation. I can’t now separate these works from what I know of Judith’s story and I wish I could. When I went to the Brooklyn Museum with friends, I didn’t know of this exhibit, and for a couple of minutes, I knew nothing about the artist. I was immediately drawn to some of the works, especially the linear ones, which I related to nature. The other ones brought other images to mind, bodies, packages, what most people seem to see–something buried or hidden deep inside. One very positive note: we went on a week day, and there were many teachers taking students through this and other exhibits.

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John Schucker February 28, 2015 at 7:52 am

Thank you, James, for sharing these thought provoking photos. I, too, immediately thought that many of these works could be enjoyed (briefly) in a garden setting. They would, of course, not last long in nature. However, most have a very organic quality to them, despite the lack of many truly organic materials. Obvious associations to the natural world can be insect webbing, the winding up of a spider’s prey, or even the way birds will include man made objects in their nesting materials. (I asked my 85 year old mother last spring why there were long pieces of brightly colored thread strewn on top of her junipers along her walkway. She explained she had put them there for the birds to use in making their nests.)
What may be most unsettling about these pieces is knowing that when the artist was directed towards unlocking or freeing her artistic expression, she chose to do so by imprisoning and constraining objects. Or is she protecting them, as beautifully as she can? Or secreting (hiding) them from view?

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James Golden February 28, 2015 at 9:27 am

Those are some very apt and beautiful associations, John. I incline toward the winding of a spider’s prey, but that probably says more about me than the work itself. I’d prefer to see a chrysalis, a source of transformed life, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. These images all, of course, come from the minds of people without Judith’s form of consciousness, which it seems must ever elude us and our speculations.

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John Schucker February 28, 2015 at 8:28 am

I meant to also include a more positive image – that of a chrysalis, though it was not among the first associations I made.

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Pat Webster February 28, 2015 at 9:19 am

I admire the way this blog post has generated layered discussion. The round objects made me yearn to unwrap them, to uncover whatever was hidden inside. I hadn’t made the associations with nature that were mentioned by John Schucker , but once he pointed them out, I saw them. The back story that Sarah told added more depth still. The first image, of the vacuum tubing, made me laugh — I’ve often wanted to wrap my vacuum cleaner in something similar. The second image captured my imagination fully. The shape suggests a book, the wrapping makes it a book you can’t open — except through the tiny colourful window. Other objects evoked strong positive and negative responses. Altogether, a strong show.

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James Golden February 28, 2015 at 9:34 am

Interesting comments, Pat. I admit to a delight and pleasure in seeing the plastic tubing embedded in that object. I thought it was a happy combination, showing an ability to use the most mundane materials, even materials we might see as inherently useless for art. I also agree the book is probably the most immediately “accessible” object on a rational level. Question: are the linear object “male” and the rounded, package-like objects “female”? Is that why I prefer the linear objects, or is it because I more easily relate them to nature? Rhetorical questions, of course.

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