Archive for the ‘a pet peeve’ Category

Dumbing Down in a Crowded Field?

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I make very non traditional quilted textile art works, commonly called ‘art quilts’ , although as I and others have said before, there really isn’t a totally satisfactory term to cover these endeavours.
Recently a publisher announced plans for a new periodical for ‘art quilters’ to consist of one part information including how-to articles and advertising, and the other part focusing on individual artists and their works. It sounds to me like a cross between a catalogue and a magazine, with the inevitable ads. This kind of venture has been tried before. Ten years or more back, there was one with huge amounts of lovely pics and original writing including interesting reviews , but it folded after a couple of years’ struggle with production difficulties -the supporting advertising revenue didn’t seem to be there. Another more recent publication has become a series of mass-appeal project pieces with advertising – very, very technique- and how-to oriented, and really short on the art side of it all. Safe and mainstream.

As one friend privately commented last week, among aspiring art quilters there is so much emphasis on technique and very little attention paid to learning more about art, the general perception being that for those wearying of making traditional quilts there is the art quilt field to just blithely transition into. There are heaps of classes covering how to manage the mandatory dyes and paints, printing manipulating digital images, and all the while designing intuitively … ‘intuitive’ is a buzz word in the art quilt field.

And not only that, but there are associations, organisations one can join to learn all about promoting and marketing your art in a series of professional development programs, ranging from mentoring phone hookups to on-line encyclopaedic treatises on everything the aspiring art quilter could possibly need to know, from what size a mailable quilted postcard should be, to whether quilted art should be framed, mounted or hung, with or without glass, and so on. You can even pay someone to help you design your studio; and no one calls their work area a ‘sewing room’ or ‘work room’ nowadays, it seems.

The main point is usually missed totally: that in truly original work there are no rules.

‘Art quilters’ will flock in droves for subscription copies of this new publication, and will seize the opportunity to be featured artists by submitting images; but I predict none of it will result in wider appreciation of the genre, nor will it result in more high quality writing , or thoughtful reviews of quilted textile art. Michael James ruffled feathers and caused frenetic controversy a couple of years back by suggesting that quilters as a group are woefully ignorant of the wide world of contemporary art and design, mostly happily reproducing what they are taught by workshop teachers who present predominantly technique based classes. Among the many contemporary quiltmakers I personally know there are relatively few original designers demonstrating mastery of design and colour, who choose to use sublimely appropriate techniques (high or low tech) who really think about the content of their designs, and whose work can be identified as being of note within the contemporary art scene in their region in which they operate.

Copyright Issues – what’s in a name?

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Plenty – and on this theme a couple of things bother me at the moment, seeming to be on the very edge of being copyright issues.

Firstly, today I went onto another quilter’s blog and found the writer had posted a pic of a non traditional quilt top she had just made for her group’s “Gees Bend Challenge” For those who are in tune with the quilt world just now it is well known that a group of quilters from the very poor, isolated, southern Alabama township of Gees Bend are currently in the news. Their utilitarian quilts were ‘discovered’ a few years ago by an agent who introduced them to the art world which has gone crazy about them – books have been published, exhibitions are touring, coffee mugs, other souvenirs and nick nacks produced for sale; several law suits are now out there based over alleged agreements, or lack of them and other misunderstandings behind the current situation in which most of the quilters in that town claim they have had almost no financial/material benefit from all this attention. All the while big bucks are being paid for some of their works to intermedaries belonging to a certain family claiming to be acting as their agents, and also claiming to be working to bring about improvements in the lives of these quilters in this community. sounding rather paternalistic, too – but like most people, I really don’t know the facts behind it all, and the tangle will take quite a while to unravel in the US courts. What really bothered me that is that the name of this town/group has been used by a quiltgroup (on the other side of the world, no less) for a challenge that could just as easily and much more properly been called something like an” Improvisational Piecing Challenge”.

And the other thing that has always bugged me is how some people use the names of other (usually deceased) artists in the titles of their own works. Quilters especially seem to freely do this, with particular favs being Klimt, Klee and Huntderwasser (sorry H – not sure of the spelling of your name – forgive me) If you are claiming to be producing original work not copying anyone else’s designs, you may neverthless recognise that a particular artist or school of artists had some degree of influence in that work – and, let’s face it, we are all influenced by what is around us, and that includes all we experience in Life. If an influence is significant we should acknowledge it in statements or interviews; but to use someone’s actual name in the title of your (own?)work IMHO is just sleezy, and further, bone lazy. It has always been my contention that the best artist’s statement is a carefully chosen, apt title, which then leads the viewer into the work and encourages that viewer to engage with the work on personal terms that will vary from viewer to viewer. Yep, I’m picky.

Traditional and contemporary quiltmakers and textile artists still have a long way to go to get the hang of what copyright really means.

July 29th: below follows a series of exchanges between myself and two readers in which I feel the whole point of my post was missed, and remind anyone reading this that my first sentence refers to what IMHO are a couple of issues “on the very edge of copyright issues” – not that they are copyright violations. My intention was only to pose food for thought, and although IMHO the exchanges became a bit silly, and I became over pedantic perhaps – can’t resist it – nevertheless I have not removed or barred any comments, theirs or mine, being strongly pro free speech and anti most censorship. And the phrase “sleazy and just bone lazy” may have come across too strongly – water that down as you like, I still think it is a regrettable practice no matter how widespread.

The spirit of discovery

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

There are a number of quilt discussion lists to which I subscribe, although usually skim and ping over most issues, since the same ones come up again and again over time, naturally as people come and go or become less new. And to read them in full each day would leave little time for anything else.

However over the past couple of days there have been calls for recommendations of books on quilting by people on one art quilters’ list, presumably either wanting to develop their art quilt skills or already finding ways to put their own ideas into unique quilted textile form. I found this a rather sad question. It may be my own attitude, but whatever happened to the spirit of experimentation, of discovering and exploring and incorporating the findings into one’s own work?

However having said that, there is an excellent recent self published book which does encourage experimentation for the faint hearted wanting to enrich their work anyway. Australian quiltmaker, teacher, writer and lecturer Dijanne Cevaal has produced “Seventy Two Ways Not to Stipple or Meander (Ideas for Free Machine Quilting)” The book contains the basic points on starting free machine quilting and embroidery (being the same essential thing) advice on needles and threads and so on, suggestions on setting up, importance of basting and batting types, all of which are probably in most other books on free machine quilting.

The real inspiration comes however from the illustrations, which consist of 72 different patterns, one b/w photo to a page, many of them with a personal comment ( to quote Dijanne ” – it adds interest to contour lines if you throw in some other shapes as the lines go outwards.” ) This technical and photographic information aside, it is the exerimental attitude implicit in all her personal comment that shines through, IMHO – as Dijanne says, she is quilting for texture and effect, not for perfection. The implication is that of course, practice until you are perfect if that’s what you want. But to Dijanne ( and myself, can’t you tell?) the FMQ is an intergral and interesting part of the overall artistic integrity of the quilted piece. The goal of Dijanne’s book is if possible to wean many of the current art-quilters and wannabe’s off ‘Stippling”. Stippling in itself can be interesting and often appropriate; but it is so totally overused and has become even boring as a texture in modern quiltmaking. Information on ordering this terrific book can be obtained from Dijanne herself, I bought my copy for Aus $20 in Australia, overseas buyers will find Dijanne is experienced and prepared to ship anywhere, taking current exchange rates into account.

My own recommendation was: check out some recent catalogues both in book form and on line – visit some websites maybe to see what people are doing, start observing what other crafts people are using in their surface designs, through visits to galleries and museums,…. then shut all of that down, sketch and or photograph patterns around us, and draw and draw and draw with them until they bcome your own to use in well, say, free machine quilting. They can just as easily turn up as applique cut outs or print stencils of various kinds. The thing is to make pattern or texture part of your own vocabulary which can only be done by quite a bit of work….. I’m a paper and pencil kind of gal, the results on the computer don’t really express ME and I don’t relate to them. Mind you, I could do with a really comprehensive workshop on the use of a computer program and may do sometime, in english.

The group belonging/quilters uniform thing – take 2

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

I have commented before ( on this blog, dec. 2005, group belonging or useful opportunity?) on what traditional quilters seem to need to wear to quilting events – long denim skirts and with quilted bargello jacket in shades of pink , blue or mint with touches of navy come to mind. Among art quilters and their wannabes there is the same urge but often expressed in something hand dyed and therfore ‘arty’ – there’s some fabulously elegant gear around among art quilters and designers, I just don’t do art to wear and don’t feel I need to dress up like some painting to go to an opening or other art quilt event. I’m OK with that.

On the Quiltart list this morning, one writer commented she was going to a school reunion this weekend, and how she felt she needed to wear something home-made and artsy to demonstrate her success as a quilter in the context of competitiveness coming out at such times as class reunions – and said she was determined to finish the binding of sweatshuirt designer jacket she began in someone’s class a while back, to wear at the dinner on saturday night, where everyone else will be in ‘normal’ but presumably their good clothes – here’s part of what I wrote:

” …. think – will the professional sports coach be there in sweats and trainers? will the cardiac surgeon turn up in full gear and facial mask wielding scalpel? will the ceramic designer turn up in clay-spattered apron over shirt and jeans? Will the gourmet restaurant chef turn up in his cooking gear? Of course not, so please re-consider this quilters urge thing ( to which I have never succumbed, incidentally, although I did buy a tiara to wear to Houston in the event I get there one day…) Better to swear something snazzy and glam/business-like and have plenty of business cards with your details including website and email address to hand out to everyone you meet. No website? Well, anyone who pays any particular attention invite them to call sometime to arrange for a studio visit ……O why why why do quilters feel they must wear something quilted or pieced to somehow display that they have had success? The medium will never be taken seriously as an art medium unless ths kind of thinking fades amongst us.”

On the list and and personally there were perhaps 8-10 emails in response, more in agreement with what I said, a couple not so. One writer pointed out that the examples I gave were all of uniforms and different from designer art to wear. She had a point, but, actually, I don’t feel anything with ‘sweatshirt.. ‘ in the description really qualifies as Designer Wear…. but it also missed the point I was making about what I call the Quilters Uniform we see so often at exhibitions – denim skirt or jeans – nothing against either of them except when topped with a jacket that looks as if it is a cut-down bed quilt, or as someone else described it, ‘quilty clothing’, in the most extreme classic case an ohio star block or similar placed centre back, surrounded by log cabin infill, and only very rarely flattering to the slender figure – which most quilters are not – and I include myself in that.

After further on-list discussion, the school-reunion attending quilter did comment that the gathering is in Miami and that the jacket will probably spend most of the evening over the back of a chair, anyway, where it will be seen to better advantage than on her, since there were a couple of places where she felt the fit and resulting drape isn’t as good as it could be. QED.

Group belonging thing? or useful opportunity?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

I don’t know if it is a ‘women’ thing, specifically, but I have noticed all kinds of little examples down the years in different interest/activity specifically craft/textile related groups I have belonged to in Aus and USA – on the other hand it might be just a ‘belonging’ thing…. Either way, I have to decide what to do about this latest example, and soon.

A piece of my work has been selected for inclusion in a touring exhibition. As if the work itself, the effort and expense of submitting it and then once accepted getting it to its right destination by that deadline were not quite enough….it’s now “Wait! There’s More! ” Someone in the group of selectees has come up with the bright idea how wonderful it would be for each of us to swap fabric postcards (for the unitiated, sort of miniature quiltlets/textile pieces, in the 5inches by 7 inches dimensions. (silmilar to artist trading cards, also undergoing a fad of popularity in quilters/textile artist circles) You opt in or out, it’s nothing to do with the collection itself, and the dates and deadlines are pretty tight for me. One one hand, yes, if I go in for this, it will be very nice to have a number of small hopefully interesting examples of particular people’s original textile art; also, as is often put forward in justification, it IS a chance to try out stuff (techniques, design ideas) on a small scale, even, as someone has suggested, a chance to use up some of the fabric scraps all of us surely have in our workrooms ( amen to that – but using scraps only prompts them to go into rapid breeding mode, IMHE)

I have found myself wondering over the past week since it was suggested, “Do I reeaally want to be diverted along this little side track?” As yet the final number to be made is uncertain, clearly some others are also wavering – but it could be 12, 20, or more, by the deadline. Another part of me has been tossing up “Could this little diversion lead me onto a new, potentially exciting path, perhaps…?”

Is this just akin to the ‘please wear your quilted bargello vest and dowdy denim skirt / fake diamond tiara’ to show you are a quilter attending a quilt event, or the “please follow your tour leader holding a red flag bearing our logo ‘Cultural Tours En Masse’, so we do not lose you” sort of thing – belonging. Being an identifable part of a crowd.

I still have not resolved my intital questions about this phenomenon, but anyway have decided to give it a whirl today; to try to run up a few. They must be easy and quick to make (machine applique and machine quilting) say ‘alison-schwabe-made-this’ , and take me somewhere I want to go experimentally. So, I just came downstairs for a snack, a fresh cuppa and my camera to record the process for I have 6 pieces of fabric and batting cut, and a little machine stitching so far, and already that is telling me this might not be the bogey man I feared. I will post pics and progress later.

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