Saturday, February 20, 2016

Abstract aspirations and inspirations

Some say that art quilts are overlooked by the "real" art world because they are mostly made by women...and it's true that the few male quilters there are do seem to benefit from "men only" shows which for some reason tickle the fancy of the curators!

It's likely that there is something in the belief, for it certainly was true of female abstract painters - the first abstract painting (not including petroglyphs and so on!) was probably by Hilda af Klimt, however a few years later Kandinsky proudly announced that he was the first abstract artist! And people believed him!

When I started to look at the work of female abstract artists, I was amazed by the variety and wealth and beauty of the much inspiration for one's own work!   Most artists are inspired by other artists - a few work from a theoretical background of course, and some are inspired by visions.
Well I"m not advocating visions (or the means of inducing them!).

Working from a theoretical background sounds a little dry..though interestingly some of the really Big Names have worked in this way e.g. how many variations can I create with shapes of randomly strip pieced fabric?  And now there's a whole school of art quilters following that particular abstract path...

But visions and theory apart, the abstract art itself can trigger so many creative thoughts.
  For example:

"Hmm...I see they tried to show a face from two angles at the same time, what if I looked at a building in that way....or what if I thought about showing 3 or more angles at the same time?"


"This artist took one shape and arranged it in 17 different ways, let me see what I could do with a similar shape?"

You see how the inspiration can trigger a multitude of "what ifs?"  Well, perhaps not for everyone, but I always find myself thinking, hmm what if I took that and just changed this bit here to fit what I personally really feel when I see/hear/touch/experience this, what would it be like?

It's the same with music - the composer wrote the notes, but each pianist plays them a little differently, more than that, each pianist will play them a little differently every time they play them!

My study of female abstract artists lead me to write a class for  the academy of quilting called Abstract Art for Quiltmakers - lots and lots of different ways to design abstract quilts.  I've also taught this class "in real life"  (as opposed to my virtual life!) in a number of different places and been thrilled by the variety of designs that people create.  

In fact I got into abstract art so much, I've actually written a second class for the academy called "More Abstract Art for Quiltmakers"!!   You can take the classes in any order, but the first one is coming up next week.

And delve into more abstract thought myself, with the aid (of course) of a nice cup of tea...not visions, perhaps, but certainly refreshing!

And, if you have been, thanks for the comments!  what a great time we had with them last week!!  More please!     Elizabeth

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why Are So Many Teachers Inarticulate?

I don't know about you, but when I take workshops (not all that often these days), I'm often extremely frustrated by how inarticulate the teacher is.  and it seems to occur much more in art (painting or fiber) than in other mediums.

Recently I took a painting workshop, where the teacher did a demo every day and when asked why she painted a certain shape of a certain size or color, would consistently reply: "Oh, I just work intuitively!  I don't know why I did that!"  then she would take some white paint and erase the first mark - "so, why did you erase it?"  "I don't know, it didn't feel right!"

Other comments:  "I have no rule for compositions; a lot is intuitive, I feel it needs to be a certain way...I choose color intuitively....randomly – "   "I was  torturing myself for days!  "

That's no help at all to the student!  We have to learn to torture ourselves for days???!!

By contrast, when I asked the piano teacher (they go by the wonderful name of pedagogue by the way!  I'd love to be an art quilt pedagogue!), why he would play a repeated notes with several different fingers instead of just the same one over and over, he gave me a very good and full explanation.  (easier to switch fingers than to lift the first one - for those of you who are curious).

How can a teacher help a student if they don't know why they're doing what they are doing themselves?  Working by "feel" or by "instinct" is fine if you're in your own studio, messing with your own stuff, wasting your own fabric....but how can you convey that way of feeling to the student?
Maybe I'm a bit dim, but I've never been able to learn something from someone who can't explain what/why they're doing.

Also if you know WHY, then it's likely that you can avoid, or at least correct, errors - of course I have learned that I can go over an error with white paint!  Or cut out the offending piece of cloth from the quilt.  As long as I know which bits are errors, of course....

It's possible that the idea that you can work by "feel" "instinct" or"intuition" alone, came from the widely held belief  that some of us are born talented and some are not.  I must admit that when I was young I was always hoping that I would discover whatever it was that I had a hidden talent for!!!  But, as old age (sorry, I mean "maturity"!) encroaches, more and more I think it's education, practice, and coaching with articulate feedback for a significant period of time that makes the artist, or skilled performer (whether fine arts, crafts, music, athletics, debate...whatever it is).

We need the explanations....and we need the order to improve.  What tennis player would hope to learn to make those perfect aces by "intuition"?!!!

I'd love to hear from you as to your experiences....d'you find "intuitive" teachers to be inspiring? or frustrating?

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Elizabeth, AQP   (art quilt pedagogue!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Working process in designing art

 It's always interesting to read about artists' working processes, especially in regard to designing the artwork. There is some literature on art quilters' methods but a lot more on painters.  And just about any two dimensional design process can be translated into any 2D medium.   I've always found that what the "great" painters do/did to be really helpful and enlightening. Plus it gives me a great excuse to buy loads of luscious art books!

 Edward Hopper, for example, created a large number of drawings or studies for each of his oil paintings.  He experimented with different angles and lighting, and in very many of them he tried leaving different things out.  Once you start to do this, you can get an idea of what you really want to focus upon in your composition.  Any art work that tries to be about everything that you can see or remember or that is in the photograph is going to become confusing, even chaotic, and won't convey your real idea or emotion.

Hopper's paintings have everything unnecessary stripped away - only the most beautiful and expressive light, color and shapes are left for us to enjoy.  Paintings like this grab and hold your attention.

Most people work from photographs, especially quiltmakers.  It would be very hard to make a plein air quilt!!  So you do need to be very selective in what you use from the photo...the camera includes everything and gives most of it equal weight.   That's not, actually, how we really see things.  If you look at something, the object at which you're looking is in focus, but the objects around it are not.

Good composition is the key to getting people's attention.....and keeping them looking.  Daniel Gerhartz (the portrait artist) advises the artist to arrange the lights and darks in the composition to form interesting but fairly simple and obvious patterns that extend through much of the composition.

Jeffrey Hein says that merely copying what in in the photograph is "craft", but "adding composition and an intelligent idea" is art.

The so-called "rules" or "guidelines" are basically just the ideas that have worked in the past,  and that have lead to art that has stood the test of time.  As a round wheel usually works better than a square one!   However, it is important to understand why those guidelines have been so popular and how they actually work.  Then you know what you can change, and what might (if changed) make your work less interesting.

The next class I have coming up at is the class that lead to my book Inspired to Design and describes some of my working processes for my cityscape quilts plus a long hard look at those guidelines!

And, now for a nice cuppa tea...and then piano practice for I meet with the pedagogue tomorrow and there's nothing like deadlines for getting work done!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Do check out Through Our Hands on FAcebook, they are producing a wonderful online magazine.