Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Purposes of Art as seen in Art Quilts

and the pink blob….

An art work is not just an object on a wall:
it is also a way in which human beings find meaning; it is a way in which they create their world”. (Tony Godfrey).  
  I read this quote and began to cogitate about art and its purpose in our lives.   Looking at beauty and grace makes us feel good and I think good art gives us a sense of the beauty that is to be found in the world. 
Agnes Martin wrote:
When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life.

And  Jan Myers-Newburys’ response to Martha Seilman’s question as to why she made quilts was:
I would like the viewer to find beauty in my work, and to understand the great pleasure I derive from the act of making each quilt. 

grasses by stream

Jan’s work is definitely beautiful, gorgeous in fact, and makes us look again and again at it and then later we see more beauty in nature: wild grasses in ponds and roadsides.



driveway trees summer 300 Katharine Allen’s and Barbara Watler’s work with leaves and trees have a similar effect.  Later we look more closely at the patterns of leaves…


But what about work that doesn’t speak initially of beauty? Works that leaves us with questions like “why would she put those pieces of fabric together?” What can that work do for us?  to be honest, I often find it difficult to figure out.  If it’s not going to add beauty and grace to my life, why would I want to hang it on my wall?  why would I want to look at it more than once?  I can certainly see the purpose of art that delivers a powerful message (like Guernica), art that makes us think (should we really be doing this?  whatever the “this” is!).  But I think art like that is difficult to make and get the point across in an effective and memorable way.  And I have seen very few art quilts that have ever had that kind of impact on me.

We don’t want the beauty to be predictable and insipid, however;  a cloying prettiness that cheapens the very idea of beauty is not satisfying to the palate with any experience at all.   Of course there are a lot of undiscerning palates out there as many (but not all!) Viewers’ Choice awards suggest!!

And what about abstract art?  Art that comes more from within than without, art that is not driven by a response to the beauty of nature?  Can abstract art portray beauty and emotion? I think it can, but  as I look at it I wonder about  the maker’s intention: I want to get into the artist’s head and see and feel and know what they were experiencing that drove them to make this work and I’m unsatisfied if I see and feel that there’s nothing there. It doesn’t have to be emotional content of course, a keen intellectual curiosity is fine – such as that engendered by the puzzle maze quilts of Ellen Oppenheimer. Paula Nadelstern gives us a double treat: we can intellectually analyze the complexity of the kaleidoscopic image and also bask in its beauty.

Art should have an impact, it’s important that the  work has presence. You know how forgettable some quilts are – you go to a show with a friend – or sit and look at a catalogue together over a glass of wine (yes I do occasionally drink something other than tea!) – and you realize that as soon as you see some pieces, they disappear from your memory – just no impact at all. Bland, vapid, predictable, wallpaper, flat, uninspired, totally unmemorable. When I was a child and sick in bed a great deal I would search the wallpaper for the place where the patterns went wrong!!! Now that would have been interesting! One place where the little pink blob was yellow, or a square, or even missing altogether! (I knew you were wondering when that pink blob would appear!).

You need a little tension, something slightly off, something to tease your mind. Too perfect and balanced is not good. No heart. I was fascinated to hear the same thing from the So You Think (tv show) judges: they criticized one of the dancers auditioning for the show as being too smooth, too perfect. A perfect white sauce on white fish with mashed potatoes all matching. The Japanese (of course!) have a word: WabiSabi (?) which indicates this quality of a piece. The little bit of crookedness that means a human being made it, the sense of incompleteness, something still to be seen.

So, when next you enter your sewing room (or studio – and, by the way,  don’t you think it is so idiotic for people to be comparing and voting on and photographing studios???? is this about art or is it about real estate!!! I will never buy a magazine that writes articles about the artist’s lavatory instead of his/her artwork!)…
eniow….when next you enter the place where you create art work, think about why you are doing it:  Beauty? Impact? Mystery?Feeling? A way to find the meaning of it all? and let me know!

And, watch out for those pink blobs, by the way….
If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth


Gerrie said...

You brought back a big childhood memory - looking at wallpaper patterns! I loved this post. I know that I am much more drawn to work that has a wonkiness that results from the artist playing around with an idea.

Sandy said...

very good. agree with the studio magazine bit! maybe it is about getting people to covet after something they can't have?

but I also agree about looking for something not quite so perfect.
Sandy in Bracknell

Nina Marie said...

first of all - I like seeing people's studio when they talk about them in their blogs - only because it helps me visualize them as a person. I especially like when they show them while work is in session and maybe all cleaned up.

Secondly - so many times abstract work leaves me flat. I think its because I can't find the artist's meaning behind the work. I often wonder if that's because of my ignorance or their fault. Not to mention its why I haven't tried to do an abstract piece (up to this point LOL!)

Anddddddd - want to say - that IMHO - just because its decorative and pretty doesn't mean its bad art. Lots of times pretty and decorative means I'm looking at it again and again. (once again - my ignorance might be showing - grin)

Elsie Montgomery said...

I've noticed a sad trend in quilt groups and shows -- and this is really sad --- the popular quilts or at least the ones that get the applause/votes are the biggest ones or those with the most intricate quilting. Workmanship, while important, goes by the board if the quilt is simply big. But even workmanship sometimes gets credit over other factors often missing, like unity, movement, composition, etc. Excellence is rare. We keep trying.

Jackie said...

The best compliment I received about one of my landscape quilts was, "That's what it feels like there!" I was proud that I had achieved that, at least for one viewer. My current quilt is not a landscape and not a happy one, but I hope viewers can recognize the deep feeling involved. It's all about communication, isn't it? Thanks for writing.

Kristin L said...

I started out looking for beauty, but soon found I needed to figure out what it all means. Now I think it's about the figuring out and about feeling -- not so pretty anymore. But I don't care if no one (including me) would hang my recent work over their sofa -- I'm still compelled to make it. And then there's the Mr Hyde side of me that makes simple bed quilts just for fun, with no artistic aspirations at all. ;-)