I was very interested today to read in The International Artist magazine about artist Tom Heflin’s thoughts on working in both abstract and realistic styles. His comments resonated strongly with me as I don’t think of myself as being primarily a representational quilt maker, although many have suggested to me that I am! Kathleen Loomis was talking about the things she was snobbish about in a recent blog which definitely activated one into thinking about one’s own quirks and dislikes and one of mine is being categorized! No, please don’t put me in a box! I don’t want to be a genre!
Heflin reminds us of the commercial belief that art should be categorized and the artist with it. Whatever the medium: a rockstar must stick to his rock, a mystery author to her mysteries, and realistic artists to their realism. A number of authors have combated this by developing a pseudonym: Ruth Rendell writes her more psychological stories under the name of Barbara Vine, for example. And I must admit, I have done that occasionally!
We are told “your art won’t sell unless people can predict what you’re going to do”!! Yikes!! REally?? And yet on the other hand, if you see a famous quiltmaker churning out yet another practically identical piece to the one that made him or her famous, it feels so stale and chewed over. But a gallery likes to promote one as a “such and such” artist, and the public likes to be able to say “oh, isn’t that piece by so and so? I love her work”. And then they feel smart and knowledgeable.
Heflin feels that his ability to switch between realistic and abstract work is a result of being able to switch his thought and work processes. When he works realistically, it’s precise and planned. Abstract work is much more intuitive. However, it’s important to be sensitive to the medium and to the different elements one can work with within that medium. A warm color may need an adjacent cool color to enrich it and prevent it from being rather anemic. Contrast and balance are always necessary. A large shape may need several small ones, a jagged line, a smooth curve and so on. Between each intuitive step, there should be a conscious stepping back and analysis of what is happening on the design wall.
If the composition isn’t strong, the piece will not work – whether it was created representationally, impressionistically, intuitively or whilst falling downstairs! Heflin feels that people often think that abstract art need not follow design guidelines in order to work:
“this kind of art still requires the same attention to composition, texture, rhythm and color as realistic art”.
There needs to be an underlying structure that pulls the piece together (something I feel is often lacking in quilts I see posted on the net).
It’s good to read that it is possible (even though galleries might not like it, since I’m not exactly besieged by them, no matter!) to work in two very different ways. As Heflin says, when you’ve made a number of pieces in one style, you really feel a need to challenge yourself with something completely different. I’m glad I have two boxes to get in and out of! Even if sometimes the box collapses when I get into it! And I’m in the mood for a little abstraction……
But, first, a climb into the cupoftea box……so, if you have been, Thanks for reading!! and commenting! I always read the comments with great interest. And try to reply if I’ve something sensible to say.
PS I’m off to take another workshop next week – again a trek into the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains of North Caroline, this time to a higher elevation seeking cool! Will report back upon return!
I find it irritating that abstract and representational always seem to be talked about as such either/or categories. There's a real continuum, IMO, and we all fall somewhere on it. I like to think it is not such a departure to move back and forth a bit on that continuum.
So happy to read this post because I so work in both styles. My realism is more abstracted, but recognizable. I am back to working mostly in abstract, currently, trying to decide where I am most comfortable.
The "experts" in art can be frustrating. Years ago, when I painted and sold animals, I submitted my work to a well known company that did repros of stuff like mine (some much better, others not so much) and they told me I needed to specialize in just one animal. No mention of the quality or lack thereof, just that reason for not being interested. I was puzzled at the time, but have seen this over and over. Who wants to live in a box? Not me either!
Just saw where a very well known portrait artist in art quilts had a rejection from Houston. This quilt is very different from previous work. Guess Houston doesn't like for her to get out of the box either.
I think your own personal style will come out too despite the "genre" - the characteristic way you fit the various elements together..like handwriting a sonnet or a limerick!
elizabeth....thank you so much for your thoughts on realism vs abstract art. enjoy your stay in the smoky mountains (one of my most favorite and beautiful places on earth)...tom heflin
I am soaking up the wisdom on taking one's time. There's a very large piece in the works and, to be true to my intent, lots of hand stitching involved meaning it will not be anywhere near finished for that Deadline. Oh well. I'd rather be happy with it when it's finally done. Thanks..
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