Looking at the field of art quilts today, I see tremendous energy and enthusiasm plus many hours of obsessive work. But how many pieces would stand the test of hanging in your living room for a year? How many pieces would continue to look good and offer up interest, enjoyment and intrigue for even that long? I must say, by the way, that I think the same holds true with many mediums – it’s not just quilts!! I’ve already written about my dentist’s appalling waiting room (grizzly bear statues (yes with full sets of teeth!), heavy brown and black furniture, deeply shaded windows, and deep beige prints on deep beige walls) .. and my optician’s waiting room is no better – 3 large paintings that make you want to sit with your back to them! And I noticed everybody was….
Not all quiltmakers are interested in strengthening their work, they just enjoy making quilts for fun – following a pattern or an idea. And that is just fine. But it’s the proliferation of people throwing stuff onto a background, embellishing it like crazy and then calling themselves artists, but wondering why it somehow just doesn’t look right, that is both puzzling and saddening. If you put a tremendous amount of time into something, you should be rewarded by having a piece that is strong and intriguing and worthy of being passed onto children and grandchildren like the wonderful 19th century quilts some folk are lucky enough to have.
Once we’re out of school, there really are few experts to whom one can turn for assessment and guidance. I do think that we have to educate ourselves as to what it takes to strengthen our work. I’m trying to do that! Every day, as well as sewing or sketching out designs, or cutting or dyeing, I’m reading (and trying to remember!) something about art that I hope will eventually translate into better work. I’m trying not to accept my first design for a new quilt, or the first solution to a problem, or the first colour scheme I devise.
My current book is the Critique Handbook I mentioned yesterday (Buster and Crawford). I think you have to learn to be able to make an honest and, as far as possible, objective critique of your work in order to move forward. A good critique will examine all aspects of a piece and suggest solutions to problems; as a critiquee (ghastly word but you know what I mean!) your job is to listen, not be defensive, no sentences that begin “but..”!! etc. You have to be able to look at the piece on its own, not as your personal creation. I think as quilters we are getting more familiar with the formal aspects of composition – I know I’ve harped on about it! And you have to get that right – which doesn’t necessarily mean a slavish following of rules, but an thoughtful consideration of them.
But I’m getting more interested now in the content. Not just the obvious content that is depicted, but also in that which can be deduced. I’m thinking that when I visit New York in April, I’m going to go to a portrait gallery – and examine the paintings to see what the artist is telling me about the person’s character, and how that was done. How did they convey the extra information, the feeling they had about the person? What could I learn from that that I can use next time I make a quilt?
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!