I’ve been thinking some more about Artist Statements and New Year’s Resolutions! I think it all comes down to goals. The artist statement is a conglomeration of things you should be saying to yourself, and things you might be asked about by a viewer. The latter in my experience usually being about technique: “how d’you do that?” rather than “why d’you do that/” in fact I don’t think anyone has asked me Why? Though many have asked me How?
For ourselves,however, Why? is the most important question. For only then can we know if we are being successful. I actually started making quilts to be sociable – I was in a new town, knew no one and was asked if I wanted to join a quilt group. And certainly that was successful!! And is a perfectly good reason why one should make quilts.
So, then I had all these quiltmaking friends… though now they live all over and refuse (sadly) to move to N.E. Ga so that I can enjoy a natter over a cuppa tea!! But I kept on making quilts… My reason to continue was enjoyment and escape – I loved taking workshops and there’s nothing like quiltmaking for workshop opportunity!
After a while, however (i.e. about 16 workshops!), I found the workshops became of less interest, but I still kept on making quilts. By that point, I think my main goal was that of being creative or expressive. I wanted to see if I could convey a feeling I’d had about a landscape, a building, a pattern, a composition of light and shade into cloth.
I also had the goal of wanting to make No More Dogs!! (apology to canines, by the way!); it really irked me that I might make one good piece, then 5 lousy ones, then another that wasn’t too bad. I thought the Real Experts never made anything weak!!! Reading artists’ biographies soon disabused me of that idea! If you don’t take risks, you don’t make progress, and if you take risks, there is a higher failure rate. It took me a while to accept that. I still don’t take enough risks, though – it’s hard.
Finally I reached a point where my goal was to be Very Good at making quilts – I want to be able to make a quilt that would stand up compositionally against a good painting and be just as meaningful and satisfying as that painting. I want to be able to make something that really looks strong and intriguing if you see it every day. I’ve always wanted to have some activity that I excelled in, instead of being that most boring of creatures “a good all rounder”!
So it was with interest that I read in Gladwell’s book Outliers about what it takes to be an expert. He was quoting from the work of a
"The traditional assumption is that people come into a professional domain, have similar experiences, and the only thing that's different is their innate abilities. There's little evidence to support this. With the exception of the influence of height and body size in some sports, no characteristic of the brain or body has been shown to constrain an individual from reaching an expert level."
Ericsson attributes the apparently amazing gifts of musicians like Mozart, or athletes like Tiger Woods not to their inherent talents but to practice. Studying biographies of geniuses reveals that they had all spent countless hours in practicing, all had access to excellent teaching with a lot of expert feedback, and opportunities to perform that were unusual. Ericsson described "deliberate practice" as the key. "From the outside, it seems like talented people don't have to put in a lot of effort. They make it look so easy. But when you look closely, the opposite is actually true. The best performers are almost always the ones who practice the most. I have yet to find a talented person who didn't earn their talent through hard work and thousands of hours of practice."
Their tremendous skill is the result of "gradual refinements of particular aspects of performance through repetition with immediate feedback." In one study of classical pianists, those who played brilliantly had at least 10,000 hours practice by their 20th birthdays! Those who were merely adequate averaged about half of that. Similar data were evident in other spheres: chess, athletics, computer programming, medicine. It’s not just mindless practice or standard drills that work, he discovered; those who do really well have access to focused guidance and they develop very innovative practice routines: they set specific goals, learn to evaluate their work meaningfully, and refine the specific skill sets necessary. Ericsson gave the following example:
"Medical diagnosticians see a patient once or twice, make an assessment in an effort to solve a particularly difficult case, and then they move on. They may never see him or her again. I recently interviewed a highly successful diagnostician who works very differently. He spends a lot of his own time checking up on his patients, taking extensive notes on what he's thinking at the time of diagnosis and checking back to see how accurate he is. This extra step he created gives him a significant advantage compared with his peers. It lets him better understand how and when he's improving."
I don’t know that I can get anywhere near all the above, especially since I’m - ah-hum- a little over 20 (!), but my goal now is to try. I challenge you!!! Decide your goals – are your activities going to lead you toward them?
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!
PS the quilt at the top is called "Firedreams", I hope my goals don't prove to be just that!
More of my quilts can be seen on my website, please visit!