Stripe painters may not wear stripes

From n+1: How artists must dress.

Artists must first of all distinguish themselves from members of the adjacent professional classes typically present at art world events: dealers, critics, curators, and caterers. They must second of all take care not to look like artists. This double negation founds the generative logic of artists’ fashion.

The relationship between an artist’s work and attire should not take the form of a direct visual analogy. A stripe painter may not wear stripes.

The Dress Project

Most of us assume that girls like new clothes, shopping trips, and spending a lot of money on those two things. While it isn’t always the case, it is safe to say that more girls than guys take pleasure in shopping for clothes. Whether or not this is absolute truth is not the main subject of this article. Instead, it is about the lifestyle decisions of a few friends who, realizing their own habits were beginning to clog up their creative arteries, determined to experiment a little with their consumption choices. It may be accurately described as tampering with the system on a very small, very harmless level.

Having recently cleaned out my closet for the year, I was very proud of my efforts to reduce the amount of unnecessary “stuff” in my closet. But to my dismay, in response to a blog post, a friend of mine mentioned a comment made by her Opa, which went along the lines of, “You just need one dress for the week and one dress for Sunday.” This, and, inspired her to propose taking the happy, free month of October and turning it into a thirty day fast from our clothes.

The idea was that we would wear a single dress for the whole month, every day, from morning until night. At first the idea frightened me. I had no noble complaints; my primary concern was my status. “See no evil,” my childish mind decided, and I put her suggestion on the shelf, until the end of September arrived. Disconcertingly, Avery announced that our dress project was fast approaching. Now, there is an element of competition and peer pressure in even the most loyal friendships. Friends have more influence than the media and parents combined, in many cases. My ego immediately rallied me to her cause, as there was no way I was going to be satisfied as the ordinary one while she traipsed around exuding extraordinariness.

While she began on October 1, I still needed a versatile dress – one I did not have in my closet, apparently, and needed to purchase. I may have defeated the anti-consumerism theme of the project, but at the same time, none of us were entirely against shopping. Economically, North America would be in dire straits if everybody stopped buying things, as would the rest of the world. There is nothing inherently wrong with commerce. Neither did we believe the world of fashion was wholly associated with the devil, or any hateful nonsense supporting drab dress. In fact, commerce and fashion are both good things. We want to live simple, not impoverished, lives.

Once I found a dress that would “work” (nothing perfect), I discovered in the first day that there was a thrill to this project! I would imagine a thousand outfits around this dress, surely, and they would be nicer than any outfits I had ever put together. I pranced around, unconcerned by the prosaic concerns I was convinced I had left behind as I ascended to this higher realm.

But the next morning did not treat my dress kindly. As I woke up to a black dress covered in cat hair, the merciless truth dawned on me: black is an ill-fated color. When one keeps hairy creatures as household pets, one is bound to find hair everywhere. Each morning, until the end of the month, I would curse the day I chose a black dress, and dutifully “de-hair” my dress. I was learning to deal with the limitations of a chosen “relationship” on a very small, very practical level.

On the bright side, the dress gave me something to work with. Rules, patterns, blueprints – all motivate creativity. When there are guidelines, it is easier to create something. My dress provided a type of canvas. It reminded me that I do not need half of the things I desire, and if I focus on something for a while, I can get to know its character as a “thing” in creation. There is a wealth of hidden possibilities in every part of life that most of us are too lazy to uncover. Rather than pursue mere novelty, I had the opportunity to bring out the possibilities inherent in the dress, molding them into something slightly different every day.

Perhaps, on a larger scale, we would waste less of the world’s resources if we were captured in wonder by the curve of a carefully crafted cup; the joyful noise of a neighborhood waking up in the morning; the blessed figure of a human being beside us at the kitchen table. We would no longer be animated by a surface curiosity, a desire to entertain ourselves when we get restless. Aliveness to reality in the active knowing of the God-given character of a thing can satisfy us. It is how we can relate to it on a human level, lovingly.

One month is not very long. What miniscule impact we may have had on the world was not our point. What the project did achieve was the unearthing of possibilities for what can be made of the shape of our days. The best part of the entire affair was discovering that everyday routine is also a form of worship. In the church, “liturgy” is defined as the order of worship. If every day is a unit of time in a lifetime, and my purpose in every day of my life is to worship God, then the Dress Project was my order of worship. It was part of the liturgy of my daily life.

In the end, the experience was not that dramatic. In fact, most people only noticed that I had been wearing the same dress to school every day once I mentioned the fact. By documenting our progress in Facebook albums, our project gained the praise and flattery that probably diminished any heroism in our “fast,” but also encouraged us to keep it up. It was that accountability, along with the pleasure of sharing what we made every day, which made it less of a burden and more of a fun experiment.

On November 1, I exhibited an art piece I put together, hanging pictures in an empty closet of my friend Avery in her dress. It was a nice way to conclude what I had learned during my brief lesson in stewardship, presenting our project to the critical eyes of our community. We were not purely motivated and our experiment was not expertly executed. It was just a shaky step towards a more human way of living.