Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gazing into space and thinking...the way to be happy.

Neither waving, nor drowning but thinking......

The most often asked question to a quilt maker is: how long did it take you to make that?  and then...."oh you're so lucky you're retired you have all the time in the world! "
Would that it were so!  But those of us who are lucky enough to be retired and to be reasonably healthy (of course many aches and pains and so on of which I shall say absolutely NO more...not wishing to indulge in an "organ recital"!!)....those of us who are retired and energetic are finding that the best thing in the world, the greatest happiness, is having  the time to learn and practice new creative skills.

Winston Churchill wrote:
"The way to be happy is to find something that requires the kind of perfection that's impossible to achieve, and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it."

Making art and making music are probably the best examples of an activity where perfection is impossible, but trying to reach it is wonderful.
Sport?  well - maybe when young!  For it does require a certain physicality!
And I definitely include arts like cooking and gardening!

So, given that, why are so many artists focused on making things for other people?  Making things to sell (which is a very difficult thing to be successful with), or making pieces to be accepted by a show - with all the constraints therein: size, date, number of layers, where the stitches are or are not, or making things for the latest group "challenge"??  Is this really the way to be happy?  is this is the best use of our art?
And, more importantly, is this a way to improve your art?

I see people boasting on the social networks that they did a "happy dance" ( an overused phrase anyway!! Please, eschew ALL clichés on your way to "nail" it as you "step upto the plate" while "jumping out of the box"!) because they got into a certain show.  But sadly I don't see them telling others of their delight in engaging in learning and developing and gradually improving their art. 
And most show acceptances are so meaningless:  perhaps one third of the art is inspiring,  but two thirds were merely  lucky.
Why do we even think of using acceptance/rejection as a measure of happiness?    

And also...why does how long it took you to make it matter? And why does it matter to the questioner?  What are they expecting to hear?  Well, it took three hours, therefore if you have three hours frree on Sunday afternoon you could make one too??!!
And, yes I know the clever answer of "three hours and 20 years experience", which neither addresses the heart of the matter nor is encouraging to the questioner. It's just clever, and it's been said so often, it's now a CLICHé!!

So please, make it or learn it because it makes you happy to do so and because it's thrilling to progress a little nearer to the dream.

If you have been, thanks for reading!   I appreciate it!   Elizabeth


Melanie McNeil said...

I've considered entering shows, having, in the last year, made a couple of pieces I think are show-worthy. And I've decided that I don't want to do it after all. I don't generally MAKE to please other people. I used to. Almost all my quilts were made specifically for other people, and pleasing them was a high priority. Now I make few quilts with the initial intent that they are FOR someone. So I please myself, and then if I decide to give them away later, I try to match up the right quilt to the right receiver.

As to how long it takes, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about that, too. I gave a very special piece to friends a couple of months ago. When we talked they asked how long it took. "I don't know," I said. "Sixty, 80, 100 hours? I don't think that's something any of us should think about too much." (It was probably about 100 hours. Pay me a reasonable wage and this is not a gift I can afford to give away...)

I will make for me, even if I know who will get the quilt later. I will spend as much time as it takes. Quilting isn't a contest, not for beauty nor cost nor speed nor size nor quantity. It is my art.


Susan Sawatzky said...

thank you for putting into words something I've thought about a lot. I've never entered anything, anywhere except one time. I entered a gourd I made into a show in California. It was the only gourd in its category and won first place. At that point I determined it was a meaningless exercise meant to swell heads and to enable a winner to tell friends/family in places far away from Calif. that they had won "first" place in a show.

As I am now a quilter I go to quilt shows and see many very lovely quilts. But I also see quilts that win prizes and do not understand the reasoning of whomever is judging them.

I now like to think of myself as making art quilts. The time spent planning, sewing and stitching are extremely satisfying for me and if someone else happens to see it in my home in in the home of someone I've given it to and says a kind word.....that is serendipity.

Margaret said...

Hmmmm. I never thought I could make art till my fifties. Suddenly, I had to create. Had to learn how. Had to. Eventually, the pieces began to pile did my confidence. So...I began showing it locally in an annual art show/sale. Even sold a few pieces. Kept making, kept studying, kept learning, kept growing in confidence. Gave some away. Entered some open shows (no judging). The last couple of years have entered juried shows...some accepted; some not. Have joined a group that exhibits (by invitation) overseas. Recently entered 3 pieces -- all created in your Master Class -- into a juried show (Canadians only). Accepted or not, it was the confidence that the work was strong enough that lead me to it. I make primarily for myself. Many of my small works start life as samples and then get put in a gallery/gift shop. Some sell. I don't worry about it; I don't need the income to survive. However, I do like to share my work, however that's possible. And yes, I enjoy the process -- even the painful birthing of it from idea to blocked piece. Once it's blocked out, the rest "just happens", with very little (if any) "tweaking". I've learned that an artist needs to first please herself and then...relax. Share. Create some more. Works for me!

Michelle Eaton said...

I enter shows, both open and juried, for the same reason I attend art exhibits. To see the amazing work that quilters are making and to share my creations with others. I could care less about the ribbons or the comparisons- the art is the thing. And seeing images in print or on a screen, is nothing compared to the real thing; the glowing colours and fabulous textures! Many of the pieces do not speak to me, but the courage and effort of each quilter does. This is but one small section of the broad spectrum of art that extends from desire, to inspiration, to instruction, to creation, to exhibition. Not everyone is called to participate in all the stages ( God knows I don't have the patience to teach very often), but it is wonderful that the opportunities are here. I was just at the large Houston Quilt Show for the first time (overwhelming of course), but the main thing I took from this experience was to go home and just work, work, work!

Alicia Merrett said...

I do get ENORMOUS pleasure when my work is accepted in shows and travels round the world. And also when I get invitations to exhibit and teach at home and abroad. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. It gives me the impulse to go and create new things. The reactions of other people to my work do matter to me. If I just sat at home experimenting and creating work and then rolling it up and storing it in a dark place, I would have given up a long time ago. Every person has the right to deal with their work in whichever way it makes them happy. There is no right or wrong way here.

Nayasabrina said...

Amen Alicia!

Why does how long it took you to make it matter? And why does it matter to the questioner? What are they expecting to hear?

Perhaps that's a start for the questioner to engage in a conversation about the work; a tiny point of entry for bringing that person into your artistic world....

...why are so many artists focused on making things for other people? ...Is this really the way to be happy? is this is the best use of our art? And, more importantly, is this a way to improve your art?

Does not sharing one's work give pleasure? There are many ways to be happy other than artistic self-absorption. Money is nice, too, though acquiring it through one's art is notably difficult to achieve. I was under the impression that the best way to improve one's art was to keep making it, with critical evaluation and reflection. How one disposes of it would thus be irrelevant.

And most show acceptances are so meaningless: perhaps one third of the art is inspiring, but two thirds were merely lucky. Why do we even think of using acceptance/rejection as a measure of happiness?

I don't think being a part of something is meaningless, and not everything is universally inspiring. And luck counts, if it allows you to connect with others! One may be happy at acceptance and sad at rejection of our work because one is human. The problem is if that, or indeed any other single thing, becomes the only measure of happiness.

So please, make it or learn it because it makes you happy to do so and because it's thrilling to progress a little nearer to the dream.

And we all have different dreams....

Elizabeth Barton said...

It's great that we have such a discussion going on! Clearly I'm the only one tired of the question "and how long did it take you to make?"! Which is fine.
I would love to see shows full of inspiring work...I guess I just havn't been in the right place at the right see the best is always wonderful.
It does feel good to be accepted, but does it improve one's art? Look at the most popular tv shows? Accepted by a lot of people....but do they get better as a result?
I definitely agree the way to improve is to make a thoughtful way...and with some objective response/evaluation from a trusted source/coach. A recent experience in a very different field has shown me that one should be careful of very positive should always consider the source!
Thank you to everyone for commenting!

margaret said...

Is everything OK with you? This post leaves me wondering why in the world you would spend time pondering such difficult and unanswerable questions.

Perfection? Not gonna happen, and honestly I wouldn't want it to. Because the idea of pursuing perfection leaves me blind to the prompting of unexpected discoveries. Time spent on a project? Who really cares? Cliche rant? I hope that made you feel better. Quilt shows? Wow, "most are meaningless", you definitely need chocolate. If you don't want people to see your work in the company of other quilts, then entering a quilt show is not what you should do. I haven't really entered "shows" so much as "challenges". It's a way of reaching beyond, yes (cliche as it sounds) challenging myself to research, generate ideas, and listen to the tiny inner voice that's waiting to be heard. And the most interesting thing is seeing what other people come up with. The variety of viewpoints in a themed exhibit is so much fun! If something I create isn't juried into an exhibit, there must be some other reason for its existence. No reason to grieve. The process, always the process, is the reward.

Now get yourself some chocolate and maybe some vitamin D. These waning hours of daylight are hard on the soul.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Ah Chocolate ! that definitely sounds good!
My posts generally reflect conversations that have occurred in the last week where the topics I address have been aired - one way or another!
The whole point of the Winston Churchill quote which I have often pondered is that it's not perfection per se, but the journey towards it that is worthwhile...
And time is an issue that seems to come up very often: we are urged to make things more quickly, or sold things because they will help us do that...I agree totally that the time you spend on something (if the something is worthwhile!) is not a problem....but many people talk to me about time. And use time as an excuse for not doing things...not stretching themselves or broadening their horizons.
I think we're all on the same page, just looking at things in different ways.
I never do enter "Challenges" though unless they are extremely open ended.
But all this talk has me wondering......!!! I shall have to do a follow up next week!
and thank you for writing! Elizabeth

margaret said...

OK, so here's another little point to ponder. How about the possibility that entering a "challenge" can change the direction of your life in a way you never expected? This year I agreed to do a quilt for a special exhibit in honor of the Apollo program and was assigned a specific astronaut to commemorate. Spent months, before I even touched fabric, reading and learning things I never knew before about the entire space program and the moon missions. In the middle of it all, NASA released thousands of photos taken on the moon. And then I was invited to hear an astrophysicist give the most amazing lecture about the universe. (Hello! What to talk about mind-blowing? The stuff they are beginning to understand these days is... indescribable.) There's much more but I don't have all night. The upshot is, I find myself drawn into a serious interest in a field of study I would never have even thought of had it not been for a quilt challenge. I know we generally think of our lives as affecting our quilts, but don't close your mind to the possibility that a quilt could change your life. You never know where the next thing is going to come from or where it's going to take you.

Elizabeth Barton said...

That's a great story Margaret! I do love the way being open and interested in one thing, being willing to try new things can lead to amazing discoveries. I volunteered for a short term experiment at our local university and it's opened up a whole new field of interest for me.
Plus I really recommend taking weeklong workshops at art/craft schools where there are workshops in other disciplines - seeing and hearing about the creativity of jewellers, or wood turners , or clay etc can lead to some very interesting cross fertilization.

Anonymous said...

Great post, comments and discussion. I have been exploring these questions for the last couple of years. Why do I make this - besides the pleasure of the process - what is its end purpose? I don't feel achievement or satisfaction at getting in a show (and don't enjoy the trappings of entry, mailing, fees etc), I don't want to sell my work (more work) and also cater to others, and I don't want to keep them and have a pile of stuff growing. (Before I started art quilts I gave away all of my quilts. But I don't know anyone would want my art quilts since they are arty and don't go on a bed.) I have thought about getting them into a coffee shop or something like that, but then what? I don't want them back. So a lot of my thoughts have to do with "what's it all about" and what is the end purpose.

Anonymous said...

I enter shows hopefully to sell work so I can have money to make more! And I will take all the awards I can get. Yep I am a greedy artist. As much as I love doing the work and gaining the self knowledge, at the end of the day I still need to eat.

Anonymous said...

I really think people ask "stupid" questions like "how long did it take" because they want to start a conversation with the artist, or about the piece, and are too lazy (or cautious) to ask anything more specific.
I take that as a complement -- that they want me to talk about the piece, so I do. I don't necessarily answer their question.
As for entering my work -- it looks very different when its hung on a wall along side other art work (whether or not quilts). Sometimes it looks better, sometimes that's when I realize that it needs something else. But I always learn something when I see my work hung publicly.
So I do it for me; but I also share it; and occasionally I sell a piece.

Iris Lorenz-Fife

Ellen Lindner said...

I totally agree with you! I make art because I enjoy doing so. And I experiment and learn about new techniques and skills because that's fun, too. (And, I DO write about all of this on my blog and in my newsletter.) :)