Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seeking Innovation

I often wonder what pieces to enter into a show and why the jurors choose the ones they do (if they do!).  When considering which pieces to enter, I try to remember what kind of work that particular show seems to favour.    If there’s a catalogue, this may be indicated in the juror’s statement from the previous show.

In general juror’s statements are extremely useful to “mine” for ways to evaluate your work and to help you decide what to enter.  You tend to see the same themes over and over: unity and harmony – everything playing together to “support the aesthetic statement”.  So, I guess, if you want to make a quilt about “rough” – then your lines and shapes and colors and stitching etc should all be “rough” but also be sufficiently integrated to show a high level of craftsmanship – not so easy!  And if your quilt is about “smooth” and all the elements are smooth then you run the risk of it being trite, banal, predictable and, of course, redundant!  to say the least!

Another oft mentioned phenomenon sought by the average jurors  is the grabbing of their attention. Does the image  compel them to want to look longer and further and become lost in the piece? but then what happens to the subtle quietly beautiful piece? probably lost in the crowd…alas.

One juror remarked that it was hard not to favor innovation over adaptation, i.e. work in a series – but not for too long!  Freshness, originality, innovation  are the  concepts of which most jurors are very fond.  I notice that in the local art shows I like to enter these are the key ideas which the juror say he/she seeks.   Though sometimes it is hard to see!  For example in the recent OCAF (Oconee County Art Federation), the juror picked 2 of the following three pieces:

thelastglow72 affluentchimney72 forcefield 1 72

She chose the two more complex subtle pieces rather than the bold strong graphic quilt, which surprised me, so one should be bold and innovative, but not too bold or innovative!

Quilt National, the grand master of all quilt shows (or should that be mistress?), has been said to be  a “standard bearer for change, advocating innovation and [presenting] a challenge to redefine the concept of quilt” (Robin Treen, QN 2007).
To make a quilt that meets these requirments is a huge challenge for those of us still attempting to master this very complex medium that requires considerable technical skills as well as a thorough knowledge of composition and design – and on top of that the requirement to be always forward-looking, breaking fresh ground, leaping upward without a nice comfortable crampon or two!  And very often I feel that those who have mastered the medium then find it hard to be yet more innovative, introduce more and newer ideas.

thearroganceofcalm72 botallackmine

On the above occasion the simpler bolder piece was the one that was picked. Hmm…

: wherebongtreesgrow

but then this piece was rejected:





and the one below (which is okay, but definitely not as strong as the one on the right) was accepted…





Well with the upcoming shows, I shall try to be innovative, but not too much so, bold and subtle, obvious and obscure.  I wonder if I dare to enter my unrecyclable piece anywhere?



I’m sure those quilt police would just love the ratty old towel upon which this piece is based…but arn’t those dye splotched towels we have in our dye studios so beautiful?  and they are truly innovative…you don’t see them anywhere else…..hmm…..


well, if you have been, thanks for reading!  and do let me know your thoughts, especially if they run counter to mine!  I’m interested in all ideas….especially, of course, the innovative ones!!  Elizabeth


Elsie Montgomery said...

Back in the days when I did wildlife paintings to make a living, one production company rejected my work, not on the basis of skill, etc. but because I "had not focused on one species" and instead sent them samples of deer, elk, moose, horses, lions, etc. Who can guess the minds of art juries? Thanks for the tips giving us a few clues to answer that question!

Anonymous said...

Interesting! I'm not convinced we are always the best judges of our own work, but then neither should we put too much value on the comments of every random collection of judges! Elizabeth, I agreed with the judges selections in a couple of the examples above-- but like them, I made a snap judgment on a small amount of visual information, for what that's worth! (Also not long ago, I had a piece rejected for being "too busy" when that was sort of the point of it and I thought the title reflected it. So that one, I shrugged off and filed under "missing the point." But it is also possible that I didn't successfully pull it off!


PS, love your blog-- it is the best of the art quilt blogs, in my opinion

Faith said...

I've never done anything for a show, so I've not run into this, but I don't get it, either. I like all the examoles, and especially loved "Forcefield 172" and "Where the Bong Trees Grow" but then, I LOVE bold color. But what do they mean by "bold?" Or even "innovative?"

Anonymous said...

I hear you. Yet, I do agree with the judges choices: The graphic piece does not hold my interest and seems a bit simplistic; the complicated one that was not chosen seems to be two different quilts, because I feel quite a bit of discomfort when I look at it. I love your blog and learn so much from it! Thank you Elizabeth for your dedication.

Elizabeth Barton said...

what interesting comments - especially as they reveal a variety of likes and dislikes! I am always most intrigued by reasons for the likes and dislikes - if a juror thought a quilt "too busy" or "too bold" but you meant it to be that way, does that mean you simply entered the quilt into the wrong show? or that you didn't justify your boldness sufficiently>

sally said...

IMHO no one should make quilts the way they make quilts (or any art) to please jurors. From other kinds of judged competition I have taken home the lesson that what a judge offers is an opinion. Not law, not gospel, just one (hopefully informed) person's opinion. Yes, you as the exhibitor should take their opinion into consideration (after all, you went to some trouble to hear it -- making and entering your quilt and all) but you should not let that one person's opinion drastically change your own. You are the artist. If you like what you've made, and no one else does, that's OK.

Quiltedtime said...

Hmmmmmm.....I have always tried to focus on allowing my quilts to reflect MY vision. Not that it is any better than anyone else's, but it is my unique way of viewing the world. Jurors are the last folks on my mind.

Elizabeth Barton said...

That's definitely one way of looking at it, Quiltedtime, but I'm always interested in what is happening out there! Who or what is hot? and why? I find I can soon stale myself out very quickly!!

Browndirtcottage said...

Oh my....these are all amazing!!!

Lorie McCown said...

I liked LC"s comment, 'who can guess the minds of art juries?" That is true! The thing I throw in there to round out the entries is the one the jurors pick! The 4 thousand hour painting or quilt I've sweated over gets narry a look. I have great pride in being rejected by every major quilt show out there. I've got into a few as well. It's subjective, art judging, and viewing. It's about connection. I 'like' art pieces because I've connected with them (in one way or another) maybe something as simple as I like black and white art!

magicmoonmusings said...

A thought provoking post, thank you.

I'd like to start entering my work in juried shows but there are two issues holding me back. First and foremost, it's expensive. I totally understand the need for entry fees, I have no issue with that aspect. But for me personally, I'm not certain taking the chance is worth it. I'm in Canada and once I add up the entry fee, the international shipping, the insurance, the appraisal for the insurance - yikes. And of course that's just on the off chance the piece will be chosen.

The second issue relates to your post. Quilt National in particular seems to be VERY dependent on who the jurors are in any given year. And it seems to be overly dependent on the 'flavour of the month' aspect. Surface design is all the rage right now. In the next few years, who knows?

In the grand scheme of things, art is SO PERSONAL. A piece may be very, very worthy but it happens that panel of jurors simply don't like a certain style or theme. Often, the choices seem socio-political. Statement pieces seem to get more respect even when the technical ability is rubbish. LC said it best, I think - "Who can guess the minds of jurors?"

In the end, I think an artist should create what is moving to him or her. But yes, I do understand what you're saying about keeping one's finger on the pulse, so to speak. There are several pieces from past Quilt Nationals that I thought were truly *hideous* - yet now I go back to the catalogues and I can better appreciate what the artist was trying to convey. Exposure - even to stuff we dislike - can be inspirational. Maybe that's part of the jurying process too?

One final thought - Quilt National has a disturbing tendency of choosing pieces from certain established artists over and over again. I won't name names, but their 'style' is highly recognizable and after many years, not particularly innovative. So why are their pieces always juried in? Is it because the piece itself is worthy? I'm inclined to believe it's because an established artist is automatically given respect and worthiness, rather than having an individual piece judged on it's own merit.

Please don't think I'm picking on Quilt National. I adore what they have done for art quilting and I hope they continue for many decades to come. And I've been exposed to artists I never would have heard of otherwise. It's just that I often scratch my head over what the art quilting world considers worthy or not, and QN is certainly the most visible face of art quilting.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Marie you raise some very good points. Entering shows is expensive and I'm getting increasingly thoughtful about which I enter. I deplore the recent trend for shows to require one to join some organization at the same time. I think in the long run that will dilute the pool from which entries can be chosen for the show. I don't enter shows like that anymore.
Re the choosing of works by well known people. It's a difficult one - I think the show has to say whether they want the focus to be on New work or on the Best work (as judged by the jurors) and they should state this upfront in their entry guidelines.

Nancy Smeltzer said...

Having been a professional quilt maker for 30 years now, I have enough rejection letters to paper a small room. I, am however, better at "judging the style " of a show by looking on-line at the previous year's entries, so my rejection rate is much lower than when I first started.Still, since I put so many buttons and beads on my pieces, (25 pounds of 12.5kg), it's hard for some judges to "place" my work. I still keep plugging along, doing what feeds my soul, and more of more of it gets accepted...
Nancy Smeltzer www.fiberfantasies.com