Watching the dance show on TV last night (and stitching of course, forever stitching!), listening to the judges’ comments on the individual dancer’s performances, I was struck by how applicable those comments were to Art Quilts.
The most frequent criticism was that the dancer’s technique was flawless, but the performance lacked something. And oh, haven’t we all seen quilts just like that? Beautifully pieced, neatly assembled, straight binding etc but just blah. They don’t grab you. Recently I’ve seen some exquisite pieces with tiny bits of painted fabric, lots of extra stitching, many details…but they’re dead. Oh yes, beautiful, but on to the next one, this one’s a corpse.
And technique isn’t limited to sewing and assembly skills. I think it applies to the composition too. You can have a piece that is harmonious (no sore thumbs, no kitchen sink), that is well balanced, where the rhythms and repetitions are appropriate and varied, where there aren’t any elements that are unnecessary – but they don’t come to life, they don’t fascinate you. Like a room decorated by a run of the mill interior designer: safe.
So I was interested to see if the judges would give any particular advice on how to jump beyond these basic levels.
One obvious necessity was that the piece should cause an emotional response in the viewer. There was one dance where the audience went totally quiet, it was chilling – the dancer was able to create a raw emotion which all watching felt immediately. I don’t quite know how you’d achieve this in a quilt!! But I did once show a piece to 4 friends, two said they loved it, two hated it – and they wanted to argue! Maybe that’s a start. I’ve also read many a juror’s statement and one of the things they always mention is looking for a piece that creates a visceral response from them. You have to try to put the feeling into the art work as the dancer put it into his dance.
Another judge made a comment about the emotion being revealed by the details: little compositional adjustments that bring out what you feel about the piece. So your quilt is about a fresh spring day where you literally feel you can bounce..how can you push the freshness, the springness, the bounciness? What details must you be sure to include? You might think of the colours of spring, the temperature of spring, the intensity of the colours, the new growth pushing upward shown by an upward movement in the lines and shapes. The temperature in spring is usually cool, but occasionally you’ll hit a warm burst of air in the sunshine – include that. The air has more space – make sure you have that space and openness in the piece.
Sometimes the judges talk about forgetting technique in favour of pushing the performance? How could that work in an art quilt? Your piece is about raggedy lonely old ladies….d’you want the quilt to be raggedy? d’you want to surround those old ladies with space? The piece is about fireworks – should the colours explode screamingly off the piece even if the colour scheme is then a jarring one?
One of the dancers clearly wanted approval from the audience throughout her piece and was told that the first approval for a work must come from yourself, not an audience, real or imagined. Don’t think “will they like it?” (though, sadly, quilt sales might be better if “they” do; decorative and cute being ever more popular than real, fresh and meaningful). Instead always seek to satisfy your own standards, does it say what you wanted it to say? For this you might have to look deeper into who you are, and what you want to say and your motives for saying it.
The judges defined the successful dancer as one who had beauty, quirkiness, athleticism, technique, who knew who he/she really was and also knew exactly what they were creating. Some goals to reach! Might manage the quirk, not sure about the athletics! And, if you have been, thanks for reading. Elizabeth
Oh! and comment…do please comment!