Saturday, March 31, 2018

Getting looser as you get older!

One of the things that is very apparent when we first begin making art - in any medium - is just how very tightly we work.  I think we're trying so hard to get it "right" it becomes a bit rigid....I remember cityscapes where every window is carefully delineated, every roof has a chimney with ALL the details and so on....but as time goes by - with experience and with age we begin to work out just what is really essential and what not.

I'm reading a fascinating book called A History of Pictures  by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It's basically a conversation between a very knowledgeable and gifted painter - probably the UK's most popular living painter and an extremely erudite art historian/critic.   In their discussion about the development of picture making over the centuries, they allude to many works I've never seen... and most helpfully nearly all the work they describe is included in the book so we can see just what they're talking about.  (don't you just hate those art reviews where they critique something at length and never show you a picture of it!).

Now  their conversation covers a lot of ground - Hockney being Hockney (!) there is a definite emphasis on the use of the camera obscure - a sort of  pre-electronic overhead projector - and I know a number of quilt makers who have used overhead projectors to create their designs.  They discuss how this came about and whether the art thus created is legitimate - it is!!    but what's really interesting is that then Hockney points out that all the great painters - Rembrandty, Titian, Picasso - got looser as they got older.   They began to emphasise that 5th principle of design that I know I have mentioned repeatedly in class (often to blank faces alas!!  but one or two knowing nods!) - i.e. the principle of economy.
(the first principles being: unity, variety, rhythm and balance).

These old guys...and I think many more - Georgia O'Keefe definitely comes to mind, and Arthur Dove, and Milton Avery and John Marin... showed in their late work how an economy of means and the ability to make fresh creative marks were the most important things.  I think we see that in a number of our most revered quilt makers - I'd be fascinated to hear from you as to whom you think would fit this description!  I love a very spare elegant look myself, that's why I'm quite enamored of the best of the modern quilts - many are just wishy washy versions of same/old...but there are a few really excellent ones.  At her best I think Nancy Crow has shown us the importance of economy and the strong line....Jan Myers-Newbury - economy and texture,  and many of the Australians...perhaps reflecting the spare interior of that great continent.

I think this is why details are often so much stronger than an image of the whole quilt.  Use your crop tools!!! Cut it down...focus focus.....

Hockney says: "In old age [the great} artists... don't repeat themselves.  The late work is the best.  There's something else there, something new."
So...let's do it! something to strive for...let's get out of the easy groove, the "recognizable trademark"...and get loose!

Rembrandt is reported to have said: "If I want to relieve my spirit, then I should seek not honor but freedom" .   So please, less worry about challenges, guilds, shows, prizes - and yes, even sales, let's make our late work our BEST work!  Freedom......

Comments?? please!!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading....  Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A formula for success?

I do like these three small pieces I recently reconfigured from an existing idea that wasn't working so well. I don't know if they could be considered "a formula for success" - but they look more successful to me than they did!!! I'm thinking of them as "canyons" because they remind me of a long ago trip to Brice and Zion in the SW...amazing country!  some landscapes just attach themselves to the brain don't they?

A friend passed onto me recently a very interesting article about a formula for's based on an interview with a ceramicist Curtis Benzle of Huntsville, Alabama.  He's a retired art professor.

He considers making a living as an artist to be the iconic 3-legged stool and is continually surprised that students aren't taught this.  To be frank I think this approach should be considered for many majors - all the arts certainly , but music too.
The three legs are:
1. making excellent new experimental art
2. making products to sell
3. teaching in a community setting

He feels that is is possible to make a reasonable living (probably in the south rather than on the coasts or in the North East!) if each leg is solid.

He had observed when he was a prof at Columbus Art college (Ohio) that the program really seemed to be focussed on the top few students - the one percent who were obviously extremely creative, talented and clearly very self motivated.  They were actually going to be successful artists with or without help from their college profs!!  Despite that fact that was where the focus was and not towards the other 99%.  The 99% were good but not exceptional, success was not going to be falling into their fine artists only.

He realized that the students needed to know about how to make a living, not just how to make art.
One of the keys was to help the main body of students develop their spatial intelligence to produce marketable skills. He instructed them in product development.  He gave the example of a sculptor who was unable to get any commissions for his big outdoor 5 figure sculptures who had the idea of making large metal flowers...very attractive and very affordable.  Another student was able to develop wedding bouquets made from origami flowers...not only very pretty...but totally sustainable!!

At first the art school itself set up a booth to sell the products, but as word of mouth got around and networking ensued, sales took off.  Meanwhile the students could work on their Major Pieces too...but they were having fun with the products.

They then got instruction in how to teach at a nearby art center, and other community related teaching places....this was actually hard for them, but again it paid off.

One very good point he made was that in both developing small affordable products and in teaching you are also developing a market for your larger more important work...and, as a result, everything grows and avenues open up.

I wonder how much of this is applicable to our art form?  Quilts take such a long time to make when made traditionally, but do the public respond to quick little fabric collages - which would probably be the nearest thing to the large metal flowers and the origami bouquets?.....well - while I don't particularly like them personally and would never dream of buying one.. I have seen art work particularly from Northern Europe that is fun, cheerful, colorful and eye catching and people do seem to lap it up.

So I think the debate is that unless you know that you are in that top 1% destined to be a fine artist come what may, are you willing to develop all three areas:  fine art - probably in our cases destined for the major shows, products to sell (and what might they be??? any ideas?) and teaching.

 I actually began teaching little kids in a summer camp!! that was pretty wild!  then adults in a night class and so on up the ladder....and I have really enjoyed that aspect of the 3 prongs.  I never thought much about the middle "products to sell" prong...maybe I should!!

So what are your thoughts?  Are we all trying to convince ourselves we're in the top 1% destined to be discovered as major concert artists very soon??? or are we part of the 99% trying to make an all round honest living from our art.  

If you have been, thanks for reading.     Elizabeth