Saturday, March 31, 2018

Getting looser as you get older!








One of the things that is very apparent when we first begin making art - in any medium - is just how very tightly we work.  I think we're trying so hard to get it "right" it becomes a bit rigid....I remember cityscapes where every window is carefully delineated, every roof has a chimney with ALL the details and so on....but as time goes by - with experience and with age we begin to work out just what is really essential and what not.



I'm reading a fascinating book called A History of Pictures  by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It's basically a conversation between a very knowledgeable and gifted painter - probably the UK's most popular living painter and an extremely erudite art historian/critic.   In their discussion about the development of picture making over the centuries, they allude to many works I've never seen... and most helpfully nearly all the work they describe is included in the book so we can see just what they're talking about.  (don't you just hate those art reviews where they critique something at length and never show you a picture of it!).



Now  their conversation covers a lot of ground - Hockney being Hockney (!) there is a definite emphasis on the use of the camera obscure - a sort of  pre-electronic overhead projector - and I know a number of quilt makers who have used overhead projectors to create their designs.  They discuss how this came about and whether the art thus created is legitimate - it is!!    but what's really interesting is that then Hockney points out that all the great painters - Rembrandty, Titian, Picasso - got looser as they got older.   They began to emphasise that 5th principle of design that I know I have mentioned repeatedly in class (often to blank faces alas!!  but one or two knowing nods!) - i.e. the principle of economy.
(the first principles being: unity, variety, rhythm and balance).






These old guys...and I think many more - Georgia O'Keefe definitely comes to mind, and Arthur Dove, and Milton Avery and John Marin... showed in their late work how an economy of means and the ability to make fresh creative marks were the most important things.  I think we see that in a number of our most revered quilt makers - I'd be fascinated to hear from you as to whom you think would fit this description!  I love a very spare elegant look myself, that's why I'm quite enamored of the best of the modern quilts - many are just wishy washy versions of same/old...but there are a few really excellent ones.  At her best I think Nancy Crow has shown us the importance of economy and the strong line....Jan Myers-Newbury - economy and texture,  and many of the Australians...perhaps reflecting the spare interior of that great continent.

I think this is why details are often so much stronger than an image of the whole quilt.  Use your crop tools!!! Cut it down...focus focus.....

Hockney says: "In old age [the great} artists... don't repeat themselves.  The late work is the best.  There's something else there, something new."
So...let's do it! something to strive for...let's get out of the easy groove, the "recognizable trademark"...and get loose!

Rembrandt is reported to have said: "If I want to relieve my spirit, then I should seek not honor but freedom" .   So please, less worry about challenges, guilds, shows, prizes - and yes, even sales, let's make our late work our BEST work!  Freedom......

Comments?? please!!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading....  Elizabeth

10 comments:

Sharon Richards said...

Great post! Just today I was talking with a friend about my winter's production. I "go south" in the winter and generally take the goods with which to work on a PROJECT--usually something unusual to my style. It's been a great way to experiment and be excited about a new design/technique/etc. But, I didn't have anything in mind for this past winter so I took generic materials with which to create. I found myself reproducing work that was easy, quick and familiar to me. Consequently, I have no feeling of growth, excitement or adventure--just a few "same old/same old" pieces.

I must get out of the rut and onto my looser work--after all, I just turned 78!!!!

Sandy said...

Oh.....what a wonderful thought! I so wish I could say that I am following this path. I am constantly and deeply aware that, no matter how I wish to simplify, I always seem to be caught up in greater detail. After reading this post, I am going to keep the thought of simplification in my mind as I design. Could there be hope for me?

Elizabeth Barton said...

Good to hear from you Sharon and Sandy...it's tough to be simple...some say it's a gift!!!
But the good thing is that we are more thoughtful, more experienced and (hopefully) in less of a rush...and there's much less need to "prove" something...let's start the journey! Elizabeth

Ellen Lindner said...

I love the idea of working looser. It's something I strive to do, but succeed only intermittently.

And yes, I've gotten looser as I've gotten older. But, do you think it's based on chronological age or "artist" age? I suspect the latter.

I've never heard of economy before. I'll be pondering it.

Janis Doucette said...

Bravo!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Ellen and Janis! good to hear from you both...at first reading of Hockney's remarks I was surprised...because our "traditional" impression of old age is that people get "tighter" more rigid...more the way they are...but then you look at the successful ones - in no matter what area...and they are focussing focussing on the central important issues and letting the unimportant drop....I do like the idea of the latter!!! in many ways!!
the History of painting is a beautiful book by the way and their conversation so readable....

Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

I love the simplicity and economy of form and colour in many modern works, and have challenged myself to loose the detail. Thanks for sharing this insight.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Absolutely, Anonymous...in many art forms it's counterproductive to get hung up on details!!! The micro-managing of art....

Sandy said...

I LOVE this blog post. I wish I could say that I am simplifying as I get older, not yet. I am still drawn to complexity. But I am becoming much less literal, both in design and color. Maybe simplification will come if I live long enough.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you Sandy!! May you live long enough to achieve MANY things!! Elizabeth