|Ambivalence (48"h, 72"w)|
I’ve been thinking about the structure in a quilt design. Few quilt designers seem to consider this before working out their designs and I wonder why. Interestingly, the same phenomenon occurred in painting a number of years ago. I came across a book called The Painter’s Mind written by Romare Bearden (of all people!) and Carl Holty, published in 1969 – when sentences were complex and thoughtful and paragraphs slowly developed the main thesis. I was fascinated to read in the Preface that they had noticed the same thing in painting. They felt that both artists and art lovers want (and need) more knowledge about structure:
“Many students who were nurtured on the notion of self expression as the sole criterion for integrated painting are now seeking a more precise knowledge of their craft; and many art lovers, seeking an extra dimension to their appreciation of fine art, would still like to understand two of the most fundamental aspect of any painting – structure and space.”
As in any art form (the plastic arts, writing, music etc), stream of consciousness only goes so far!! Bearden and Holty feel that the important question for art lovers and both amateur and professional artists is how an artwork is actually put together. They feel that a painting is actually always about something as Kirk Varnedoe posited in his book Pictures of Nothing, a discussion of late 20th century abstract art. Of course that something can be literal, conceptual or an abstract formal appreciation of harmony and balance of pictorial elements.
Their writing is so elegant and pithy:
“Many of the abstract Expressionists attempted to break all ties with the past and , like the hero of E.M. Forster’s novel, Howards End,, they wished to come upon art as the revivalist seeks to discover Christ”.
There is, I fear, a similar trend in art quilting today. When people first begin making art quilts, i.e. quilts to be displayed on a wall primarily as a decorative object, they tend to work rather literally. I think this is a normal process, you’re inspired by a landscape (or whatever it is) and you want to take the best of what you see and translate it into cloth. The next step is to figure out how to add to that design what you feel and experience when you look at the landscape as well as the landscape itself. This is a lot harder, almost equivalent to the search for the perfect PhD research topic! It can lead to a lot of doubt and anxiety.
Unfortunately, a lot of people then see what they think might be an easier path: they say to themselves “I’ll just work from my unconscious”…what you might call the stream(or path) of unconsciousness. Somehow, magically, all feelings and experiences will be expressed if you keep your conscious mind out of the way! But, as Bearden and Holty point out, if there’s no structure, the piece, being formless, will not hold up, our eyes will drift over the shapeless mass – have you seen quilts like this? I know I have!!
Alas, this book is very rare, I notice – but your public library (always support libraries!) probably has a copy on a back shelf that nobody has take out in 40 years! There are gems back there in the dust!! And if anyone has a copy they don’t want…I’d be happy to trade it for my new book – I’m getting an advance copy today – I do hope I’ve not missed any errors! It is exciting though! Books, books, books. "Yes, Wonderful Things!" indeed!
And now for another wonderful thing: a nice cup of tea.
If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth