Saturday, November 8, 2008

More thoughts on "conceptual" versus "decorative" work: a needless division

I received several emails and comments on yesterday’s blog about Maria Buzsek’s article in the Fall Surface Design Journal: “Contemporary Art Criticism”.

One person suggested that women tend to make art that is very acceptable or approachable so they will be included and we need to get over that; another felt that traditional quilts are often more dynamic than contemporary ones, and a third that grannies aren’t necessarily traditional. All are comments worthy of a good discussion over a nice cup of tea!

I don’t know that it’s necessarily a female attribute to desire inclusion – I think probably human beings as a whole are hardwired to seek to be included because unless we’re part of a group we probably won’t survive. So it is natural to want to make work that people like. It is extremely hard to do the opposite. The solution to that I think is to look at the purpose of the Art: it should be about something important and strong and meaningful to you, but it should also communicate. So as you look at the piece, you would say to yourself: what is this about? What is my main idea or concept (yes! A concept!)? and, Am I communicating it?

To the person who noted that traditional quilts are often more dynamic – I totally agree – but it’s not because they are traditional; contemporary quilts are frequently very flat – but it’s not because they are contemporary. Most traditional patterns have had the benefit of being honed over time, and we see the ones that have stood the test of time. In 100 years, many (if not most) of the “contemporary” quilts we see at shows and festivals today will be gone, not strong enough to stand the Time test. I think we can learn a lot from the traditional quilts – why does that one stand out? Why is it bolder, or stronger, or more striking than that contemporary quilt hanging near by? How could I use that information in my own work?

I also agree with the lady who said grannies weren’t necessarily traditional!! I don’t intend to wear lavender and old lace! Or even purple and a red hat! And we definitely must keep striving to learn and improve – in fact I do see far more grandmas willing to do that than grandpas!

And I had some thoughts of my own.
There has frequently been a suggestion that is derived probably from the post Modern movement in the art world that work should be about or at least strongly relate to the medium in which it’s made. (“an essential regard for their unique material properties”, Buzsek). Therefore, Tracy Emin is justified in making her statement blankets (here’s a couple more, by the way)

because much of her work is about the bed, about losses and gains that were made in that situation, about what blankets mean to her.

Ghada Amer’s embroideries contrast the delicacy of the embroidery (a medium usually associated with women (though I had two uncles that embroidered!)) with the subject of the stitches: war, slavery etc. She doesn’t just use the embroidery as a medium, she uses it as a contrast and a protest.

However, I can’t see that it’s necessary to make the medium part of the message: the artisans who made the glorious tapestries for the castles, the cave painters who ground up rock and mixed it with saliva, the carvers of totem poles, the weavers, painters in oil and water based mediums etc have always made work about what was important to them without necessarily considering which medium to choose. The medium was the voice. The type of voice should definitely be considered (soft, harsh, loud, mellow….) but whether to use A Voice as opposed to A Cello or A Drum is, I think, arguable. For those of us who stitch, our voice is The Stitch.

It's important that
1. our work has meaning, and
2. that we communicate that meaning and
3. that our workmanship is excellent. The Tracy Emin blankets above are beautifully worked - layers of felt and cloth stitched well onto the blankets; Amer's embroidery is exquisite.

Perhaps more tomorrow!! Please post or send me your comments- especially if they give a different perspective!

This is getting a little long, so it’s time to go for a walk and think some more!! Here are a couple of views from my daily walk!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth


Jackie said...

Oh, my goodness, you inspire me to think more and more! I think often about the purpose of art. Because I see my work as art--Art--I must consider whether any given piece has achieved 'something.' I'm behind you in my ability to articulate what it is I want to say or, my favorite word for art--evoke. Often what I think is my main idea turns out to be ancillary. It's important but not the big idea
My impression about the traditional quilts that had power was in large part because of the colors melding perfectly with the design. The 'art quilts' that didn't make it failed in my eyes in several areas--colors and design among them but also in terms of failing to express anything at all. Some of this is due to personal taste but I think it's clear if a piece has made a effective statement or not.
I appreciate the notion that these traditional patterns have stood the test of time. (I appreciated your question about what do they have that I can use? Bravo!) a great notion! Some of them will still be around in another hundred years and many of the 'art quilts' will be gone.
Interesting idea that quilts should be 'about' the medium. Hmmm. Why do I work in fabric? Partly because I had at least rudimentary skills for construction, quilting was accessible to me. I don't want to relate to beds necessarily, still an interesting thought. thanks for the stimulating ideas. I enjoy ruminating while I sew...

mathea said...

that was a really thoughtful and thought provoking post.