"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Rant Concerning What Makes an Artist

My son and his wife were married over three years ago and I had made them a wedding quilt top by their wedding day.  After I got my longarm, I wanted to wait until I was more proficient to try to use it to finish their quilt.  I got started on it a couple of times but never finished it.   Then, we moved and it was put away.  So it has been over three years, shame on me... 

I put it back up on the longarm, today, and spent several hours on it.  I pulled a lot of bad stitches that I'd put on the first time I tried to quilt it and am making some progress on the quilting, overall.  I am surprised at how much faster (and better) I am, today, than I was two years ago.  Go figure...
Unfortunately, when I made this quilt top, my workmanship was worse than it is, now.  Which is sad.  Really.  It hurts to see some of my mistakes on this quilt but I am going to finish it, come hell or high water.

When I finish, I need to finish my daughter and her husband's.  They were married five months BEFORE my son and I haven't even finished the top.   The good news (for them) is that it will probably be a better constructed quilt as a result. 

I will finish Lady Melinda before I go to my daughter's quilt because I have a deadline.  I also have two smaller projects that have to be quilted before Christmas.

It has been a busy weekend.  I went to an art exhibit featuring dolls on Saturday morning, and attended a dinner party on Saturday night.  Today, I worked on my son's quilt.

I have been thinking about the art exhibit I attended on Saturday and debating whether I wanted to blog about it.  I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or come across as snooty but I have to say that I was really disappointed/unhappy with the show.  The basis of my disappointment was that the vast majority of entries, to me, appeared long on "creativity" and short on technique, skill or pride in workmanship.  It was as if the artists didn't have any pride in their work and seemed to think that being clever was what it was all about.  And the designs weren't particularly clever or creative.  Most were predictable and trite. 

I am all for working outside the box.  And I wouldn't want to quash creativity or effort.  If these items had been done in the privacy of someone's home for their own pleasure, or in a workshop or class, that would be one thing.  We are all learning and bring to our creations a variety of skill and talent.  But these items were deliberately put on display and with few exceptions, looked like unimaginative, rushed trash with no standards of effort or workmanship.   And I am saying that as gently as I can, short of just avoiding the subject.  And perhaps I should just not say anything. 

But still.  One exhibit consisted of boards that were simply painted to look like the rough outlined body of a doll.  The face was a frame with a painting of Raggety Ann's face.  Okay.  This was one of the more interesting ones.  But it looked like it could have been done in about thirty minutes for a beginner, ten minutes for a pro.  This was one of the better entries. 

Other exhibits were made of trash.  Beads would be glued on to wood to represent a face.  One person made a circle out of dismantled barbie dolls.  One was a wooden board with a doll painted on it (different than the one just mentioned) and the eyes were just a mess.  It was not an intended part of the design, it was just a sloppy mess as if the artist didn't care.  This was not a "primitive" doll.  I "get" that primitive dolls are a folk art.  These made primitive dolls look sophisticated and intricate. 

I won't continue with describing and criticizing the work but on a scale of one to ten, I'd have given these works, with one or three exceptions, about a one.  And the one or three exceptions would have looked amateurish in a typical nonjuried quilt show that had dolls as a category.  And perhaps that is the problem.  I am accustomed to quilt shows, even nonjuried ones, where the quilters take pride in their work, want to present their best efforts and have developed skills to achieve what is a technical endeavor.  This group of "artists," in my opinion, lacked discipline or standards.  And their creations didn't rely on any particular skill.  I got the distinct impression that they were of the mind that so long as what they did was creative, it was art and worthy of respect on that basis.  I didn't respect this work, candidly.  I walked away from it thinking that it gave true artists a bad name - and unfortunately, there are plenty of people who believe all artists, by their nature, are self indulgent and pretentious and this sort of thing supports that view. 

My art professor said at the beginning of the semester that most of the "art" out there is junk and that he hoped that by taking the class, we would have a greater respect for good art as opposed to people just being self indulgent.  I usually go to quilt or craft shows rather than art exhibits so I didn't really realize what he meant.  But I appreciate that he insisted that there is more to art than just sticking a stick figure on a piece of paper or being clever.  IMO, a true artist/artisan should have skill and self discipline, no matter what sort of product/medium they create.  I am not saying that people aren't artists unless their work product is excellent.  I expect that even a good artist will improve with experience or maturity and their early creations may look crude or poorly executed.  But absent skill, pride in their work and/or self discipline, I don't think someone should call themselves an artist.  And I certainly don't think they should put them on display so as to give real artists a poor reputation by people who don't get art in the first place. 

But on the flip side, no matter the result, if the creator displays skill, pride in their work and self discipline, I think they are worthy of being considered an artist.  

My judgmental rant of the day. 

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed your blog for a very long time and this is one of the reasons why...the care and time taken to develop the thought process has me in awe.
I agree with you that quilters who enter their work in shows often show a level of pride in their work that is sometimes lacking in other areas. A lot of truly good quilters will not put their quilts in shows because they genuinely believe that their work is not good enough to exhibit, even in a non-judged show. While there is often a lack of self-belief in these quilters more often than not their standards are so high that they miss the beauty and care in their own work.
I've enjoy watching you as a quilter!

Penny said...

Teri, you are so right about the pride and care that quilters tend to bring to their creations. Thanks for highlighting that.

Carol OklaTwister said...

Too bad the doll "artists" didn't have your art teacher. They also could have used a quilt judge to score their work, points for technique and skill, use of color, etc. I have always been leary of high-brow artists who paint a solid black canvas with a red dot somewhere, and then try to explain it away as some revolutionary thought process of evil in the world that only they have suffered. Uh-huh.
Only you will know where the small flaws in the quilt tops are. The kids will love them anyway!
The shamwow was a good idea; glad some of the extra dye came out.

Suzanne Kistler said...

You might enjoy the movie "Art School Confidential." My daughter (with an art degree from Berkeley) recommended it to me. "Mom, you'll probably get offended by parts of it, but you've taken Art in college. I think you'll like it." I appreciated it WAY more than she'll ever realize. ;)

ad hominy said...

Clever and sloppy. It's boring. Nothing sings for me without skill and effort.

Being poorly sighted, I'm heading into sloppy-ville kicking and screaming the whole way. Why anyone would go there voluntarily is beyond me. Laziness is part of it, I'm sure. The rest? I don't know.