Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don’t Look Back

…was always the advice given by the centenarian as to the secret of a healthy old age…

and I’m beginning to think it might well be true of  critiques as well!!


I was looking through old sketchbooks and came across advice given me by the art prof 12  and 13 years ago and it was no different from advice given me a couple of months ago by an artist friend!! Yikes! how can I not have learned?


The professor said he always like my more abstract quilts the best because he felt the problem with pictorial work  was that it had a point of reference.  With abstract work, however, one could make up one’s own mind as to what the piece was about.  (But what if you want to make a piece about a specific something, I wondered?  Questions like that usually just lead to a downward sniff so were rarely repeated!)




He felt things that were too realistic prevented the viewer from using their own imagination. And I certainly want my quilts to engage the attention of anyone who cares to stop and look !  He instructed me that one should reduce  the information included in an artwork so as not to be too obvious.  My Lord! too obvious!! ugh – that’s practically as bad as tampon art!   And, in fact, I have learned from my attempts at watercolor painting, that it’s much better just to hint at something (e.g. a window on a building) than to spell out every last carpentered inch.  Lost edges are another way of reducing information of course.


Doing the unexpected thing – reverse  or multiple perspective,  reversed lighting, putting the focal point a tad outside the so-called Golden Area…(actually I think the “Golden area”  should go out with the “g spot”! )..would be other ways of reducing realism.

Ambiguity intrigues.  Definitely a mantra to remember!

Don’t have things too real…and don’t look back!  The view might be just all too familiar!

So what place d’you think realism has in art quilts? Please do comment.  And, If you have been, thanks for reading !  Elizabeth

PS  all illustrations are from pieces completed over 10 years ago.


Gerrie said...

I am usually struck by the exellent workmanship used to achieve the look and beyond that - boring!!

Kathleen Loomis said...

Nancy Crow once told me that she prefers abstract over representational because "it's too easy" to make pictures. I'm not sure of that (perhaps it's hard to make good pictures) but I agree with her conclusion.

I think that fabric is not a good medium for achieving literal representations -- hard edges, etc. And too often people make representational quilts from photos of children, old trucks, puppies, flowers and other sentimental subjects that lack intellectual or even emotional substance. Other than that, I like literal representation just fine.

Deb Lacativa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deb Lacativa said...

I've been thinking about this since you posed the question and really couldn't think of an answer until today. It was creeping up on me when you showed me that latest piece.

I was thinking about it's very specific impact and how you achieved that impact with the mere suggestion of a shape. The harder you looked for it the more it skittered away.

I think part of the problem with being literal in cloth is that, generally, people's expectation of art quilts is something suggested two dimensionally. The viewer knows it's cloth and they think they know it's limitations visually.

If you bring in painterly effects, such as shading or perspective, the viewer's eye and brain can't readily reconcile the information.

Very few fiber artists attempt (or achieve) to fool the eye into thinking the subject has been rendered in paint.

Each representational fiber artist uses a variety of techniques in cloth to approximate some painterly attributes but the average eye balks and fusses and finds "faults" and the piece is dismissed out of hand.

Could it be that non-representational fiber art has a better chance to satisfy because it's easier for the viewers eye/brain to respond directly to rather to it rather than having to read and decode the artist's attempt at rendering a real subject?

Are viewers inherently lazy and plagued by short attention spans.
Probably, sadly, yes and yes.

magsramsay said...

Why does it always seem to be either or??? Pictorial doesn't have to be hyper-realistic. My preferences both in what I admire and what I aim to make is that middle ground of structures and landscapes hinted at but not wholly abstract.

Nina Marie said...

maybe I haven't matured enough as an artist, but I like a nice clear point of reference. Don't get me wrong I don't want my art to hit me over the head - but I don't want the first thing I think of when seeing a piece to be - what was she thinking? So I guess its a fine line for me - not to be obvious - but still be obvious enough!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you for the comments - I love to get a discussion going! I didn't know that Nancy Crow had stated that representational art was "too easy" - I wonder if she feels that is true in mediums other than fabric? I also wonder how she defines "abstract": in the accepted sense of the word as being "abstracted from something real" or in the "non-representational" sense.
It is always easier to copy a composition than to formulate your own, I think, but I can't see that any particular subject matter is easier or harder to make good art from/about.
It is much harder to make something fresh and intriguing about kittens etc because they've been done to death by Hallmark!!

Unknown said...

I think there IS place for both as well. Take a look at Lori Gravley's piece here:

It's representational, but yet I think it says more than just that. Certainly, I your own pieces, Elizabeth, appeal to me because I think it is MORE than just the shapes of buildings and man-made structures.

I did a segment of a Monkey Puzzle tree and it's funny because it is representational, yet most people don't know what it is because it is unusual and it is only a quarter segment, yet it speaks to me, and others like it as well.

Yet, so many of the abstract pieces don't speak to me. Some do, some don't.

Quilts allow us to use texture in a way that photo-realism in painting won't.

Personally, I think the world would be diminished if we were only to do all abstract, or conversely all representational.

Lori LaBerge said...

There seems to be some opposition between those in the art world(my abstract pieces tend to make the magazines and show) and those outside of the art world (my representational or close to that tend to sell better to the public). Other may have different experiences, I'd like to hear more on this. I like both--it usually just depends on how the piece is put together and what it has to say.
The last picture you had up intrigued me. The letter, glass, balcony. Did the person just read a sad or happy letter? Did they need a drink to recover from the shock of the letter or to celebrate? Are they celebrating the view or contemplating jumping? I love this piece as it has so many interpretations.

Karen M said...

I enjoy quilts that let me find a story in them(maybe there is a writer inside trying to get out!). Sometimes representational quilts are too specific to allow me to find MY story in them. But oddly enough, the same thing sometimes happens with abstract quilts. I'm not sure why....

Jackie said...

I agree with magsramsay that it need not be an either/or proposition. There needs to be some soul in it. What was the goal? To replicate a scene? To play with light and shadow? Emotional response? I make both abstracts and representational but there's no danger or hyper-representation in my scenes, that's not the goal. And that is what comes first.

Karoda said...

Realism which is mircro-scopic always reinforces in me that there is more to seeing then the wide view which is what I lean towards readily. It encourages me to look closer and think deeper.

Also, realism in quilts lets the general viewer know what is possible with cloth and many casual viewers are impressed by it.