I was reading a review in Art in America (a magazine I thoroughly recommend, much more interesting than the latest way to piece a heart or how to glue candy floss onto your quilt) about Dana Schulz by reviewer Zach Feuer. He stated that it was “fun to watch artists take risks, especially after they have established themselves in a market that tends to reward the cautious nurturing of a signature style”.
It struck me that all the players in the quilt world (makers, viewers and judges) do tend to encourage far too much caution..time and again I have looked at the latest catalogue or slide review and thought why the imp arn’t these people trying anything new? A style is established, success is found with it and then it seems people sit back and keep on churning out endless reproductions. Don’t they get bored? What happens to the zest and excitement of the early discovery steps? A period of consolidation and exploration is all right for a while, but once the formula has been worked out, it is oh so easy to overwork it and produce nothing but potboilers. Old tired chewy tasteless hens of quilts. There’s a group I belong to and when we meet to share slides/images I almost get a feeling that I’ve gone back in time. Didn’t I see these pieces last year? and the year before that? How about just pushing it a little? yes, it’s risky but without risk…there’s no progress, no new discovery, no fresh statement about the chosen content.
Part of the problem of course is the audience…I know many people who still prefer Michael’s James pallid beautiful striped worms to the bold shock of the Swedish ikon inspired pieces to which he suddenly shifted…it’s hard to go to a minor key when you’ve always composed in a major one…but contrast energizes both the artist and the viewer.
And the jurors: given a choice between an established accomplished piece that smoothly reiterates an old idea and a raw, perhaps unresolved, attempt at a different way of examining the original theme…which would they choose? Are they being too timid? I must applaud the QN ‘09 jurors who state in the introduction to the catalogue that they were deliberately trying to avoid including those who only entered the tried and true. Let’s hope that this jumpstarts the many wonderful artists who have settled too comfortably in their cosy cushioned corners, into exciting new work!
And now, I’m off to take risks…well at least to try! If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth
Re-investing oneself is exhilarating!
Hear, hear! Cheers to taking risks...I love trying new things...even when I think their new and it probably isn't at lest it's authentic!
I tell my students not to be afraid of risking mistakes. Without them we cant learn, move forward or discover new opportunities. Its amazing how many of them prefer to stick with what they know already though and how many of them are so very afraid of what others might say about their work. I think its fear that stops so many from taking a risk.
There is such pressure to develop a recognizable style, and to have a signature look. I DO get bored. I think I may never achieve those self-perpetuating goals because I can't seem to maintain my focus very long. I have felt diminished and guilty about that until today. Your thoughts are SO liberating for me! But meanwhile, I do have a question for you. How do you balance the need for an artistic identity with the sense of artistic adventure to which you refer?
Now you've done it. Provoked me. I need oil paints.
Something that stops me from being more adventurous in my work is that I really want to make sure that my present style is solid and strong. I agree that I see quilt artists that would be helped by being pushed (even shoved!) out of their box - buttttt - I also see a lot of quilters that flit from one style to another without actually settling on one. Maybe the best worlds is called for - experiment outside your style but then take time to really explore that style and grow in it.
'Without risk, no progress.' My work is developing and each one seems to grow from the previous, I learn so much from each piece. Your words set me to wondering how to push each one even more. Thank you for urging me onward to I know not what! It's out there calling!
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