Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Literal Truth - or is it?

One thing people often ask me is "how can I be less literal?'
 At first i was surprised at such a question, how could anyone feel that they ever even needed to be literal?  But then as I looked around me at quilt shows, I noticed that many "pictorial" or "representationL quilts really do suffer from literalism.  Now,  I do love to encounter verbal literalisms - the kind especially prevalent in hot and heavy romances (actually they're light rather than heavy but you know what I mean).  I love sentences like "his eyes rested on her heaving bosom' (vision of two eyeballs bobbing up and down upon bouncing pink balloons....
or: "she threw herself upon his mercy"  (could be quite painful!)
or: anger flickered over his face (sort of diagonal stripes)...
or "his heart sank" (an EKG on his feet?)    "as his hopes plummeted" - now have you ever seen a hope plummet?
and so on...

Listening to language literally is fun and once you start noticing literalisms, you'll come up with better examples than me I'm sure! (and please do report them in the comments!)   But you know we aren't very literal with our spoken or written language so why is there such a tendency to be literal with our visual language?
A landscape quilt with blue sky (probably with printed clouds), viridian green grass (preferably one of those printed grass patterns), and purple mountains way too distinct, with a brick patterned cloth for the little house, brown bark (yes I've seen that fabric way too often!) tree trunks, and (out of scale) leaf fabric for the top of the tree plus  a red tiled roof....and maybe a little Liberty flower print across the bottom...well this choice of fabric will kill anything.  And yet the same design using a much more imaginative fabric choice could be a lot of fun.
Why not leaves of grass? skies of flowers, grass of bark etc.  Or why use these kinds of literal fabrics at all? Unless to misuse them?   

And Colour choice is often not only too literal but actually incorrect!  Or, at least, limited to a child's idea of colours.  Skies can be any colour - anyone living in the Mid West has seen the green skies before a tornado!  Grey, pink, purple, that horrible dead white, yellow, navy - oh and yes - sometimes blue!  Plants can be of any colour too:  we have conifers in yellow, blue, rust, grey and green.  Deciduous trees turn into fiery oranges, reds, yellows and purples.  And all manmade objects of course can be any colour that man (and occasionally woman) chooses - except bras for ladies with a respectable chest (as opposed to two apples underneath the chin).  Such bras come in black, white and flesh.  Ugh.

And, you know, you are allowed to move things in a quilt design!!!  The tree doesn't have to be slap bang in the middle just because it is.....and you don't have to put all the trees into the quilt.  Plus, even if they look alike (which they rarely are if we take the trouble to truly examine them) don't make them alike.  Give each one a little character.  For the same reason I'm against the strip piecing where you cut widths across the fabric  and then join them up and recut and every slice has the same components in it.  Too predictable!!  When I did strip piecing, I would cut many different lengths of fabric and then join them all together (at the skinny end) into one long long long length...and then take the two ends and start stitching them together until I reached the middle.  Then I would repeat that - so nothing came out the same!! Much more interesting.

Actually I've never really understood why socks or gloves have to match..or curtains (drapes)!  I have these lovely little curtains I've dragged around the world and if they fit a window in a room they're going to be hung there - even if the other windows have to have a different fabric.  So if you have several yellow elements in a piece, make them each from slightly different yellow fabric - there will be much more life in the quilt as a result.

Eschew literalism!  it's hard to swallow otherwise!  
If you have bean (gulp!), thanks for reading!!
Elizabeth

9 comments:

Sally Westcott said...

Ta for the refreshing read to have with my lunch! I'll go back to work with a smile on my face.

hugz

LC said...

Oh some pictures would be interesting with this post!

Gerrie said...

Yay!! Love this....

Judy said...

I think we've been to the same quilt shows, Liberty prints and all!

xo

mjb said...

I love this concept! Beauty most often lies somewhere between the literal and the abstract...plus it gives hope to those of us who like to make art even though we "can't draw" :)

prahalad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kay said...

Love the font!

Anonymous said...

i TOO AM AMAZED AT THE SOMETIMES SLAVISH ADHERENCE TO PHOTOGRAPHIC realism I see at many quilt shows. As you say, fabric is not the best medium for this. The palette offered by infinite prints, stripes,batiks, satins, corduroys, even furry bits is so seldom used ! One glance at the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Chagall or Miro will give any self respecting artist the go-ahead for any and all expressions that still talk about the real world and events. At the very least it prevents boredom while making a piece not to have to adhere to what amounts to a pattern preconceived and preordained.

Kerry said...

I always like to read you before I head off to work (in a quilt shop I might add)...You always provoke my thoughts (you poking with a stick)...and since I'm around fabric so many hours...I start practically applying what I've read...and have many an "aha" moment!

Thanks for your thoughts...
mishilti