Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To see something I had not seen. Plus: more about jurors.

Watercolour (10" x 14")
There’s a story that has floated around for years – even pre-internet! Probably Russian – it has that nuance. It’s about several men who share a hospital room, but only one bed is by the window. The other patients ask the man in the bed by the window to describe what he can see. Every day he describes beautiful things, interesting and intriguing things, the sky, the trees, the shifting shadows, the meadows, etc …the best part of the day is listening to his gorgeous descriptions. Then the man dies…and another man is moved to the bed by the window…and he discovers it looks out onto a brick wall.

This is the job of the artist – to be able to communicate wonder, beauty, intrigue, fascination to those who cannot, or had not, seen it. Walking round a local art show yesterday, I was saddened, puzzled, and also energized, by how few of the works were able to transform a brick wall into a wonderful scene.

Nantahala (quilt) (31" x 48")

Reading the juror’s (Karen Shaw, curator at Islip museum) comments, it was evident that this was also what she was looking for: work that showed the artist to be thoughtful, work that had content and was also able to catch and hold your attention.

Interestingly, in view of the blog discussion last week about whether jurors of art quilts shows should be themselves quilters, Karen Shaw also stated (as I did) that one of the first things she assessed was how well made a piece was – Whether it was a medium she knew anything about or not.

Being well made is important, poor workmanship can detract from content - but good workmanship cannot make up for a lack of content.
One of the things that I notice, on the rare opportunity I have to visit an art quilt show, is that so many focus on craftsmanship to the exclusion of content or thoughtfulness. I think that this may be the result of our traditional quilt making training where the emphasis was almost exclusively on technique, but also on a drive to get things made – fast! An attitude that says: “Don’t drizzle about thinking, girl, get cutting and pinning and piecing – that’s the REAL work of the quilter!!”
Frequently when I ask the maker "What did you have in mind when you made your quilt?" they tell me something about technique - this is all too post modern! that time has past.... if art quilts are to move into the “fine” art field, we have to Think, consider, contemplate, deliberate, reflect, ponder, meditate and cogitate!
Our real work is to turn the brick wall into an amazing landscape!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!
Elizabeth

3 comments:

Suzan said...

I appreciate your blog. Too many of us focus solely on technique and not enough on sound design principles.

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

Back on Feb. 11th you were talking about Buster and Crawford and form being defined by elements...."
Form is defined as the particular elements: the lines, shapes, values, colours and textures that the artist chose for a piece plus the design principles: how well those elements balance and harmonise, how much variety and tension is included; whether there are rhythms and repetitions is evident, how well the viewer is led around the piece to examine each part, how well the whole piece is balanced, and whether the proportions of the elements are in keeping with one another.

I have been thinking about this since I read it. I can understand it all but have difficulty understanding the term "tension". In a quilt would it be a unexpected color, or riotous texture? Or would it be shapes fighting each other? And do you need tension always? Could you explain this word and how you feel about it.

Elizabeth Barton said...

good question, Barbara...let me cogitate upon it and write about it in my next blog! see if I can't find an example or two. thanks! e