For the past five years, I have been a student at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts in La Conner, Washington. Last week I began a new course—Level 2 Studies in Design, Hand and Machine Stitch—after previously completing certificate courses in Color Studies and Art and Design. During our five-day session, we dyed fabric and threads and began designing with color schemes. We played and experimented--and learned. The dyed fabrics above will be the canvas upon which we stitch an idea into a design and ultimately a beautiful piece of work.
This is not your normal art school. We are learning the elements of design and using them to make Women’s Art. We intentionally identify stitch and needlework as art. We raise our own awareness and others’ to the exquisite beauty, creativity, skill and rigor of needle art. Before I even began stitching, I completed a two-year course in Art and Design that educated me in the elements of design—color, texture, lines, space—as well as the use on paper of media such as fluid acrylics, pastels, colored pencils and markers. I learned to design and carve printmaking stamps and experimented with all manner of acrylic media. Now, as I enter the world of stitch, I can feel the ancient urges that led women to beautify, embellish and decorate that which was also functional and useful in life.
In professional life, I and others are doing something similar. We are naming and claiming Women’s Investing. In much the same way that the art world has tended to diminish the legitimacy of needle art, the financial world tends to diminish the legitimacy of fully transparent financial relationships based on personal connections and fairness for all parties. Just as needle art requires a highly developed sense of design and amazing skill, women’s investing is disciplined and rigorous with a strict emphasis on risk management. It’s not less serious or less legitimate. It’s different. A person who chooses to invest in this way is not inferior or naïve. She (or he) is different.
Our teacher, Gail Harker, is the best teacher I have ever had. Gail’s purpose is to build individuals, to help us find our voices and artistic expression. If you visit an exhibit of Gail’s students’ artwork, you will most likely notice first that each person’s work is unique. There are common foundational elements, but the outcome is different for each artist. When I work with investors, I am inspired by Gail. I remember that my job is to help lay the groundwork and foundations upon which each individual can build her or his unique portfolio.
Gail combines vast knowledge and experience with humor and freshness in a way that leaves me trusting that she is as much a learner today as she was in her youth. She knows her stuff, having spent her life immersed in art, and our classes include a healthy amount of instruction. At the same time, Gail experiments and plays. She’s unafraid to look foolish. She laughs easily and considers everything an opportunity for insight.
The financial services business could take some lessons from Gail. We need to take ourselves less seriously in order to make room for new ideas, deep listening, and alternative perspectives. We need to remember that “in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”