Thursday, May 20, 2010

Neither tepid nor passionless be

It’s wonderful to come across some art criticism that doesn’t pull its punches.  Peter Plagens’ recent review of the Whitney Biennial ( the major New York show that tries to “take a look at the art world in general and see what’s happening now” ) in May’s Art in America describes the show as tepid and vanilla  and “stunningly unromantic”.  His review is anything but tepid and vanilla with tasty little barbs (maybe the change in university art programs is “finally bearing dried fruit”) and spicy acid drops ( art works that exercise “all due artistic license for incompleteness, indeterminacy and superficial effect”).    One of his major concerns is that the show is “passionless” and dim.   His other main complaint is work that is so much focused on technique alone that it “scratches “ your eyeballs.

And how many shows have we seen in the quilt world that fall exactly into these two difficulties?  Many works are quite prosaic and predictable – “ah yes! seen that, seen that”.  Sadly, some of the most able amongst us are some of the most guilty of this.  Art quilters should not be cola drink manufacturers (find a successful formula and stick to it!).  It’s tempting yes, because probably (as Coca Cola found) the profits are higher that way, the public always prefers the familiar even if they don’t know who they’re voting for!

Nor should our work be solely about technique.    Too often it is evident that the artist/quiltmaker’s starting point was a technique  in which they’d just taken a workshop (or many workshops!).  There’s a place for learning technique and showing it – the beginning.

So, I’m excited by the preview images we’ve seen (Terry Jarrard-Dimond’s blog May 19(link in side bar)) of Nancy Crow’s  new work to be seen at the Schweinfurth gallery this summer.  These quilts do not come in vanilla!   Nancy uses supersaturated colour which is concentrated even more  by mixing black and white elements boldly.   The lines and shapes are formidable: firm and uncompromising.   The techniques are quiet and strong, they hold the work without drawing attention to themselves.  

Let’s move forward, avoid passionless predictability, and make all art quilt shows shine with a brighter light than the old stalwarts of the fine art world.  We want no “usual abundance of mediocre work”, pieces that are “not awful, but disappointing”, nor any “intricately silly and surprisingly joyless” work!   I challenge the mid  and mature career art quiltmakers to learn from the fine art world, and prove  that quilts are a strong gutsy medium (not grandmothers’ feminine flim-flam as so many of them think) that can deliver powerful and abiding art.

And now to see if I can follow my own advice!  Do read Plagen’s article – it’s fascinating to see the struggles within the contemporary “fine” art world and to compare them to our art quilt events….and comment! oh yes, please comment!  If you have been, thanks for reading.  Elizabeth.

8 comments:

Quilt or Dye said...

Interesting observation. The senior exhibit of art work this year at my university impressed me much the same way. Nice pieces. But once I saw them, I had no interest to go back and look at them again or to look at them closer. Now I have the words to describe the lack of response I felt to the show.

Gerrie said...

This will be my lunch time reading. I just telling my fiber arts group how excited I am to see the work of Nancy Crow this summer. I am so impressed with how her work has evolved over the years.

Diana Parkes said...

Oh yes.... although I still enjoy visiting 'textile' exhibitions, I much prefer to visit 'art' exhibitions and the more challenging they are, the better. I nolonger buy 'textile' books, instead read 'art' books. I have enough technique and this frees me up to concentrate on what I want to say. A great place to be.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Excellent article Elizabeth. It is the nether-land that kills our chances of being shown widely in major museums and art spaces. The work has to challenge the viewer one way or another. I applaud you for including yourself in "the challenge" as it is hard work.

皮皮 said...

Just do it!.......................................................

Jackie said...

I have been away from home and studio for a few weeks and return eager to resume. I am growing as an artist and want to push those edges even more. It is a delight to see Nancy Crow's work and think of pushing my own work farther--such power! I am an active person trying to keep my spirit and body intact and strong, so I set aside uninterrupted days as well as big chunks of days to work. Certainly it's sometimes difficult work! I love breaking through a problem, most often to a solution I never dreamed of! It's not always flying though, but the footwork is the foundation, isn't it? On to work--thank you for even more inspiration.

mad elena said...

What happening in the art world is not happening in the quilt world. I would love to see more interesting quilts that challenged the maker and challenges the viewer instead of the same-o same-o.
In last week's workshop Nancy Crow exhorted us to elevate our work to the level of fine art. That will be my ultimate goal.

margaret said...

By all means, let's learn from the fine art world -- and let's, at the same time, encourage ourselves and other quilters to find out more about what's being done in the fine art arena.