Wednesday, August 14, 2019

musings on the shifting landscape of FLORISTRY

There is so much I have to tell you. But before I do, I have to say something about a comment I wrote on Instagram that seemed to hit a lot of nerves with people; you want to know more about what I think about the 'end of floristry.'  

A year and a half ago I was at breakfast in NYC with a mentor of mine bemoaning a talk I had to give on floristry and flower farming. This friend - a veteran of flower and gardening publishing - joked that I should just declare the END OF FLORISTRY; which gave us a good laugh. Perhaps we both were feeling exhausted by the tremendous arc of trends ranging from 'back to nature' florals, floral workshops, farmer/florists, dutch masters inspired decadence with peeled back tulips and roses, the celebration of weeds, anthuriums, spray-painted tropicals, dyed flowers, etc.

Where could the trends possibly take us from here except back to flowers in a water?

Dill, hollyhocks, phlox, crespedia, wild clematis, astilbe, yarrow and scabiosa
Over the years many students of mine have been desperate to find their own 'unique style' as they prepare to make a business for themselves and enter the enormous global arena of the internet. It's a lot of pressure to put on one's relationship to art and nature. I think about this way of artistry as being very much associated with an old view of art - the artist as singular. The artist toiling alone to channel the evocative for sale to the public. I think it's no wonder that 87% of artists in permanent collections are men - art and our formations around much of it's practice are riddled with patriarchy. 

Zoe Wonfor's sourdough cracker art.
I like to imagine a world where there is more blending of art into everyday work and practice. A friend came to visit this summer - I met him over a decade ago when he was a young performance artist and I was a curator in NYC. Now he's a teacher and I'm a farmer. We went for a walk in the woods.

As someone newly interested in teaching children, I was thirsty to hear about his classroom. He described in detail one of his lessons which led students through a reading of a classic Buddhist text to a sing-along of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain. It was a lesson about relationships. I realized his teaching practice is his art practice now. That's what I want in my life everywhere here. 

My trouble with floristry is this; as a profession, it perpetuates the idea that there is a correct way, a specific process for adoration and decoration with nature. I can show someone how to make an arrangement, I can show someone how to make a casket spray, but it's all mechanics and practice. You could just the same learn how to work an excel sheet or fill a cavity. 

I've watched countless students be afraid to handle flowers - hesitant to explore their own intuitions around color, form and texture because they believe there is a 'correct' way of doing it. What I want to teach, and make room to teach here at our new school at Worlds End is not how to arrange flowers or how to cook or how to make a garden. I want to give people an immersive experience of this place and the opportunity to connect with their own sense intuition.

Instead of asking is this good? I want them to ask do I like this?

Creating and making something from your own sense of knowing is to step inside the stream of mystery. It is a leap. It is to begin something without a plan, to feel through a process of making without expecting an outcome. Knowing and simultaneously not knowing. Thats when all the molecules line up, the waves multiply, a harmony emerges. 

We all need to have the courage to make new for ourselves. Continually and collectively. 

I'm not making an argument for florists to close up shop. In fact the opposite - I think more people should set up shop with flowers and food and nature based businesses. I think we need more people to do business differently and more importantly do business together. Networks of businesses in communities have compounded power and are better poised to tease apart the fabric of our systems in order for something new to emerge. Small businesses can share resources like freelancers, graphic designers, supply chains, bookkeepers, etc. They can form their own health insurance collectives, their own food coops. They can take care of each other better. This is a feminine economy.

Centauria Imperialis.

It's already happening in facets of the flower world. I see and talk to so many growers who are connecting with each other, helping one another and doing business together.

I see businesses like Fox Fodder Farm for example setting out to shift more resources to local small farms by reshaping the NYC flower market and attempting to blur the lines between retail and wholesale. And I'm in the process of helping some of my favorite Saipua veterans launch a new business called Et Vernal which will deliver more of our work here at Worlds End to city events. 

I've considered that perhaps my irritability with the floral world is simply a reaction to me not knowing or wanting to be a part of it anymore. I still introduce myself to strangers occasionally as a 'Florist.' But less and less.

I'm sort of making a new world for us over here now. 

Pickled celery from our garden.

FINE PRINT! I need to write more about all this, and I will. My astrologer, in my yearly leo checkup said I need to communicate more, and I will really try to do that. I want to do that. I have not found a rhythm of working on the farm and writing amidst our high season here which is so full of visitors who I want to spend time with. 

Thank you to those of you who are buying our monthly soap subscription online. A lot of effort has gone into trying to figure out how to make our farm and business more sustainable financially as we give up city event work (only 5 more, crazy)...and selling more soap is key to us being able to experiment here. So thank you. 

Thank you also to those of you who came to SUPERNATURE, the lamb meatball dinner disco. It was the best party we've ever thrown by far - all of you were so fun, such good dancers, jesus - and also so respectful of our farm and land here. The campground the next day was spotless. Save the date for SUPERNATURE 2020 -- July 25th.

And lastly; those of you who are considering our year long Gardening Course: this is going to be a real life changing commitment, and I encourage you to make the leap. You will emerge from the year confident in your own ability to grow your own food (and flowers) and have a new way of looking at your creative practice in nature. This is everything to us right now -- getting you here to show you how we're gardening and living, and then taking parts of that home to make good living and eating for your own families and communities. 


Christy said...

As someone who came into this industry 5 years ago, not knowing what it truly was or what I was doing...this speaks to me. I was always a hobby flower, veggie and animal farmer who legit thought I was the first ever farmer florist - which is what happens when you have 3 kids under 3 with 0 social media until 2014. I still feel like an imposter trying to recreate what others have already done or what my clients show me, though my hands want to add something else and my heart doesn't feel as full. Somedays I just want to go back to hobby farming, hanging with my kids, goats, sheep, dogs and veggies. I don't even know where I belong in this, but reading this makes me want to create for the love it. Grow for the bees and for myself and my community. I love reading your blogs...they make me think. Thank you.

Jaclyn Journey said...

You've articulated everything I've been thinking and feeling. I took a Dutch Masters class with you 9 or so years ago and while yes, it did open up my eyes to how to care for flowers and set me on a floral business journey for years, I think of it more often as a class on how to care for living things. I reference the idea of 'flowers just need clean water and sun' (I think that's how you phrased it) when prepping produce and when I'm cooking often. And I basically tell anyone who's interested in doing floral work the same advice and let them figure out their art on their own.

My floral business went back and forth from doing just floral design to doing wedding design to planning then back to florals and then now back to full design and planning over the last 10 years, but my heart isn't in it anymore, at least the way we were doing it. I feel myself evolving as an artist and I feel very peaceful about it. I also have an interior design business, which is a year old, and have been exploring more permanent installations vs. temporary ones (weddings) and it's been thrilling doing it my own way and letting people either jump on for the ride or stay off. We are all just learning as we go...

Kanuti said...

Interesting . So just because you are bored with “floristry “ it must be dead?
There are some amazing women out there making incrediblly beautiful arrangements, some just to photograph and share with their followers
You have become so pompous of late. I love the idea of a feminine economy, but who can afford to purchase their wares? Only your wealthiest followers can afford your beautiful blankets, or to pay $34.00 for 2 bars of soap, which I am sure is wonderful , but...
Floristry is not dead, it’s moving on without you, as you try to show your wealthy followers how to cook and grow food. Will they after they leave you? Doubt it.
Come on down off your high horse and join the rest of us, who will forever love your amazing creativity and artistry. You ridiculous musings, not so mush

Claire Miller said...

I'm really feeling this right now. The complicated relationship you have with the floral industry is very similar to mine with the restaurant industry. I really thought at one time that I would spend my life, in one way or another, behind the stove, cooking for people. At some point though, I became really disillusioned with the space, my own ego and everyone else's, and the disconnect from those I was cooking for. Like you, I have a countdown going--2 more weeks!--until I don't work in the industry any more. It's strange, that after two decades in professional kitchens I'm quitting my restaurant job, with no plans to go back. This has been coming for a really long time, and I'm excited to see where life goes next. Good luck with yours. DOWN WITH INDUSTRY! Haha...

Megan said...

@Kanuti Well, THAT was rude!

Vail said...

FINALLY, you write! I was checking daily for about six weeks and then I drifted away...and sure enough I check today for the first time in weeks, and BAM! you are here. It is like unwrapping a an unexpected gift. Thank you.

Shelley said...

You can make a funeral spray?

Kristina said...

You are leading by example and that’s enough. Documenting and sharing your own unraveling and unlearning, how you are reconnecting to your essential nature and intuition gives others a picture of what that looks like. I feel that intuition is ultimately about deep listening and that’s a skill that like any, gets better with practice. Continue listening and sharing your process, I’m here for it! I’m a fellow former art worker now just back to being an artist and working with food. I found your work through a close friend who works with nature too. I look forward to reading more of your musings, they sound very familiar to me :)

teegan said...

When I was a young teen, I found a quotation: "the purpose of a writer is to create a space in which other people can think." I don't always write as often as I like with two little kids and two part-time jobs and a garden, etc., BUT I often think about that creation of space in which people can think. Or feel. Or imagine. Or ponder. I feel like there are too few of those spaces, and the ones we have are often limited in their funds/support/quiet/etc.
Also, your mentioning needing more florists made me think of this podcast I listened to (driving to work at a farmer's market!) this morning. The rabbi/artist interviewed says at the beginning that if his life had gone differently, he would love to own a little florist shop where he only made bouquets to go on Friday night Shabbat tables in honor of the divine feminine being present on the sabbath:
Anyway, thank you for your posts. I do find them to be a space in which I'm led to think differently about things.

Anonymous said...

I had a sculpture teacher in college that taught us primarily to make artistic decisions with our gut or intuition. We were encouraged to make decisions based solely on how things felt. Such is the way with abstraction and it jerked me out of more formal art making decisions that at the time felt like a revelation. Learning to trust those decisions was another thing entirely and has taken up until fairly recently to become second nature.

But I realize now it is a skill I apply daily. It just sort of seeped in but suddenly I can see it everywhere. It informs everything I create and do: from the work I do for a living, the way I dress, how I feed myself, where I live, how I move through the world and all the amazing people that surround me. It was probably the single-most important thing I took away from art school. Remind me to try and explain that to my father one day.

Keep listening, observing, creating and sharing. Art and life are impossible to untangle. Thanks for continuing to put it out there.