Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Generalization of Critique

karen dec 09 005

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!

18 comments:

Gerrie said...

I loved this post. I was watching the show, too, so I could really relate to your comparison. I also watched Work of Art on Bravo and the same comments were made about the works made by the artists.

I am often attracted to work that is technically messy, but portrays a message that really speaks to me.

quiltwoman said...

I do enjoy your posts Elizabeth! Wish I had your gift for words.

Valerie

Cher said...

I watched the same show Elizabeth. While I was for the most part agreeing with the judges comments, I didn't think to compare them with quilts.
Very interesting and worth some thought.
Valerie was right, you do have a gift for writing and I enjoy reading your posts.

Cher in BC

Marianne said...

Thank you for once again giving your readers a bone to chew. So much to think about.

Diana Parkes said...

Oh Yes, so right....

lstrowbridge said...

I love this topic! It’s fascinating … and daunting.

I think it’s very easy to get so consumed by the challenges of developing good design, color and technique that you end up neglecting the passion, insight, opinion or story that drew you to the topic in the first place.

Janet Grissom, in her lecture at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium, talked about the importance of building a distinctive insight/message into art and the process she goes through to flesh out her plans for a series of paintings. She said she will often fill an entire notebook with research about her subject, images of related artwork, lots of sketches and some journaling in order to come up with a distinct visual approach and insight/theme for her paintings.

~ Linda

West Michigan Quilter said...

Great post. Loved how you wove the story around the TV show and quilting. Lots to think about.

Anonymous said...

Nancy Crow talks about NEVER thinking about whether or not her work will sell. Oh, to be able to get to that place in my head. But what a great feeling when my work evokes a physical response within myself. To be able to self critique and learn to trust that voice.......

Ruth Anne Olson said...

Thank you for this post. How clever of you to connect the art of dancing with fiber art. You're absolutely right that the same factors apply to all successful art, whether performing arts, visual, or musical--or writing.

Penny Mateer said...

What a wonderful analogy. Perhaps at the end of the day it is about risk taking easier to do with some pieces than others or in dance performance which is so in the moment easier some days than others.

Really I think it boils down to trusting your own voice and pushing ahead. With that comes the feeling that you make art because you have to which means trust the process. And you have to learn technique to be able to realize your vision so that you can create and make your art fluidly and intuitively.

I think perhaps in the quilt art world we are encouraged to show work when it isn't ready or we haven't developed enough. I sometimes think this happens as a by product of the immense support in this community which is a wonderful thing. Of course the other side of that is you don't learn and grow if you don't put your work out there ready or not, hmmmmm.

In my experience my best work is always what comes from the heart and that's what I respond to in other work. It is that gut level reaction and then upon closer examination understanding why.

Love your blog thanks so much!
Penny

Nancy said...

Elizabeth, Great post. We can learn so much from other art forms. I had never thought of looking at a critique of dance to learn more about my own art. thanks so much for the insight. Nancy C Cook

LC said...

Great insights and a thoughtful post. Art is art, regardless of the medium, and the "rules" of good art cover dance, quilting, painting, even music. I tend to get lost in details, in one technique, or one aspect of design, instead of stepping back, literally and figuratively, to see the bigger picture. You words today help me do just that. Thank you.

Quiltdivajulie said...

I very much enjoyed this post and I agree.

Most technically perfect, matchy-matchy, just like the pattern quilts do nothing for me other than highlight respect for the skill needed in their execution.

Quilts with an 'edge' or a level of 'intrigue' draw me in to look more deeply. I find myself returning to these again and again.

Connection and context are vital elements in any art form. Too many quilt makers are stuck on the techniques...

Wildbutterfly said...

During the dance show one of the comments made a couple times was,"to do something with the pauses." After reading your blog and comments, I wondered if anyone could imagine what that would mean in art quilts? I imagined it would have to do with attitude, swagger, keeping the connection over time. Since dance is not a snapshot, maybe that pause doesn't exist in quilting? Maybe the question then is how do we suggest time, pausing?

Elizabeth Barton said...

the pauses...I missed that! but yes. I think what they meant was to a) enrich the piece by putting something personal into those pauses, b)not just stop and pause, but continue the flow and c)to use the pause, the tacit beat advisedly as we two dimensional artists might use a negative space. so thank you, wild butterfly, (are there tame ones?) for mentioning this other item!

Nancy said...

What are the pauses for quiters? Maybe the areas where quilting is most easily seen are the pauses for us. Perhaps we fill the pauses with our quilting. Some use the quilt stitch to convey even more about their piece, others just fill the space.

Wildbutterfly said...

I am so intrigued with this idea of "cross training". It brings fresh eyes to our work - a new depth. One of my favorites is the art of writing. If there is anyone out there who is also interested, might I suggest Steven King's On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. and Julia Cameron's The Right to Write, An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. And I would love to hear from y'all about what other unexpected arts you use for your "cross training." Any books, classes, people. Smiles!

Quilt or Dye said...

I watched the show but didn't think to compare the critique to quilts but you are right. A good example that will help me in my design skills I think!