Thursday, May 31, 2012

Developing a style

While I don’t remember ever really thinking about this for my quilts, it’s taking me so much longer to acquire a style in watercolor that it is something for recent cogitation. With quilts I’ve always just made what has really fascinated me at the time with what seemed like the most appropriate techniques. People say I have “a style” but to be honest I think that most of them only think about the early cityscapes – I did make a lot of them – actually in just adding them up now I’ve realized I made about 100 of them! Not quite half my oeuvre. But that does leave an awful lot that are not cityscapes.

Not only:


arrogancedetail april rains crop

but also:


forcefield 1 72

E. H. Gombrich, in his book Art and Illusion, suggests that style is similar to having an “accent” – motor habits acquired early in one’s artistic experience. He also feels that the

“ skill of the hand in art, like the skill of the throat in language, develops as a result of the awareness of differences that have to be observed, or pointed out” which, I think, implies conscious learning whether assisted by a teacher or not.

An artist who copies a painting by another, such as Van Gogh’s many copies of Millet’s paintings
will still use his own style or schemata.

The artist is likely to create the “replica” in the way he/she has already been taught, the way that he/she has done it since they began making art. One’s earliest models and teachers, therefore, are most influential in the style that one later develops. Gombrich felt that Van Gogh repeated Millet’s visual statements with a strong Van Goghian accent: “the microstructure of movement and shapes that becomes the inimitable personal accent of the artist”. Many try to analyze artists’ style like this, i.e. with very concrete steps. I’ve always been surprised when a person says to me “oh you have a distinctive style” and I reply “and what does it consist of?”’ for their answers often seemed extremely global and simplistic. It’s like saying who am I? And the answer relates only to age, sex, weight, height and hair-do (or lack thereof!).

So I feel that, while “style” does refer to themes (like cityscapes, or Wolf Kahn’s barns), more importantly it relates to how you cut the fabric, to the sort of fabric you use, the kind of shapes and lines you prefer, the way you arrange those shapes and lines, the colors you like and how you arrange them, your use of certain kinds of value patterns and particular textures. Some peoples’ styles are more analyzeable than others. Take Jan Myers Newbury: the texture of the fabric is nearly always that of arashi shibori, the edges of the pieces are always straight, the compositions abstract and geometric.

However, it is clear that if a beginner tries to copy a specific style, it’s pretty evident that they are a beginner and it’s only in skilled hands that an effective copy can be made. Friedlander felt that the recognition of a personal style was more a matter of intuition based upon experience.

It might be truer to say that the personal style of any given artist might not be the result of individual peculiarities and particularities which can be listed separately but rather by an analysis of the relationships of all the parts of the piece, of the interaction of many personal choices at each stage of the composition thus leading to a compilation of sequences of effects that would be perceived as a whole. Some think it would take a meeting between both expert forgers and experienced connoisseurs of that particular medium in order to agree on the exact criteria that constituted a particular person’s style!

Gombrich feels that as verbal language conveys not only the facts but also the feelings about an experience, so should one’s visual language in making art. This is a very telling summary – we are all aware of somebody telling a tale in a monotone without expression, like a child just learning to read who spaces out the words without any real awareness of the whole. Or someone learning to play an instrument who plays successive notes rather than phrases, and also in the next stage where they play absolutely technically accurate but cold and feelingless rendition of the music. Well, the same is true with our visual language in our art quilts, style is not only the accurate notes or words but also the characteristic emotional response to the story we are telling. Where you put yourself and your humanity into the piece.

Which brings me back to my own search for style in watercolor – I’ve got the techniques in art quilts down to a point where I can think more about the feeling (even though some judges still observe a slightly frayed note and go no further!), but with the watercolors I still need to reach that stage…I need to practice my scales more! But first, I think, a nice cuppa tea! If you have been, thanks for reading! And I’d love to read any comments about this topic – do you think you have a style? And if so, what does it consist of?



Sujata Shah said...

Oh Elizabeth,

You couldn't have written this post at a better time for me! Every word you write makes perfect sense. I do believe I have 'accent'. I call my blog 'The Root Connection, which pretty much is all about that accent/stories I have. Here is one of them.

As much as that quilt is a direct reminder of ever famous Gee's Bend cover quilt, It holds a special place in my heart.

I was always afraid of copying and so I stayed away from taking classes. Your workshop and this post has opened up so many possibilities and cleared many ideas that were blocking my creativity. It has not only taught me to develop my own accent but fine-tune the language of art itself. Looking forward to more discussions in future.

d r e w said...

this is an interesting topic... thank you for sharing your thoughts!

speaking of van gogh and millet... you should take a look at the book "steal like an artist"...

Joe Madl said...

this is a great topic, elizabeth, and really gets one to thinking. i've heard of quilt artists who toss out all of their quilting books and patterns and shy away from workshops...a few even going to the point of not visiting galleries and exhibits for fear of absorbing the "accent" of other artists. but we must remember that we do not live in a vacuum and cannot effectively create art in one. our art, whatever the medium, is a language, as you have so eloquently pointed out, and language presupposes "others"... a community to share the language.

i really love this idea of "accents" in our artistic style. like verbal accents, we will always find others who have similar accents since we are social creatures and generally our art is aimed and communicating ideas or emotions. if we were to develope our own arcane tongue that no one else could understand, then what would be the point?

my own personal style has been one in the throws of evolution. i imagine it will always be thus since we are always evolving... that being said, i share an "accent" with jude hill in that i enjoy salvaging fabrics and fibers and re-imagining them into something new. though my own "accent" diverges there in that i do not stick to thinner fabrics. i enjoy texture as much as color, and have been seeking methods of exploiting this in my work of late. i tend to like to blend both hand and machine work; dye and overdye techniques; personal symbolism; as well as threadwork and anything else that happens to bring me closer to finding the style "accent" that speaks to my inner core.

thank you so much for such a thought-provoking post!


Anonymous said...

thank you Elzabeth, just what I needed. Robin

Beth said...

Great post to come at the end of your series class on QU. I have loved the online class. It's the first online class I liked. Your course made me look at my work in such an organized and clinical way (not a bad thing at all) and I also see my accent. I enjoy your blog and even more so your "series" course.

99 Cent Merchandise said...

awesome stuff! More power to your blog!

Mary Keasler said...

As someone always being teased about my country hillbilly accent, this post hit close to home. I have had people say to me that they recognize my style in my quilts. When I ask them to explain, they can't seem to do so. I agree with Joe, as in I am (hopefully) constantly evolving. Must you have a style to be an artist? Can you be creative in several different areas? And do it well? As with hand dyeing/creating your own fabrics, creating a design and making an art quilt from that fabric. Which is what you and many other do so well. I feel that if we don't strive to learn new ideas/ideals and dig deeper within, then what good is a style? Especially in the fast moving world that we occupy. Even if I find a piece of art that I think is some of the best I have ever seen, often I find that I will eventually tire of that piece and look for something new. I am constantly exploring and looking for something more. I keep searching for my true accent. Though would it become a constant? As for drawing inspiration from others, in my mind that can never be avoided. We are all constantly exposed to a torrent of information these days, I find that I have subconsciously made pieces that has vibrations from something that I have seen in the past, be it recent or from far past experience. You have posed so many interesting questions to my mind. As always, thank you.

Mary Beth Frezon said...

Thanks - that was a lot to chew on. I suppose many people would agree with someone who recently said to me "oh, another quilt with little squares?" But, I think my style is more about light and color and I happen to use squares and simple shapes. While I have done things outside that, I'm still enjoying this so I guess I'm good for now.

Mary wrote: Must you have a style to be an artist?

I think it's the other way, when you're an artist you have a style. It develops as you continue to create things.

Debbie Bein said...

Elizabeth, I happened across your posting today and found a topic I think a lot about.

I've been art quilting for about six years now and for the first two or three years I didn't think I'd found my 'voice' or style and was surprised when others could see it. As time and the work progressed, I thought I could identify at least three distinctive 'voices' or 'styles.' More time has gone by and a lot more work. The actual work gets easier in a way - I'm used to my pace, I'm comfortable with my medium(s), I'm more knowledgeable about myself within the process.

At this point in my artistic journey, I can see my 'voice' speaks in the rhythm that has developed due to serious hard work and many projects, hours and hours of work, tedium, delight, decisions, choices, experimentation, exhaustion, creative blocks, joy, indecision....the whole gamut of emotions and situations which arise in the creative process. So, my process has become a habit of sorts...the way I work. And the way I work has become somewhat unified across the three disparate 'styles' or 'voices' I call mine. Like speaking three different languages, my voice is recognizable; the same for my work 'style.'

Thanks for making me think more about this in regard to my artistic journey. And I've enjoyed the comments left here as well, I'll be thinking more about this in future.

Anonymous said...

i have question abou your template how do you mange that your blog is aligned to left? thx for reply

Elizabeth Barton said...

it's just the template I chose from the blogspot site, nothing complicated! Elizabeth