Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Advice to a Young Artist

I understand that you are at a crux in your career (did you know you had one?) and this turning point is so delicate and important that I am bit verklempt that you came to me at this very moment.
I disagree that you need a critique group. I loathe that confrontational model and think that generally we do our best work and move on and can always tell with a little time what is wrong or just fabulous. However, it is nice to show our work and listen to heartfelt reactions, which is why we have friendly little art gatherings.
I like it when specific people take the time to point out something I have brought in. No-one makes them say anything but if the work makes them remark about it, then it is worth its weight in gold. Moreover, a critique only has value if you trust and respect the person giving the critique. That is the most difficult part. That’s why my two artist friends and I see each other once a week or so, to show each other the work we are making and to get honest responses. I have seen one’s work improve
every year since 1995 and the other one manages to consistently
produce her best. A-mazing. Imagine my frustration when they always seen to have their own work to show and I am producing some derivative piece of schlock ( don’t argue with me, it IS schlock 90% of the time) and only very occasionally will I bring in something fabulous…which I know is fabulous.

My advice (should you choose to take it) is to stay away from all outwardly motivated assignments. Wait and listen to that tiny voice within. Get alone, stay quiet, and make a lot of work. (that’s the hardest part)
Play with your fabric and make what the fabric motivates you to make.
Feed your muse. This cannot be overestimated. Look at lots of art, in books, magazines, galleries, online, and not necessarily quilts. Look at jewelry, and surface designs, like wallpaper, area rugs, window displays, anything that excites the eye. Take pictures and look at them for composition or shapes, or value.

Think about what you liked the best.

Have a sketchbook and even tho you said you can’t draw, you can make diagrams, I know you can. These are really layouts or mental notes about what you liked in a piece of something. I will attach a dumb drawing/great diagram and you will feel better. You will look at it and wonder why I had to draw this before I made it? I could have just made it. NEVERTHELESS, it was important to work out the idea first so that I could relax and know where I was heading. Not all good work is made this way but it helps sometime. Other times I have been just playing and accidentally something good has fallen together, something good enough to make deliberately again. This time with EMPHASIS.
Every design looks better if its main idea is EMPHASIZED.

Make a list of the ten things that make your work recognizable. It may be early days for this, but it helps to see what it is that you have done and what you want to concentrate on bringing forth in the future.
Gather all the pictures of your work, line them up, and view them as a body of work. Disparate parts? Yup. I have been there. I have had this crisis so very recently. The only fix is to make more work. Since you know how to fuse, you can crank out some stuff in a heartbeat. Set goals to make a piece a day, small of course. But in a week, you will have five to seven pieces and begin to look differently at your work. Then you can evaluate and regroup and make some more. Soon you will have a storage problem. How lovely. Remember when you saw something that famous artist
made that was like #57 in the Series. That was the one good one…the rest were rehearsals to getting there. Nothing wrong with that. It’s only fabric.
Not everything has to be finished, which is why I love the escape hatch finish. It makes the work look finished before it is quilted, and then I can get back to it later, if it is worth finishing.

It is never too late to take yourself seriously. Look at Mary Jo Bowers, nearly 70 and really coming into herself. And Janet Steadman who is winning everything these days including Houston and is over 75.
You are a baby compared to them. But don’t waste another moment on challenges and crap like that. Your own work is the only thing to be making, whatever that is. So you don’t know what it is yet, but if you make it you will know.

PS. Only make stuff you ENJOY making. No point in having a career that makes you miserable to produce.