Gathering Blue

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Art and Creative Instinct Theme Analysis

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Gathering Blue is set in a town that, long after a worldwide catastrophe called the Ruin, is primarily characterized by the struggle to survive. It is a world without art, a world in which the villagers see art as lacking any practical purpose, and therefore as being useless. The novel focuses, though, on three young artists: Kira, who excels at weaving, Thomas, who excels at carving wood, and Jo, who excels at singing. Through the experiences of these artists in a village without art, the novel comments on art and the creative instinct, as well as the way that art can be abused by the powerful and the requirements and responsibilities of art.

In the novel, the “creative gift’ is presented as almost mystical, something that no one—including the artists themselves—fully understands. Kira’s develops her talent for weaving in part by practicing with her mother, Katrina, but for the most part her abilities require no education at all: she’s born with them. Similarly, Thomas becomes a great wood carver without anyone to help him, and Jo learns to sing without any training whatsoever. Further, at times the artists’ creativity gives them an almost magical power to see the future. We see this most clearly in Kira, who senses whether there is danger, or whether something important is going to happen, whenever she touches the cloth she wove as a child. In this way the novel seems to suggest that artists are in tune with the world and are able to represent and understand that world in profound and powerful ways.

While the origin of artistic talent is presented as mysterious, the government of the village—the Council of Guardians—shows itself to be very adept at using art. The Council takes the three artists of the village from their uncomfortable circumstances and gives them comfortable lives in the Council Edifice. But the Council also gives them very specific, very controlled jobs for their art: to embroider the robe, carve the staff, and sing the Ruin Song that are the centerpieces of the village’s annual Gathering. And further, the song and artifacts perform a very specific purpose at the Gathering: they describe the history of the world in such a way as to show an endless cycle of growth and decay that will teach the villagers that, since “Ruin” is inevitable and no real progress can be made, it’s every man for himself. Put another way: the Council uses the artists it controls to produce art that influences the people it rules to act in a way that benefits the government. There is a name for art used in this sort of political way — propaganda.

As the novel progresses, Kira and the other artists come to be unsatisfied with the “art” that they are being asked to produce. Part of this dissatisfaction comes from the fact that there is no actual creativity to their art: they are told what to do. Even when Kira is given the opportunity to design the undecorated part of the robe, it’s clear that the Council is going to tell her what to weave. But such “controlled” art is also unsatisfying because it makes the art worse. Both Kira and Thomas come to feel that they have lost touch with their innate creativity when they are working for the Council. Thomas comments that the carving he made as a child was far more creative than anything he’s done for the Council.

Ultimately, Kira decides to take control of her art, and to weave the undecorated part of the robe according to her own creative instincts, not the orders of the Council. Kira realizes that art is powerful, but recognizes that it is most powerful when controlled by the artist herself, and when she decides to stay in the village rather than leave with her father she embraces the fact that through art an artist can share their own vision with the world and create change.

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Art and Creative Instinct ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Art and Creative Instinct appears in each chapter of Gathering Blue. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Art and Creative Instinct Quotes in Gathering Blue

Below you will find the important quotes in Gathering Blue related to the theme of Art and Creative Instinct.
Chapter 1 Quotes

"Of course not. Your strong hands and wise head make up for the crippled leg. You are a sturdy and reliable helper in the weaving shed; all the women who work there say so. And one bent leg is of no importance when measured against your cleverness. The stories you tell to the tykes, the pictures you create with words — and with thread! The threading you do! It is unlike any threading the people have ever seen. Far beyond anything I could do!"

Related Characters: Katrina (speaker), Kira
Page Number: 6-7
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback, Kira remembers something her mother, Katrina, told her before her untimely death. Katrina, rather than criticize Kira for her physical weakness and crippled leg, praised her daughter for her intelligence and creativity. Most of all, Katrina encouraged Kira to weave thread--an activity for which Kira showed notable aptitude.

Katrina's behavior toward her daughter shows that in spite of the atmosphere of fear and competition in Kira's world, there are good, kind people who are willing to help others instead of fight with them. Katrina's gentle, encouraging treatment of her daughter might seem perfectly natural to readers, but Lowry makes it clear that in Kira's village, it's not the norm at all: even mothers usually don't treat their own children as kindly as Katrina does. The flashback is also important in that it shows us where Kira gets her aptitude for weaving--a talent that, in the harsh, competitive village, might appear "useless."


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Chapter 2 Quotes

Kira had always had a clever way with her hands. When she was still a tyke, her mother had taught her to use a needle, to pull it through woven fabric and create a pattern with colored threads. But suddenly, recently, the skill had become more than simple cleverness. In one astounding burst of creativity, her ability had gone far beyond her mother's teaching. Nov/, without instruction or practice, without hesitancy, her fingers felt the way to twist and weave and stitch the special threads together to create designs rich and explosive with color. She did not understand how the knowledge had come to her. But it was there, in her fingertips, and now they trembled slightly with eagerness to start. If only she was allowed to stay.

Related Characters: Kira, Katrina
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Lowry vividly describes the nature of Kira's creativity. Kira is a fantastic weaver: she instinctively knows how to manipulate thread to make beautiful, elaborate patterns. The key word here is "instinctive"--although Lira has had her fair share of training, thanks to Katrina, even she doesn't really know how she does it--her talent for weaving is like a magical power, beyond the limits of human comprehension.

It's interesting to note that Kira almost seems more concerned with continuing to weave than with continuing to live in the village at all; put another way, she only cares about her life insofar as she's allowed to continue pursuing her passion of weaving.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Now, secret in her hand, the cloth seemed to speak a silent, pulsing message to Kira. It told her there was danger still. But it told her also that she was to be saved.

Related Characters: Kira
Related Symbols: Kira’s Cloth / Thomas’s Carving
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Kira clutches one of her prized possessions--a tiny piece of cloth. When Kira is feeling anxious or uncertain, she touches her cloth, and usually feels better. In this situation, Kira is preparing to listen to the Guardians' verdict about whether or not she'll be allowed to remain in the community.

Kira's cloth is an important symbol of the way her mind works. Unlike most of the people in the community, Kira is thoughtful and has an "inner life"--she has ambitions, sympathies, anxieties, etc. (It's hard to imagine Vandara, for example, thinking deep thoughts.) Kira's thoughtfulness and introspection seem closely tied to her talents as an artist. Many artists say that they have an "intuition" for creation--without knowing why, they're able to make artistic choices that lead them to create beautiful music, art, literature, etc. Kira's cloth, then, makes the artistic process something more literal and even fantastical. Kira doesn't know why her cloth is right, but she trusts it--in other words, Kira's cloth works in the same way as her creative intuition.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"This is the entire story of our world. We must keep it intact. More than intact."
She saw that his hand had moved and was stroking the wide unadorned section of fabric, the section of the cloth that fell across the Singer's shoulders.
"The future will be told here," he said. "Our world depends upon the telling.”

Related Characters: Jamison (speaker), Kira
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jamison shows Kira the robe that she'll be working on all year. The Robe is designed to depict the history of the world: an endless process in which civilizations rise out of nothing, become powerful, and then die out once again. Jamison tells Kira that she'll have the job of depicting the future of the world, embroidering a vision of the future on the Singer's Robe.

Although Kira doesn't yet realize how sinister Jamison's plan is, she recognizes that the Singer's Robe is a teaching tool for the entire community, and she also realizes that as a talented artist, she has a lot of power over the community. Every single person in the village attends the Ruin Ceremony--there, they study the Singer's Robe, staff, and song in order to learn about the world. Because the Ruin Ceremony is the villagers' only source of information about the broader external world, the content of the ceremony (what the Robe depicts, for example) is crucial--the villagers can be compelled to do or believe almost anything based on what they see at the ceremony.

Chapter 9 Quotes

The Singer's robe contained only a few tiny spots of ancient blue, faded almost to white. After her supper, after the oil lamps had been lit, Kira examined it carefully. She lay her threads — the ones from her own small collection and the many others that Annabella had given to her — on the large table, knowing she would have to match the hues carefully in daylight before she began the repairs. It was then that she noticed — with relief because she would not know how to repair it; and with disappointment because the color of sky would have been such a beautiful addition to the pattern — that there was no real blue any more, only a hint that there once had been.

Related Characters: Kira, The Singer
Related Symbols: Blue, The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

In this symbolic scene, Kira studies the Singer's robe and realizes that it's almost entirely missing the color blue. Traditionally, the color blue has been associated with mercy, love, and intimacy. Thus, for the Singer's robe to be missing blue is a sign of a broader problem in the society that's based around the Ruin Ceremony: it's missing compassion. Based on everything we've seen in the village, Kira's world is cruel, brutish, and competitive; it's rare that one person will help another person out.

The passage also suggests that there was blue in the Singer's robe--in a symbolic sense, one could say that there used to be compassion in the world. From the reader's perspective, most of the behavior that goes on in Kira's world is barbaric, and her society seems dystopian. By craving the color blue (and the emotions that go with it), Kira seems to be yearning for contact with an earlier time, and also for contact with us, the readers.

When he read the word hollyhock aloud with his finger on the word, she saw that it was long, with many lines like tall stems. She turned her eyes away quickly so that she would not learn it, would not be guilty of something clearly forbidden to her. But it made her smile, to see it, to see how the pen formed the shapes and the shapes told a story of a name.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Kira watches as Thomas the Carver reads from a book. Kira, as a woman, hasn't been allowed to learn how to read--her community forbids women from educating themselves in any meaningful way. Although Kira can't understand the words she's looking at, she gets pleasure from the pictorial quality of the letters--the fact that certain words and letters look like the things they're describing.

The fact that Kira hasn't been allowed to learn how to read--something we weren't aware of until this moment--reinforces the repressive, sexist nature of her community. Women, because they're physically weaker, are considered less important than men--they can't hunt, so they're certainly not worth educating. And yet Kira's ability to partially grasp the meaning of language, even if she doesn't understand the specific words, shows that her intelligence and creativity are stronger than the restrictions the community has placed on her existence.

"It's a lovely thing," he said, seeing the small cloth. Kira stroked it before she closed the lid.
"It speaks to me somehow," she told him. "It seems almost to have life." She smiled, embarrassed, because she knew it was an odd thing and that he would not understand and could perhaps find her foolish.
But Thomas nodded. "Yes," he said to her surprise. "I have a piece of wood that does the same. One I carved long ago, when I was just a tyke.
"And sometimes I feel it in my fingers still, the knowledge that I had then.” He turned to leave.
That you had then? No more? The knowledge doesn't stay? Kira was dismayed at the thought but she said nothing to her friend.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver (speaker)
Related Symbols: Kira’s Cloth / Thomas’s Carving
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Kira and Thomas compare their prized possessions--Kira has a cloth; Thomas has a piece of wood. Both possessions seem to serve (or have served) a similar purpose: they inspire the owner's creativity, in a way that's impossible to put into words. Thomas and Kira know that their possessions help them think creatively and intuitively, yet they could never teach their creative process to someone else--it's a mystery even to them.

It's important to notice that Thomas is speaking about his piece of wood in the past tense: he once had a strong creative streak, but his time working for the Guardians has restricted this creativity. The passage foreshadows Kira's realization that the Guardians control artists by limiting their creativity: if Kira spends enough time with Guardians, then her cloth will stop speaking to her, too. The passage also suggests that young people in particular have a natural creative tendency, which often vanishes when they get older (although there are many exceptions, of course).

Chapter 11 Quotes

The fabric gave a kind of answer but it was no more than a flutter, like a breeze across her that she would not remember when she woke at dawn. The scrap told her something of her father — something important, something that mattered — but the knowledge entered her sleep, trembling through like a dream, and in the morning she did not know that it was there at all.

Related Characters: Kira, Christopher
Related Symbols: Kira’s Cloth / Thomas’s Carving
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, Kira's creativity and intuition fail her. She's been told that the "beasts" that supposedly surround her village are just myths, and she's beginning to distrust Jamison and the other Guardians who rule her village. And yet Kira isn't sure what the future holds. Basically, she's beginning to doubt the reality of her community, but she doesn't know what to put in its place.

Because Kira's cloth is a symbol of artistic creativity and intuition, the quotation suggests that Kira, in spite of her obvious talent, isn't a full artist yet. Previously, Kira's creative instinct has helped her decide how to interact with the Guardians; now, however, she's clueless. By the time the novel is over, Kira will have discovered a way to use art to tell the truth, exposing the Guardians' lies to the villagers. For the time being, though, she'll have to wait for artistic inspiration to hit her.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Ruin. Rebuilding. Ruin again. Regrowth. Kira followed the scenes with her hand as larger and greater cities appeared and larger, greater destruction took place. The cycle was so regular that its pattern took on a clear form: an up-and-down movement, wavelike. From the tiny corner where it began, where the first ruin came, it enlarged upon itself. The fires grew as the villages grew. All of them were still tiny, created from the smallest stitches and combinations of stitches, but she could see their pattern of growth and how each time the ruin was worse and the rebuilding more difficult.
But the sections of serenity were exquisite. Miniature flowers of countless hues flourished in meadows streaked with golden-threaded sunlight. Human figures embraced. The pattern of the peaceful times felt immensely tranquil compared to the tortured chaos of the others.
Tracing with her finger the white and pink-tinged clouds against pale skies of gray or green, Kira wished again for blue. The color of calm.

Related Characters: Kira
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kira studies the Singer's Robe and grasps the vast story of history that it's designed to tell. The Robe is covered with cyclical patterns, in which a civilization arises, grows, and then is consumed with fire. If there is an overall arc to history, it's that life is getting harder and harder--rebuilding gets more difficult with every ruin.

Although Kira doesn't fully grasp the implications of the Robe's version of history, she already disagrees with it. Where the designers of the Robe in years past have painted history as a story of death and destruction, Kira--a naturally compassionate person--sees history differently. She focuses on the happy moments in the lifespan of a civilization--the points when communities took care of one another instead of competing or fighting. One could say that the Robe was designed to inspire Kira's village's attitude toward life: the village thinks that life is a constant process of fighting and avoiding danger, so it makes sense that the Robe, which teaches the people of the village, would see history in identical terms. Kira, by contrast, sees life as an opportunity for cooperation and even love--thus, she disagrees with the story the Robe is telling.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“So we are each artists, and we were each orphaned, and they brought us each here.”

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver, Jo
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Kira begins to see that the Guardians aren't as trustworthy as they've seemed. Kira is an orphan, brought to live with the Guardians shortly after her mother's death. The same is true of Jo and Thomas: their parents were mysteriously killed, after which they came to make art for the Ruin Ceremony. Kira realizes the truth: the Guardians are probably responsible for their parents' deaths. Recognizing that art is extremely important to the community, the Guardians have killed villagers in order to control their children.

Kira's realization suggests that art—far from being useless, as she'd previously been taught—is of the utmost importance to the village, and to the Guardians' power. Indeed, art is so important that the Guardians are willing to murder innocent people just to be able to control it. Kira won't fully grasp the importance of art to the Guardians until the book's final chapter.

Chapter 16 Quotes

As Kira prepared for bed, she thought about the frightened, lonely tyke below. What songs were they forcing her to learn? Why was she here at all? Ordinarily an orphaned tyke would be turned over to another family. It was the same question that she and Thomas had discussed the day before. And the answer seemed to be the conclusion they had reached: they were artists, the three of them. Makers of song, of wood, of threaded patterns. Because they were artists, they had some value that she could not comprehend. Because of that value, the three of them were here, well fed, well housed, and nurtured.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver, Jo
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:

Kira has discovered that there's a small child living in the Guardians' building: Jo. Like Kira and Thomas, Jo is a talented artist--her singing will be featured at the annual Ruin Ceremony, alongside Kira's weaving and Thomas's woodcutting. Strangely, thinking about Jo's situation--locked away in a strange building--makes Kira more aware of her own. She and Jo are no different: they've both been ripped away from their old homes and "imprisoned" in the Council Edifice. Although Kira is allowed to leave the building at any time, she's only offered such freedom because the Guardians are confident that she'll come back every time: she's too frightened of beasts, and too addicted to nice clothes and warm baths to run off. Jo, a younger and less complacent child, might run away without warning; as a result, she has to be locked up. Kira realizes that she, Jo, and Thomas are being imprisoned because of their artistic abilities--her task is now to find out what use the Guardians have for them.

Kira did too. She wanted her hands to be free of the robe so that they could make patterns of their own again. Suddenly she wished that she could leave this place, despite its comforts, and return to the life she had known. She buried her face in the bedclothes and for the first time cried in despair.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song
Page Number: 171-172
Explanation and Analysis:

As Kira spends more time repairing the Singer's robe (and as she investigates the Guardians' deceptions more thoroughly), she becomes increasingly reluctant to cooperate with the Guardians' authority. She enjoys the opportunity to weave, but she resents the fact that she's being ordered what to weave--being forced to work efficiently but not creatively.

In effect, Kira cries during this scene because she realizes that she values artistic freedom more highly than material luxury. The Guardians offer her a fancy lifestyle to ensure that she'll cooperate with their artistic aims. But Kira knows from talking to Thomas that a lifetime spent working on the robe will destroy her innate creativity--like Thomas, she'll lose her "spark" of inspiration, her most precious possession. Overcome with fear of losing her creativity to the Guardians' commands, Kira begins to plan an escape.

Chapter 17 Quotes

"Why must there be such a horrible place?" Kira whispered to Thomas. "Why do people have to live like this?" "It's how it is," he replied, frowning. "It's always been."
A sudden vision slid into Kira's mind. The robe. The robe told how it had always been; and what Thomas had said was not true. There had been times — oh, such long ago times — when people's lives had been golden and green. Why could there not be such times again? She began to say it to him.
"Thomas," she suggested, "you and I? We're the ones who will fill in the blank places. Maybe we can make it different."

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver, The Singer
Page Number: 177-178
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Kira talks with Thomas about the Fen—a place that seems similar, but even worse than Kira's home village. Kira is well-aware of the horrors of life in her village: infants are murdered, children are beaten, the sick are left to die, etc. She asks Thomas why these things continue to happen, and Thomas offers the conventional wisdom: "that's just the way it is."

In effect, Thomas is saying that the force of routine (and, in a broader sense, tradition and history) keeps the villagers (and the people of the Fen) passive and complacent. They have no model for how life could be, other than the way it is now; thus, they continue hurting one another, unsure of any other kind of culture. Kira, on the other hand, thinks that she can use her artistry to make the village and Fen a better place: by exposing the people to happiness, peace, and cooperation, she can prove that life need not be harsh and cruel--in short, that constant pain is not necessarily "the way it is."

Chapter 23 Quotes

The three of them — the new little Singer who would one day take the chained Singer's place; Thomas the Carver, who with his meticulous tools wrote the history of the world; and she herself, the one who colored that history — they were the artists who could create the future.

Related Characters: Kira, Thomas the Carver, Jo
Related Symbols: The Robe, Staff, and Ruin Song, The Singer’s Chain
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important quotation, Kira first begins to realize how powerful she, Thomas, and Jo are. Because they have artistic talent, they've been tasked with performing and depicting the history of the world. Indeed, the Ruin Ceremony--the cloak, the staff, the song, etc.--is itself a history of human civilization, which Kira and her friends are tasked with polishing year after year.

Kira begins to realize how powerful she is: she has the ability to tell a story of the future, rather than merely rehashing the past. As long as Kira obeys the guardians and simply repairs the Singer's robe year after year, she's sending a message to the people of the village that nothing is ever going to change. But if she were to change the robe to depict a better potential future, then Kira could send a different message to her audience of villagers.

The guardians with their stern faces had no creative power. But they had strength and cunning, and they had found a way to steal and harness other people's powers for their own needs. They were forcing the children to describe the future they wanted, not the one that could be.

Related Characters: Kira, Thomas the Carver, Jo
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Kira comes to realize how the guardians use art and performance to control their society. Kira, along with her friends Thomas and Jo, are inadvertently using their gifts to tell a story about society: a story in which there is no progress; just continuous death and destruction. By telling this story at the Ruin Ceremony, year after year, Kira and her fellow artists contribute to the culture of the village--in other words, they're helping reinforce the idea that the universe is dark and dangerous, and it's every man for himself. The guardians want to maintain this worldview, because it allows them to control society, knowing that the villagers are too competitive, disorganized, and afraid to revolt. Throughout the novel, Kira has been told that her gifts are both useful and useless. Here, at the novel's end, she finally realizes why art is so important: it creates attitudes and mindsets. By upholding the wrong status quo with her art, Kira accidentally keeps evil people in power.