Thursday, September 22, 2016

the art of abstracting......what is it? why is it? What do you see?

One of my many York quilts...

Many, many years ago I was employed as a  librarian at Rowntrees chocolate factory in York, England.
The Rowntrees were Quakers who believed in helping their workers in many ways....they built a theatre, a swimming pool, a whole village.  They also had two libraries in the factory  - a wonderful old Victorian building stretch for about a half mile. 
I worked in both the Lending library which had many books for all the factory employees to borrow, and in the technical library where we scanned all the daily newspapers, magazines, journals etc for articles relating to any aspect of the chocolate industry.  My job was to write the "abstracts" - yes, now we come to the point of  this post!!  I had to read the article and then note the key points, the most outstanding and important ones, that captured the essence of the piece in a very short paragraph.
And isn't that exactly what the abstract artist does? and why do they abstract?

Dark City

As artists we're all trying to communicate, but we want to communicated something new, fresh,  a diferent take on things...I think that's one of the (many) reasons abstract art became so popular. It was and is different , it's new, it gives us ways to  look at things  that havn't been done before....and that's very attractive.  You've all heard the cliche "same old same old"..usually intoned in a very boring manner!!  Well who want to makes boring art?   As I looked around a small art show yesterday, I felt I had seen every image before, everything looked So stale.
I also noticed perfectly awkward (now there's a nice oxymoron for you!) compositions that just screamed at me!! well I suppose that was a striking experience - but not one I wanted!   The colors also looked stale and flat...low saturation colors placed in low contrast situations are not going to look new and fresh.

When I got home I started reading the latest issue of International Artist and noticed that looking at really good art helps both to inspire and inform.  The paintings were of the same subjects I'd seen in the local art show, but they were alive and fresh.  One of the artists described how he had begun to feel that his work was getting stale and so he had pushed himself to seek new inspiration.  Now he did it by travel, which not all of us can do in actuality, but we do it with books and the internet, by studying different kinds of art. 

 Look at good abstract art and be inspired by it!  Try to figure out how it works.  You want to learn how to compose well and satisfyingly?   Then, learn from the best.  Art that has stood the test of time - it's now well over hundred years since abstract art (as art) began to be produced...there's a lot to learn from!

And, if you should be interested, I am starting a new class called More Abstract Art for Quiltmakers
this Friday at   
Take a look at your own work, or the work of other local art lovers, does it really catch your eye and give you a frisson of both awe and recognition?  Or is it stale and ho-hum?   And what is the difference?  What are the differences between the two kinds of art?  Can you work it out?  Can you apply it?  It's not just technique, though of course that is's also being creative, being original, being prepared to try out new things, even though many will not work.  Don't give yourself excuses!!  Time (alas!) is short!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading......
and do please comment - what do you see as you look around at the art world around you?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Three roads to better work...

photo by Chuck Murphy

 Before I  begin on practicing....just in case you want to know! ...the photo is from our local OLLI  (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute)  office where those of us who practice art were asked to display our you can see I've definitely diversified a bit!  There are two quilts, four watercolors and one acrylic, to say nothing of a printer and a card file!  The quilt on the left is "Bluebeard's Castle"  from my Hamilton, ON, steel mill series (by way of Bartok - he chose the colors!).  The quilt in the middle is one of a series I've done of Athens, GA - a college town in the SE of USA.   The  right hand watercolors are both of the pond in the neighbourhood, a nice morning walk while I ponder upon the day's practice....
have no idea how that Yorkie on the left crept in...must have been having a whimsical moment!

Anyway, to the topic of the day:
I've been reading a lot of books and articles about practicing...these are mainly focused on athletic activities like golf or music, but I think much of what I read also pertains to art.

Let's face it: whatever IT is, you don't get better without practicing.  Of course your goal might not BE to get better...but I think for most of us (and definitely everyone reading this blog!) improvement in our art making is a major goal.

If you were to die tomorrow, would you rather leave behind you 200 hohum quilts, or 10 brilliant ones?  Think about it.....
And yet how often do we push ourselves to make something that we've not really thought about very much,?    Halfway through we become aware of its mediocrity but still we feel we MUST finish it.
I used to have this very foolish goal of making more work every year than the preceding year....but finally (and hopefully not too late!) have come to realise it's not quantity but quality.

And how do we achieve whatever it is we do??  I would say three  things:

1.  Time ...putting in at least an hour a day, but four hours would yield much more  progress.  give yourself time and don't resent it, enjoy it! It is very very good for you, and should be a high priority - don't allow excuses!
Getting enough time..may involve saying NO......(thank you, Sharon, for this suggestion) practice  saying:  "I'm awfully sorry...but".    

Practicing is  very calming....don't be thinking about finishing the product in time for the guild meeting  or to enter a quilt show, rather, enjoy the process, enjoy the flow...the lovely rhythms of cutting out the pieces, laying out a design, so satisfying.  And then gently one by one picking up two patches ambling to the sewing machine, sewing them together...then a slow saunter to the ironing board where everything is made smooth and lovely....and the pair now united join the rest of the arrangement!  Smooth, flowing, gently breathing like floating down a slow stream, letting your thoughts drift and your body relax....
Sounds good doesn't it????  Not:  Make Quilts Fast!  A Faster Quicker Way to Make That Quilt!
Short and Easy!  Notice how hard those words wonder we often feel in a frenzy!!

Do, please, give yourself time. Enjoy the practicing....

2. Thoughtful practice as opposed to mindless making.  You get nowhere learning a Chopin waltz while planning what to cook for dinner - believe me I've tried it!!  And creating a strong design for an art quilt whilst watching soaps on telly??? !! Research has shown over and over that we actually can't do two things at the same time...multi tasking isn't that, the brain is rapidly switching from one thing to another - fine if all you need is seconds on the task....but creative work needs more than seconds.
Think it through before you begin...what is your aim?  what is your process?

3.  Objective assessment - which could be lessons, or coaching, or critiquing.
We all need that objective help.
I'm still continually seeing work into which the artist has put a tremendous amount of time, but to the objective eye the arrangement of shapes is boring and predictable, the colors garish and often childishly literal: e.g. bright blue sky, bright green leaves on trees with solid brown trunks, bright blue know the sort of thing.  No coherent message, no real involvement with the topic, no fresh outlook........but hours and hours spent on fancy quilting!

Even advanced musicians get lessons and certainly beginner and intermediate ones do;
the athlete gets a coach, and probably a trainer too.
 Quilters might take a one day workshop where the teacher demonstrates a new technique....which is fun...but it doesn't help you move forward with your own work.

So, if you really want to improve....please think on!
and if you have been, thanks for reading.....
also: would you add anything to the above list in the search for improvement?  What has helped you the most to go to a higher level?  Comments! please.....