Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cutting up!

Well I'm in cutting up mode again!  Often I find I've made a quilt just far too big!
And Steelyard Frieze is one of those, it's so wide it hangs over the edge of my storage shelves and I have to get into that room sideways through the door!

  Now I've put up with this crab like entry to the art quilt store/library (aka spare bedroom) for 3 years or so in the hope that Someone would have a Pink Sofa over which they absolutely had to have hanging a very strong beautiful PINK art quilt!   But,  I have finally realized, nobody Ever had such a sofa!!  At least not for a very long time - and probably only in Hollywood too!

Well, here's the quilt:

and I'm thinking this would cut up into 3 very nice slices:

of course I'd try to make them a little more even in width and probably would alter that strange "cow" effect on the right hand one - spell checker was having me write "strangle" the cow on the right!!  And maybe - for once - spell checker's wild guess is the right solution!

So - what d'you think?  Should I cut it up?? - it really is too wide and very awkward to ship - it's 68" wide, by 35" high, so each slice would be 32" wide  (I'd lose a bit on the seam allowance of the interfacing) and 35" high - which is a very nice size for a pink bathroom!!

all comments most willingly accepted!!!
And, if you're eating turkey, make sure it's NOT pink!!
And, of course, nothing better after the turkey than a nice cuppa tea with the old pumpkin pie!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!   Happy Thanksgiving Day!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Art of Critiquing

I've been asked recently about critiquing work and thought I'd revisit and revise a blog I wrote on this topic several years ago (yes it's really been that long!  I was nobbut a chahld!!).

I had been reading a very interesting book about the formal art critique: The Critique Handbook by Kendall Buster and Paula Crawford. Kendall Buster is a sculptor who works with airy forms – fabric stretched over wire frameworks, often in circular shapes. Paula Crawford is a painter of airy abstract landscapes and skyscapes. Their book is an expensive paperback but it is densely written with lots of ideas and a heap of fascinating questions – in fact nearly the whole book is questions. It makes you think all around the art work you’re examining, from every literal and abstract angle. The authors talk about a critique as going through several steps beginning with an assessment of form vs content.

Form is defined as the particular elements: the lines, shapes, values, colours and textures that the artist chose for a piece plus the design principles: how well those elements balance and harmonise, how much variety and tension is included; whether there are rhythms and repetitions is evident, how well the viewer is led around the piece to examine each part, how well the whole piece is balanced, and whether the proportions of the elements are in keeping with one another. It’s also very important to judge how well crafted the piece is and the material from which it is made. Buster and Crawford define form as “the means by which one gives substance to an idea”.

I’ve noticed that when I entered quilts into shows where you are sent a copy of the judges’ comments, the comments focus on certain aspects of form, particularly craftsmanship, colour and balance. I’ve often felt that the comments address only a very narrow slice of all that goes into an art quilt – with more focus on form than on content. I don’t know why that is – perhaps it’s a matter mainly of time, and also a continuation of judging methods from traditional quilt judging.
Such a critique obviously addresses only formal considerations, but not all art quilts are mainly formalist in nature. Clearly, the more abstract pieces, in the tradition of Nancy Crow’s or Jan Myers Newbury’s wonderful quilts, are principally formalist.  The formalists would maintain that the “aesthetic value” of the piece is based on how sound the formal qualities are. And that is how it should be judged. A work of art can be purely about its own formal qualities, representative of nothing but itself.

Many quilts are more focussed on content than form, however. Content is very interesting when it's not too obvious.   I recently read the juror's statement from the current fiber show at the Fuller Museum in Brockton MA and photographed it because I thought the message was both intriguing and telling:

In the newsletter about the Fuller show (which, alas, I gave away!) Dion continued by saying that if he could see and understand all there was to understand about the art work from a quick glance at the photograph, then he felt it was not strong enough to be in the show. He wanted to be intrigued, he wanted to feel like the piece had more to offer than a snapshot could ever show.

If we're attempting to evaluate an art quilt where content is evident, or implied, our critique of the denoted content would assess how successfully these images are denoted but also just how much the viewer was engaged by this process.  For, beneath the obvious denoted content, lies the connoted content. For example, my recent series of quilts are pictures of industrial buildings – that’s the content. But the way I have portrayed them is to communicate how I felt about seeing those buildings, and similar buildings of that type. There’s a certain sinister beauty to buildings like these, there’s a push pull – we want the steel, but do we want the pollution; we want the jobs and the income but do we want the destruction of the environment – not a living plant is evident anywhere. I hope by my contrasting the natural element of water with the unnatural shapes of the buildings I have conveyed some of that intent.

Sometimes it’s the title of a piece that gives a clue to the connotations the maker had in mind.
I’ve made a number of quilts that denote old buildings, or sections of old buildings, but at the same time I’ve used those images to express some ideas that are troubling to me.

So my quilt “Brighter at the Top”, is actually a picture of the golden end of the day catching the chimney tops, but also alludes to the contrast between the view from the top, and the actuality at the bottom.
The piece called “The Affluent Drainpipe” showing the fancy guttering on an old building but also alludes to some of the waste of resources seen in more affluent communities.  

In evaluating a purely abstract quilt (sometimes called non-representational), therefore, one would rely largely on its formal qualities.  Possibly,  in abstract expressionist work, you would also consider the emotions created in you by the piece.  Of course, I think that is true of all art work - what is our gut reaction?  where does that fit into the judging process?  And I'm sure it does!! Despite what jurors say about being objective, and being able to assess all work whether they like that type of work or not.  We are human beings, it is impossible for us to think with only One part of our brains!! You might be able to do that with a computer or a robot, but not with a human!  In fact psychological studies have shown that we judge less harshly those things - or people - whose appearance we like. 

In judging a quilt that was not purely abstract, one would be looking both at its formal qualities and also how well the meaning was communicated.  And this should be subtle...and draw you in....and keep you, engage you in the process.  Not be "blindingly obvious" at first look, but also not be so obscure and muddled as to lead the juror only to confusion and frustration.   Not an easy task!

And now to critique that half finished piece on the design wall......maybe best done with a cuppa tea now I think about it...
and, if you have been, thanks for reading!   And Commenting!!!!   Elizabeth

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Original? Or Derivative? When is a Clone not a Clone?

What is original work?
How does “inspired by” become original”?
How d’you keep your work from being derivative?

Interesting questions, and clearly on many peoples’ minds – for two reasons:
  1. we’ve seen a LOT of clones, let’s face it!!
  2. Most big shows and jurors say they are looking for “original” work.

As time goes on it seems to be harder and harder to make something that no one has seen before…to write something new, to find a problem that no one else has investigated (as many a graduate student knows!)…
But wait! Each one of us is unique, not only are our fingerprints, our irises and our ear folds unlike anyone else’s – our way of walking is very distinctive, our handwriting, our voice patterns.  This is our individuality showing through.

An original work is original in two ways:
  1. It looks fresh and new, it gives you a different perspective on something, a new idea.
  2. It is very distinctive to the individual who made it.
I used to carry 6” squares of navy linen with me when travelling  and needles threaded with strands of embroidery floss (white) – every one I stayed with I asked to stitch something on the square.
 What shall I stitch?
 What if I’ve never stitched before?
 Just remember to go up and down on the same side and you’ll be all right.

At the end of the trip I looked at the squares – they were all different, not only that but they all had some characteristics of the maker. I controlled only 2 variables: the size and color of the cloth, and the color and thickness of the thread.
Their individuality came through.  You can do this! Try it! Set a few constants: size of piece, amount of fabric etc…choose things you really like! 

The best way to find your own original voice is by “singing”!!  You won’t find it by thinking about it – even though, as you know, I’m a great lover of cogitation.

Don’t go to any workshop where the teacher is teaching a specific pattern – if you want to do something original and different from everyone else.  If all around you are making the same thing, you’re in the wrong place!! (as Kipling would have said....)

How d’you recognize what is original?  Set yourself a test – open any catalogue from a high quality art quilt show and find the 3 most individual and original pieces and the 3 most derivative ones.  Then sit down and Analyze.  Some of the things you might come up with are:
 I’ve never seen this before vs. I’ve seen this 100 times.
This looks like X’s work vs this doesn’t look like any work I’ve seen.
Or even:
This looks like Xs work…but no, on closer examination, the artist has done something quite different: they’ve taken X’s starting point and gone beyond.
I really like this idea, it's so intriguing and I want to see more...

Think about mystery/crime novels – I know many of us enjoy these!!  Think about the ones that are the most interesting versus the ones you know to be pot boilers – i.e. written to a formula.   The latter are predictable, the characters are wooden, they talk in clichés (I’m allergic to clichés!) and so on.  Now, back to your art work: have you solved a problem in a predictable way?  Is your sky blue, your grass green and your tree trunks brown?  It’s probably be done before!! Have you taken a small unit that is very like a Big Name's unit and done all the usual things with it that the Big Name did 10 years ago?  If you really like that unit – then set yourself the task of coming up with 50 more things you can do with it that the Big Name never even thought of!!

Originality comes from going beyond the predictable, coming up with a new way of looking at flowers, or puppy dogs…or babies.   Remember those photographs of babies all covered in flowers that appeared a few years ago?  How fresh and new they were when we first saw them? 
Are they still as fresh and new? 

Look at combinations ….see which things are often combined…and change it!
Maybe the good guy is the ugly one we all dislike and the baddie is the charmer!

A famous writer I once met told us he looked through the newspapers every day and collected strange little stories that he could later use as a kernel for his plots.  Just a few lines of somebody's odd behaviour would set him to thinking.  Keep your eyes open for strange little visual stories as you go about your daily life.  How could they be expanded into an art piece?

I'm sure there is LOTS more to be said on this topic - so please do send me your thoughts.....
I'll keep on cogitating!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth