Thursday, June 9, 2016

Problem solving for the artist....

 The fiber artist at work:  There's a flurry of cutting and pinning up on the design board...there's sewing and unpicking and cursing, and jubilation and despair and discarded shards of fabric all over the studio floor.........
and then you come back the next day and look at the wall and the awful truth is revealed:

It's not working.....

We've all been what is the next step?
Alas, sewing it all together while saying "the quilting will help"....or "I might add some beads"...or lace...or, in dire circumstances, both(!!) does not work.

Does not work, even though sometimes the quilt with the most junk affixed to it wins the show!!!  A tour de force of fixology!
By the way: Just because a quilt gets into a quilt  show doesn't mean it's actually any good!  Quilts get into shows for a variety of reasons...yes, reason #1 is because it's a very good and striking design and beautifully made.  But also they get in because many shows are judged by photographs....and so what got in was actually the photograph, rather than the quilt.  Sometimes the jurors are told: you've picked the best...and they'll fill up half the gallery, now pick the next best, and the next and the next.
Also, jurors are human!!  (yes, it's true!) Some really hate a certain color, really love another color.  They all have prejudices and biases - no matter what they say.  Psychological experiments have shown for years that even if we truly believe we're not acting on our prejudices...we are.   The teacher unknowingly spends a little more time explaining something to the  pretty child, than to the ugly one.

So don't add "stuff" just because the prize winner at the local show had added stuff.....

Instead: diagnose...

It's very hard to solve  a problem when you don't know what it is!  That's why it's good to get an actual diagnosis when you go to the doctor's!!  (of course sometimes you don't get a diagnosis, but rather  the equivalent of extra quilting, or beads or lace !!  but that's another issue).

What is  the actual problem?  Why is this quilt "not working"? And, by the way, what does "not working" actually mean?  I must admit I really dislike this phrase...and the slightly upmarket version of it "it's not well resolved"  !!  Both are very vague and not in the  least bit helpful.

The function of most art work is 
  1. to attract your attention and  
  2. keep it.  

Diagnosis 1: it might not attract your attention, because it's plain boring!
Diagnosis 2: it might not keep your attention, because it's in some way distasteful for you.

To fix problem 1:
If it's boring, almost certainly you don't have enough contrast: contrast of any one or more of the elements that go to make up a design:  line, shape, value, color, texture.  It's helpful to work through these one at a time (and the most likely culprit, by the way, is value) to find the what's missing.
Contrast creates tension - tension keeps our interest.

To fix problem 2:
If it attracted your attention but then you really didn't want to keep looking at it, it's probably because it has no unity, no harmony, it's a chaotic mishmash of stuff with no clear message.
You don't have a basic structure, you don't have a focus, you have too many different elements.

Think of these 2 problems in musical terms:
problem 1 would be suggested by a piece of music that was one repeated note: the same note at the same speed and the same volume and the same degree of resonance.
problem 2 is the piece of music that's just a cacophony of sound - the piano piece composed by a computer that included every one of the 88 notes on a piano keyboard, in random order, each just once!

So...what d'you think?  What d'you feel is the function of art work?  The most likely problems, and the clear solutions to those problems???  Do they fit into the format I suggest...or are there other difficulties?  do let me know!!  After all, I'm going to have a nice cuppa tea......
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth


Melanie McNeil said...

So what you're saying is either 1) there is not enough contrast or 2) there is too much contrast. Yes. I agree. The point with design/composition/art/life is finding the right balance, to spend your resources on the parts that are valuable to you (or your audience, which is valuable to you,) and to minimize resources on the past that are not.

When there is too much contrast, it requires too much work to make sense of it. Reduce the number of colors or shapes or sizes, increase repetition of what is left.

When there is too little contrast, it is boring and very easy to move on. A solid-colored whole-cloth quilt better have awesome design of quilting. If it is just straight lines or even concentric circles, it won't be valuable enough to me to spend time on.

For me as a quilter, I can remember how I struggled with balance when I was beginning. If a color stood out, I honestly didn't necessarily know what to do about that. And as I got better, I didn't always know how to add in accent colors to spark things.

Now it is a lot easier to diagnose those problems BECAUSE I WORK ON THAT as a skill CONSCIOUSLY. And I've come to understand that fixing stuff isn't a big deal. Unstitch, stitch, rebuild... There is very little that is done that can't be undone.

Thanks for the post.

Elizabeth Barton said...

succinctly put, Melanie - thank you!
And I think the ability to get that balance right "intuitively" is like the "motor memory" that a pianist who has practiced and practiced and practiced has developed.
No practice, no memory, no "intuition"!

Mary Ritter said...

Elizabeth - this is such a helpful blog. I continue to work on diagnosing and evaluating and finding solutions. Sometimes, it works to cut it up and turn things about. It is good to read that all of this is a normal progression and that all artists struggle through it from time to time. Putting the piece out of sight helps also. When you pull it out at a later date, sometimes it is easier to see what went wrong and a solution follows. Thanks. Enjoy your cuppa!

David Wyman said...

Thank you for making this post! I am an aspiring artist trying to find a way to create art and make a life out of it that suits me. Studying Clara Berta's methods for creating and networking has helped me to do this although this post has really helped me to understand another aspect of the art world, thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Elizabeth, also I love the blog, keep up the good work!