Friday, September 25, 2009

The Perfect Artist and the Secondary Easel

I used to long for the day when everything I made turned out exactly as I had hoped!  I felt sure that this would be the benchmark from which point I could finally think of myself as an “artist”.  An artist is someone who sits down and makes something perfect and beautiful Every Time!!!

Then of course I started reading about Real Artists and discovered that the only ones who think they they make perfect work every time are fooling themselves!!

I was very interested, therefore, by Robert Genn’s newsletter (which I thoroughly recommend) this morning as he wrote about established artists being extremely critical of their work.  He feels that they do this as part of a quality control check.  Artists who don’t look at their work in this way may be deluded!!  He talks about a primary easel and a secondary easel.  I like this idea…I think if one has the space it would be good to have a Design Wall where you allow yourself freedom to follow your sketch and/or deviate as the piece evolves and “what if” ideas spring to mind.    But then you should also have a “Critique Wall” where you examine the piece closely to spot the strong areas and the weak areas, literally saying What is Strong….and what is Weak?   I have a rough checklist on my secondary wall on which I have pinned up questions like “does it hang together?, is everything part of the whole?, is there excitement  -  mystery??  can I get rid of anything? ”etc.  If I read a critical review in an art magazine I look for further questions I could ask about on ongoing piece.  >                                                                       
>Being an artist means thinking, imagining, making and Improving.
I hope to never let a piece go without thinking how I could improve it – sometimes my improvement ideas are so radical that they can’t be accomplished within the piece, though I have been so drastic as to dump the whole lot in a dye bath, or to cut a piece up into six long columns and rearrange them, or to cut out all the weak areas and end up with something just one sixth of its former size!!!     What can be improved?  What cannot?  Before I’ve even finished the first piece, if I’m thinking how I could have made that piece better, or differently….I set to work on the next piece…as a result I am usually working on at least 3 pieces at once.

So before I completely finish a piece, before everything is totally done, I submit it to The Critique Wall.   There are usually a lot of changes at this point.  After it’s finished, I hang it in my living room until another piece is done.  This could be weeks, or even months.  The day to day living with the piece is the best test of all – does the quilt look fresh and satisfying Every Day??? or does one awkward element become more and more obvious?
It’s fascinating how the good bits become better and the weak bits become worse as it matures!!!  Just like people!                                  
Lest we despair that we’ll never become really good, Robert Genn reminds us of Thomas Merton’s thoughts: 

  "Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been  dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be  renewals, new beginnings. ...  this dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me ….. has helped me  to move  freely and even gaily with the stream of life."     

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


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your insights. They always inspire me to think and ponder. I found your blog a couple of weeks ago. It really is fantastic. Mary

Alison said...

I also find the computer screen is a good 'secondary easel'. I often recognize problems in a piece after photographing or scanning and viewing on the screen.

Nina Marie said...

I agree with this concept up to a point. We are all our own worse critics. I honestly don't know a woman who isn't. We need to make sure that self critiques don't turn too negative and therefore, into fear. This will hinder the whole creative process rather than enhance it. We need to remind, remind, remind ourselves to celebrate the good as well as look for ways to improve.