Don't Blow It (redux) / by Chelsea Snow

This post originally appeared on on November 6, 2015
80 tubes of oil paint in the best 70's palette ever.

80 tubes of oil paint in the best 70's palette ever.

A while back I made an amazing thrift store score: a huge portfolio and two bags filled with Artex products: unused velveteen paint by number panels (including instructions) and 80 of the actual tubes of paint in all the colors, circa 1978. I knew I needed this in my life, but didn't give much thought to why--or what I would do with it.

The longer I waited to make something out of these materials, the more strangely precious they became--I've poked around on eBay and the panels sell for literally dozens of dollars apiece. So I got myself all worked up about it, and just sat and stared at the virgin velveteen renderings of bizarre 70's iconography: an ear of corn, a lounging cowboy, a fierce tiger. Over the course of a couple conversations about what I'm doing/making/working on with some really smart people, I began to unpack exactly what I was so hung up on about these materials and why I'm even intrigued with ugly 70's kitsch to begin with.

Here's what came up. 

1. I have a scarcity mentality

Somewhere deep inside me, there's a belief that there isn't enough of anything to go around. So when I have something, I tend to really hold on to it for fear that that's all there is. This belief leads to hoarding, which leads to paralysis, which leads to guilt, which leads to shame, which leads fucking nowhere. Sound familiar? I have to tell myself daily that there is, in fact, enough. More than enough. Some days it's easier to believe than others.

2. I don't even remember the 70's

I think that for a while now I have maintained this weird pride of having been a child of the 1970's, when in reality, I don't even remember them. Not because I was too stoned, but because I was a toddler. So what is it about this era that makes me feel connected to it? When I take a good look at what was happening in art and design in that decade, I for the most part want to barf. But yet here I am, worshipping these goddam panels. 

3. Kitsch is a crutch

I really don't want to sound like an art snob, but like my fondness for the 70's, I'm beginning to have mixed feelings about kitsch, and its role in my life. It is defined as: art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way. I like these velveteen panels because irony? I realized that I lean on kitsch so that I don't have to take anything seriously. So I can claim that everything is a joke. So that there can always be some snide undertone that keeps me from having to be vulnerable and real. And that is just BORING.

4. Can we talk about the word boring?

I have always had a motto for whenever people (especially kids) say that they're bored: you're notbored, you're boring. Easy to say coming from a perpetually busy person, who has never been bored. But for the first time ever, I heard the words coming out of my mouth. Not "I'm bored" but "I'm boring." Being in art school makes me feel like a total square. I have kids and cats and a partner and a leak in the basement and I can pretty much only have one drink or I'll have a raging hangover. My backstory? Not that interesting. The stuff I was working on before starting school? Vanilla. Basically I have been beating myself up with this word "boring" and trying to convince myself that to be "interesting" I had to be all these things that I'm not (anymore). Also, those panels? They're probably boring. I know it's not true, but jesus. Also, am I a teenager right now? Jesussssssss.

5. Instructions are a creativity killer

So back to this paint by number thing. Part of what is so paralyzing about a kit--or any kind of structured project is the fact that they have these instructions attached. They have rules. I was a pretty vigilant rule and instructions follower as a kid--doing things by the book worked almost every time, and there's something really satisfying about that. But as an artist, there can't be instructions. An artists job is to break the rules--something I think I started doing when I started Bricolage, but have sort of stopped doing as much as I take the business more seriously and try to sustain it from afar. So now I have to break the rules, and I'm confronted with this really blatant example of how the whole world really doesn't want us to do that. The Artex corporation did not want people (women) to be creative. They wanted women to keep their hands busy, to follow the rules, and to stay in their place (in the home). So even though I know this already, and everyone knows this already, there's still a weird internalized part of me believes that the rules (all of them) need to be followed: a woman's place is in the home, her creativity should be used for baby making, you have to color inside the lines, paint by the numbers, don't blow it, etfuckingcetera.

Fun AND rewarding? Sign me up!

Fun AND rewarding? Sign me up!

6. I feel like I'm blowing it--or about to blow it, all of the time

I am not a completely self-hating person. I know these statements aren't TRUE, but they are thoughts that riddle me with anxiety, and if I'm not totally mindful and conscious of what I'm doing/saying, it's very easy to believe them. So what exactly do I mean by blowing it? Here are some examples:

  • I'm fucking up my kids.
  • My business is failing.
  • I can't seem to get my shit together.
  • My life doesn't look like it should.
  • I make stupid art that nobody cares about.
  • I don't have enough money/time/energy/love/patience to go around.
  • I'm squandering my time on this planet, and I'm not getting any younger.
  • At any moment I could 100% fall apart.
  • If I touch those panels I will most likely ruin them AND THEN WHAT?!
Can you see the ear of corn in the background? It's the best part.

Can you see the ear of corn in the background? It's the best part.

It should come as no surprise that in a fit of frustration, I cut the words "DON'T BLOW IT" into the beautiful/horrific yellow corn panel, and then reverse appliquéd the words with teardrop fabric and gold thread. The other two are works in progress, and will hopefully make sense and reach just a little further than pure irony ever did into the guts of what I'm trying to get at here.