Sunday, January 25, 2009


I’ve been thinking some more about Artist Statements and New Year’s Resolutions! I think it all comes down to goals. The artist statement is a conglomeration of things you should be saying to yourself, and things you might be asked about by a viewer. The latter in my experience usually being about technique: “how d’you do that?” rather than “why d’you do that/” in fact I don’t think anyone has asked me Why? Though many have asked me How?

For ourselves,however, Why? is the most important question. For only then can we know if we are being successful. I actually started making quilts to be sociable – I was in a new town, knew no one and was asked if I wanted to join a quilt group. And certainly that was successful!! And is a perfectly good reason why one should make quilts.

So, then I had all these quiltmaking friends… though now they live all over and refuse (sadly) to move to N.E. Ga so that I can enjoy a natter over a cuppa tea!! But I kept on making quilts… My reason to continue was enjoyment and escape – I loved taking workshops and there’s nothing like quiltmaking for workshop opportunity!

After a while, however (i.e. about 16 workshops!), I found the workshops became of less interest, but I still kept on making quilts. By that point, I think my main goal was that of being creative or expressive. I wanted to see if I could convey a feeling I’d had about a landscape, a building, a pattern, a composition of light and shade into cloth.

I also had the goal of wanting to make No More Dogs!! (apology to canines, by the way!); it really irked me that I might make one good piece, then 5 lousy ones, then another that wasn’t too bad. I thought the Real Experts never made anything weak!!! Reading artists’ biographies soon disabused me of that idea! If you don’t take risks, you don’t make progress, and if you take risks, there is a higher failure rate. It took me a while to accept that. I still don’t take enough risks, though – it’s hard.

Finally I reached a point where my goal was to be Very Good at making quilts – I want to be able to make a quilt that would stand up compositionally against a good painting and be just as meaningful and satisfying as that painting. I want to be able to make something that really looks strong and intriguing if you see it every day. I’ve always wanted to have some activity that I excelled in, instead of being that most boring of creatures “a good all rounder”!

So it was with interest that I read in Gladwell’s book Outliers about what it takes to be an expert. He was quoting from the work of a Florida professor of psychology: K Anders Ericsson (Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, 2006). Ericsson concludes that people who are Very Good at doing something aren’t innately superior but they do have different modes of action. He feels there’s little evidence to support the belief that genetically programmed ability makes the difference. The main difference between those who do really well, and those who do not is that the former practice much more, and practice very rigorously and even somewhat obsessively. It’s not just mindless practice either. They are much more thoughtful in their practice, and they seek feedback. Just simply repeating the same behaviours without consciously striving to improve doesn’t seem to lead to progress.

"The traditional assumption is that people come into a professional domain, have similar experiences, and the only thing that's different is their innate abilities. There's little evidence to support this. With the exception of the influence of height and body size in some sports, no characteristic of the brain or body has been shown to constrain an individual from reaching an expert level."

Ericsson attributes the apparently amazing gifts of musicians like Mozart, or athletes like Tiger Woods not to their inherent talents but to practice. Studying biographies of geniuses reveals that they had all spent countless hours in practicing, all had access to excellent teaching with a lot of expert feedback, and opportunities to perform that were unusual. Ericsson described "deliberate practice" as the key. "From the outside, it seems like talented people don't have to put in a lot of effort. They make it look so easy. But when you look closely, the opposite is actually true. The best performers are almost always the ones who practice the most. I have yet to find a talented person who didn't earn their talent through hard work and thousands of hours of practice."

Their tremendous skill is the result of "gradual refinements of particular aspects of performance through repetition with immediate feedback." In one study of classical pianists, those who played brilliantly had at least 10,000 hours practice by their 20th birthdays! Those who were merely adequate averaged about half of that. Similar data were evident in other spheres: chess, athletics, computer programming, medicine. It’s not just mindless practice or standard drills that work, he discovered; those who do really well have access to focused guidance and they develop very innovative practice routines: they set specific goals, learn to evaluate their work meaningfully, and refine the specific skill sets necessary. Ericsson gave the following example:

"Medical diagnosticians see a patient once or twice, make an assessment in an effort to solve a particularly difficult case, and then they move on. They may never see him or her again. I recently interviewed a highly successful diagnostician who works very differently. He spends a lot of his own time checking up on his patients, taking extensive notes on what he's thinking at the time of diagnosis and checking back to see how accurate he is. This extra step he created gives him a significant advantage compared with his peers. It lets him better understand how and when he's improving."

I don’t know that I can get anywhere near all the above, especially since I’m - ah-hum- a little over 20 (!), but my goal now is to try. I challenge you!!! Decide your goals – are your activities going to lead you toward them?

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


PS the quilt at the top is called "Firedreams", I hope my goals don't prove to be just that!
More of my quilts can be seen on my website, please visit!


Jane Moxey said...

"Jack of all trades, master of none" is the phrase that popped into my mind when I read your comment about not wanting just to be a good all rounder. That "handle" was a mark of great success at my British all girls boarding school, by the way! I am not a serious quilt artist and have found myself dabbling for the most part. This has helped me in my career as a TV producer of topics quilt-related, however. A little dip into traditional, some surface technique play, art quilt classes, design classes to improve my art vocabulary, some water painting classes and so forth...Your words today give me pause for thought as I have more time on my hands at this point in my life, so maybe it's time to get more "serious" without losing my playful attitude to the whole lovely thing. Creative practicing -- what a good idea.

Clare Wassermann said...

I had been a professional musician for many years and have taken up textiles as a new persuit. I put in 8 hours a day at music college for 4 years and then amny hours as a pro obviously. I could easily be sucked into the same in art, but my children still need lots of attention - it can be frustrating just "arting" at night time, but I have to use what time I have, knowing that they will grow and leave and I have another fabulous persuit to put my time and mind to.
Thank you for your words of wisdom.

Marina said...

Thank you for writing!!!
It is really inspiring when you find somebody’s thoughts are in parallel with yours. Right now I was seating and thinking about my goals. And here is your post. Actually, I want to tell you that your art and your stories gave me a lot of inspiration.
First I found images of your art work and love them. Your quilts ARE as “meaningful and satisfying” as great paintings are. I don’t do quilts, but I do paper appliqué which intend to be my way of “painting”. So, first of all it was wonderful to see what can be done in technique of appliqué. After that I came back to my old idea to use paint on my cut-outs of paper. I did 2 new works and I am glad that it increased my options and showed me what I can explore more.
Then I found that you and me have some similarities in destines. I came to US from Russia 11 years ago to work as a researcher, I have PhD in biology. By the way, I always loved psychology and read a lot of psychological books. I also resigned from University to be able to do my art work. The biggest difference I see that you did everything in younger age and now you are a successful artist and I am still newcomer to art world.
I came back to making art after long break (more than 10 years). This time I saw my first goal to make a serious commitment to become a professional artist. After some learning, working, joining some organizations, exhibiting, I feel that I more or less archived that goal. What is next, when you are “much more than 20…”?
It really takes some thinking… And here is your post, actually gave me some helpful insight. What I am missing now is a feedback. But here is the puzzle: where to find it? I mean not compliments (also it is nice to have it), not only market for selling (which is important also), but meaningful feedback from people who understand your attempts and challenges. Art in Pittsburgh is very different from what I do. So even I am a member of all Pittsburgh’s organizations and I have mostly positive responses I don’t feel close to any of local groups and I don’t know the reason. Maybe it’s because I am not conceptual artist, maybe because I have different background. Maybe it’s because I cut paper instead of paintings. I realize that any of these reasons are not necessarily bad by itself and could be transformed to my advantage if I would be at my 20es. But where I am now it gives me a feeling of alienation, self-doubt and consequently does not help to move on.
I don’t have a blog and it would take a lot of time for me to write correctly in English. I have a website: So, if I made you a little bit curious, l would be more than happy to get your feedback. I also would appreciate any suggestions concerning how I could increase my world.
(My address:
Thank you for your attention,

Michelle said...

It feels like you are inside my head.
I always want to tell people more about why I did something a certain way than how. It says more about me wanting to convey a felling rather than just a nice picture.
I have many of what I call half quilts; things I started and grew so much through that I needed to move on. I never look at those things in a negative way; just a stepping stone in learning to get me where I need to go.
It's all part of that practice to make it all look effortless, the sign of a true artist. I think it's more about passion. If you really love what you do you're more apt to do it, thus practice comes naturally.
To Jolly Good Yarn Girl,
Don't worry, If you have real talent, it will still be there when your children are ready to be set free. I gave up a great career as a New York fashion designer to raise my two children. Now that they are independant and I don't live any where near New York, I'm a fiber artist. I love it and have no regrets!! I do what I love every day. Who can ask for more!
Elizabeth, Do you ever critique other artists work. I would love the advise. I always feel as I've said before that my work never fits in. I'm not sure where to go.
I always look forward to reading. Michelle

Nina Marie said...

Thanks so much Elizabeth for sharing the fact that you too have struggled with dogs. I sometimes feel that the fear of making something that is weak is holding my work back. I need to stop looking at a new piece as an investment of a lot of time and $$ (both of which are always at a premium). New work should always be a chance to explore the answer to "What if?"
I LOVE Firedreams - the monochromatic palette compliments the rhythm of the piece and draws in the viewer. I had to giggle though that you actually got through a piece without your beloved squares :)) Your blog as always, is a true blessing.