So Where Am I as an Artist?

Ya know, I’m not really sure.  I have a few goals this year of entering a couple of shows, and a couple of proposals for galleries, but I keep wondering about the work I am doing. First of all, I really love the art that I am creating. I’ve had a love affair with fabric for years, and now that we are turning out some really great pieces with our marbling, I love it even more. But I feel like there’s a lot more.

The big change for me in how I looked at my fiber came when a quilting friend took a piece of marbled fabric and quilted it all over. I had secretly suspected there was a lot more I could do with embellishing the fabric, and Ellen showed me I was definitely on the right thinking track…it took me a year or so of playing with threads and the sewing machine and my ideas to create something that I really felt was good – and different.

I’ve written before about entering shows and getting rejected. Hey, it happens. It’s to be expected. Wjen I objectively look at work accepted into shows (like it’s really possible to be totally objective….), I am struck by how “quilty” the pieces are, even those billed as art quilts. I also can recognize styles and “names,” and I keep looking for something really different that pushes the boundaries of fiber as art. And then I always figure it’s just me and sour grapes.

Now here’s where I’m not sure just what it is I am trying to say. And this has been brought on by a post by Elizabeth Barton, an art quilter and artist and juror of art shows. “Quiltopee” was a post about a week ago that has me pondering. Here’s the beginning of her blog:

“Quilters often say they wish that “they” (critics, museums, galleries, collectors, the public) would recognize quilts as a mainstream art medium.  Other media, for example photography,  have developed to the extent that most museums now include  photographs in their collections and display them regularly.   So, why not quilts? At least part of the answer is that quilts have not developed from their early beginnings in anything like the way that other media have.”

I find this really intriguing. Art quilts seem to be the rage, and I see some pretty amazing ones. But I also see “art quilts” that seem to take everything that can be done with thread and fiber and machine quilting and throw it all together, just because you can. I subscribe to the philosophy that “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” Just because you can machine quilt something to within an inch of its life doesn’t mean that’s what your piece really needs. Yet those seem to be the quilts that are getting in to shows and winning awards.

Elizabeth continues: “Contemporary art is rich, diverse, and unpredictable.  While  painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and crafts are still popular,  new media  are more likely to be seen in contemporary art shows: film, video, audio, installation, performance, text, computers.  And media are frequently mixed.  It’s hot to use an “old” medium  in a new way: paintings that are pixilated, drawing with chocolate. But how many quilts have you seen made from chocolate? (though it’s a grand idea!).”

She goes on to say (and this is what really struck me): “But I’m afraid, and correct me if I’m wrong(!), we don’t see these kinds of things in quilts.  Quilters tend to stick very much to making quilts the way they were always made.  There’s nothing wrong in this, but that’s one reason why the contemporary fine art world is not very interested.  They’re not so interested in paintings made the traditional way either.”

Hmmmmm. I’m doing things with fiber and marbling – an unconventional marriage to begin with – and adding thread, additional painting, unusual hangings/display means. So much so that people who look at my work don’t know what to call it….”Is that supposed to be a quilt?”

Well, no. It’s art, it hangs on the wall. You can look at it, appreciate the subject matter, mayne think about how it was made. But how does it affect you? What do you see? Forget the “why isn’t it a regular quilt?” They don’t see any underlying message to the subject matter.

Elizabeth finishes with ” I think that the answers to questions as to why art critics arn’t interested in quilts are evident in both formal and content areas:  quilters don’t really want to stretch the medium to uncomfortable (if not breaking) lengths, nor do many of them want to address some of the contemporary issues evident in main stream art.  As I said before, neither good nor bad, but, rather, why!”

The small fiber piece I created in response to the Tucson shootings upset a few people. The subject matter was raw; it was created during the first week after the shootings that killed 6 and left 13 wounded. One snarky comment (anonymous, of course) in our local paper said, “Where was she with a quilt to wrap up Hitler? That would have saved some lives.”

As I’m writing this post, I’m also processing. The Art from the Heart website does contain art quilts – and other media –  with a message. They probably wouldn’t be accepted into any kind of art quilt show. But they are addressing contemporary issues. So am I ahead of myself? Am I pushing myself in other directions that the fiber world is ready for – the quilting world isn’t – and may never be?

I am really interested in your comments to this post, and Elizabeth’s ideas in general. You can see some of my earlier fiber work on our website. The more “message-driven work hasn’t made it up yet. One of my goals for the first half of the year……

 

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4 Responses to “So Where Am I as an Artist?”

  • thank you for the link, Linda – alas I rarely have time to read blogs and would be sorry I’d missed a comment – and interesting and lengthy comment ! – on one. so often one feels like that tree that fell with nobody listening!
    As for what you personally should do, as Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss”!. Make the sort of work that is satisfying to you, enter it into shows that have that kind of work and don’t worry that it is not accepted when you enter it into the “other” kind of show!!
    I’ve had little success with my industrial pieces too, but they were what was in my mind when I was making them.
    all the best, Elizabeth
    PS tried to reply directly to your email but was rejected!!!

  • Thanks, Elizabeth! I do so admire your blog and it’s always food for thought – so someone is definitely reading and chewing on what you say! It’s funny you quote Campbell, because I was with a tutoring student yesterday and I quoted Campbell to him – the exact same thing. Great minds!

  • Linda,

    What a fantastic post. I think you should feel very proud of yourself. So much art out there is based on someone else’s work. You are blazing a new trail-which can be very lonely at times. Keep going! The world needs more originality. Luckily, we have venues like blogs now, so even when show judges can’t understand your vision, you can still get your message out.

  • Laura, thank you so much! I admire all the work that you do in helping those of us learn about getting to the marketing while maintaining the creativity flow. Your poasta and ravioli are sparks of genius! And yes, I will keep on, because I love the work.

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