Friday, May 26, 2006

Open for Discussion
-
Lisa Call, an artist for whom I have tremendous respect has asked this question, in reference to my whining remarks about not wanting to even have to quilt a quilt.
L: Otherwise I question - why a quilt? Why not something else - why not just stretch the piece on stretcher bars and be done with it if you don't want to quilt it?
Here's my wimpy answer:

M: Uh, because shipping it to venues is ridiculous if it is a mounted
piece. Joy Saville stretchers her quilts and they wonderful,

Joy Saville's art is stretched here for you to see

but then they are not in quilt shows and go directly to some office wall or someplace like that.

and then her cogent, thoughtful, kick in my butt response:

L: Yes but if you are making art for art's sake this comment isn't valid.
It's about saleability and managability - art for art's sake is about making the artwork that is appropriate and ignoring such picky details because in the end you can work around those things.
Sure it might cost more to ship but if that is the artwork you want to make is that a good reason to not make it?
Well, sitting here with my head spinning, I have excuses piled high, but they are so transparent and wimpy I can barely articulate them. Nevertheless...
How I would love to make art for art sake, solely. If that were the case, I would be back fooling around with painting right now, not making quilts.
But making quilts is my job, my responsibility, my career, and not my flight of fancy at the moment (which painting would be, as a matter of fact, and next week it could be fimo, or jewelry or paper dolls). I use the term flight of fancy because I think I would be nuts to divert at this stage of the game and start stretching my quilt tops and stacking them up for sale, without any possible venue or agent or gallery where they could or would go.
I might as well give up any idea of further income, which is QUITE important around here at Chez Johnson.
I could go back to waitressing if making ART FOR ART SAKE was that important to me. But alas, that way of thinking is for the young and idealistic. Call me a coward, but I know I am already nearing the edge of sanity and had better stick to what has worked for me in the past.
And then she said:
L:
If the art is finished after you have completed the quilt top then stop - don't ruin it with quilting lines if you feel it is not necessary to complete the art.
Say bye bye to the quilt world and hello to the art world - don't let the quilting world set up artificial restrictions on your work.
M: Did I mention idealistic? O would that it were all so easy to switch. (Easy means a lot to me.)
Having just been in Santa Fe, where there are more galleries than anywhere, short of NYC, there is only one gallery with quilts, and there, only two quilt artists were featured. Sue Benner, and Tim Harding. Two pieces each.
Now I happen to live in the Chicago area which is a town that so much wants to be New York, and has a dearth of fiber art galleries, but lots of quilt shows. The only people I know that hang quilts as art, are those that make them.
Well, not really.
Frieda Anderson found an ice cream shop that hangs her work, and sells a piece every now and then. We also have the Fine Line Art Center which has shown our quilts, but as for selling them, a person would have to have the services of a detective to find someone to take their money as the gallery is separate from the yarn store, which really makes the money.
If there were a gallery that I could approach with my work, I definitely would consider the stretcher thing, because to the general public, that might be more acceptable as 'art' than the quilted piece.
But here's the bottom line...on my last trip, I rolled up about 20 quilts, in my suitcase and sold three. That's real life. Coincidentally, none were quilted to death. Ha!
So I am not your trailblazer former quilt artist turned framed fiber artist. I am just a working stiff who is lucky enough to have a job in this cwazy world of qwilts.

29 comments:

  1. You are also talking yourself around in a circle. Chasing your tail. I wrote to you about this very subject a while back and you blew it off. Quilting was your "art". Now it's your work, your job, your source of money. Art made to sell, isn't art. Art made for the love of making art, is art.

    And trying to find the fastest way to finish a piece--- that's factory work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As someone new to this art quilt world, and trying to find my artist voice, I truly value this discussion. While I don't intend to sell my work, and do "art for art's sake", you discuss the very important practical need for balance. As with all of life, balance is critcal to keep us on track. The challenge remains to find the balance between income versus outcome.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nora in CT10:20 AM

    You know, it's amazing how we torture ourselves no matter what we do. Is it the curse of creativity? Kids do what they like without overthinking, but as adults we just about paralyze ourselves if we are at all creative.

    Your art is wonderful, vibrant, evolving, engaging and unique. I "read" lots of fabric arts sites and magazines and it seems that many of the "art" pieces are tediously similar with the current vogue of fabric painting and collage and embellishment. Not that some aren't quite wonderful, but they're all kinda the same. Doing something different is hard, especially when you want to make your living at it.

    I love your minimally quilted pieces. Let the fabric speak in its own shape and color if that's what it calls for. Your densely quilted works are beautiful, too, of course, but things don't have to be one way or the other.

    I'm sure you know that. You have quite a lot of experience and success as an artist and teacher. What can you do but trust your self and enjoy it?

    I guess I have a strong reaction because I love your work brings me so much pleasure in all its forms and I wish that it did you too. Perhaps these questions that you're asking yourself are simply part of the growing edge. Education is great, but it sure can be limiting sometimes too.

    Enjoy! Make it your own way. And I wish you lots more success.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you Nora, I appreciate your lovely comments.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous11:00 AM

    All the great masters created for money so they could support their lives and once in awhile do what they wanted to do. The Sistine Chalpel not art? Come on. Don't define art or limit it. You never know what spark the next "mundane" piece might bring.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This dialogue between you and Lisa is deep...the commentor above who spoke of balance (or I like to use the word flow now instead of balance) comes closer to clarity on this topic. Its not an either or decision...but an "and" decision...you make art to sell, you do activities for income and you make art for you and sometimes it sells...possibly no rhyme or reason...but just how life flows...are you okay with the flow is the more important question...hangeth in and keep on keepin' on!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Marie from Ohio3:30 PM

    Melody-
    It is really fascinating to see where your muse has taken you these past few weeks. I really admire what you're doing and understand how frustrating is must be so close to what you're striving for and interested in. In my humble opinion, since your design is wonderfully minimal why not the quilting? Would it be possible to sew and flip the pieces to the batting as you go so it would be automatically quilted during construction process? You could add more lines later if you wished. Just a thought!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Melody, How very brave of you to post your dialogue with Lisa on your blog and invite discussion. So, here you go: my thoughts on the topic.

    First, it seems like you are proud (and rightly so) of your accomplishments in the quilt world. You have made quilts which have won recognition at big shows, you’ve won money, and you are widely recognized as a teacher in the quilting world. It is no wonder that you don’t want to let go of all of that. You have a safe place there, and entering the world of art galleries and competing with other media is unknown and daunting and you do not know how the non-quilt art world will accept your work.

    Second, you make a lot of money teaching the quilt-related techniques that have been so successful for you: fusing, composing abstract block-lets, and machine quilting. Again, that’s solid, relatively predictable income for you. It’s hard to walk away from. And, practically speaking, maybe that’s not something you want to do or can afford to do, financially speaking.

    Third, you DO keep doing the things you say you don’t want to do. And maybe that means that they’re comfortable and familiar and known to you, and you’ve developed a solid expertise in those things: Your color palette, your particular composition style, the quilting you return to over and over even though you say you don’t like it or don’t want to do it any more.

    Four, I’ll risk one more observation. There is no question that you promote fusing as a valid art quilt technique, which of course it is. But you seem intent on stitching it in a way which makes it look like it is pieced. And that is fascinating to me, because it suggests that maybe you deal with some level of insecurity about fusing by trying to (or feeling the need to) visually “sneak it by” as something that looks NOT fused. And it makes me wonder if you have a hard time considering NOT quilting, because then the work would obviously be fused and not sewn. And maybe you’re worried that your work will no longer be valued or accepted in the arena in which you’ve had such success. So, going down that road means that you risk losing your “place” in the art quilt world AND you haven’t yet established a place in the non-quilt art world. And that’s scary.

    Is there a way that you can do both? Perhaps you can consider that you have a body of work you are doing to feed your role as an art quilter, and to continue to provide the foundation for your teaching. And, maybe you work on one piece a month or something that is totally different from anything you’d teach, and you make it with the goal of NOT quilting it (or not doing things you don’t like to do and don’t think are necessary to the art) and submit them ONLY to art venues. There are a lot of mixed media shows and small galleries, you know. You know, and maybe you’re not being realistic to expect that the first non-quilt piece you submit will end up in a Santa Fe gallery. Liz Berg seems to have success getting her work into non-quilt galleries as well as art-quilt shows and more traditional quilt venues.

    At any rate, everything you are doing is interesting and exciting and you are so kind to share your exploration so publicly. It gives me a lot of think about. I know I’ll enjoy watching where you go.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am really enjoying this dialog between you wonderful artists. I don't feel brave enough to put forth any opinion except to say that I can understand your need to make art and still make a living. Clearly anyone who knows you, knows that is every bit as urgent right now as the need to create art and that always makes us question our motives and desires. We need the validation of the fellow artists and we need the validation of being paid for our work. Tough place to be my friend. I am such a groupy & Melody suck-up that I just want you to make stuff-screw everything else- I forgot-it's all about me me me(hee)Oh, and WHERE"S DAVE?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Karen6:41 PM

    OK where to start.. the compulsion to create vs the need to survive. How I hate that! I often wonder how much different my art would be if I needed to make a living doing it. And Quilt art is not exactly a form that most galleries seek out. Thankfully I too live in the Chicago area and fiber art is
    evident here though not in huge amounts. This usually ends with the is it art or is it craft discussion. Ultimately whatever path you choose to follow for the end result should be the one you go with. Yeah I know the purists in us all would find great fault with that. And the venues that cater to the quilt world are beginning to see that it isnt all about technique. Great technique can do nothing to save a terrible design while great design can often overcome bad technique. ( provided it isnt going to fall to pieces!). Melody you have blazed trails for alot of us. When you fused pieces I felt like someone opened a window with fresh air. GO on it called, do what you need to to get this art to its rightful end! sew it, dont sew it who cares! DO YOU LIKE IT???? that is the only question that has any merit in the end. Its all about the zen of quilting.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Like the "traditional v art" debate, there will always be strongly opposing opinions on this. When I came to terms with my inability to FMQ like others did, I rationalised that quilting at its roots was merely there to join the layers together. Decorative stitching came later. OK, I'm not that minimalist, and I do some FMQ, but I consider my primary talent lies in the colour, the layout, the WOW factor of the quilt as it hits the eye - to me, the quilting part is secondary.

    Shirley in New Zealand

    ReplyDelete
  12. If the quilting serves no purpose but to hold layers together, and having multiple layers is no longer important to you, then maybe you are enough of an established artist to experiment with unquilted works.

    They don't have to be framed. I have some old paintings on canvas that are not stretched...they hang like a quilt, with the top rolled over the back into a hanging sleeve, with one at the bottom as well. They ship like quilts.

    Just something to consider from one who used to have to ship framed work across the country for shows, and understands both the need for "regular" income and ease of shipment.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wow, such a great discussion. Lisa knows how to push the right buttons. So, you're in a safe place that pays the bills, but there's an inner voice that wants to try something new. Did you not also say that you were done making balls-out quilts to enter and win in competitions? Wouldn't that mean a possible end to that form of income? So, if there's no competitions, then there's no need to worry about creating quilts appropriate for them. I would think that you have created enough of a name for yourself that it would be possible to seek out new venues (certainly easier than for those just beginning this foray into the art world). Why not try a series for a gallery; exploring a technique that you are itching to do anyways. And, of course, anything that helps you grow as an artist will also help you grow as a teacher, which seems to be a solid source of income and joy for you :-)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous7:19 AM

    Your inner struggle might also be creating just the right tension in your works that if you didn't berate yourself about the want vs. the need, you'd lose something in your art! One thought...why not do as writer artists do and submit your new/untried work under a pseudonym "in case" you fall on your face (which I seriously doubt you'd do) or "lose" something (which seems to be at the root of many artists' hesitation at taking the giant leap)? You could be Mel Twain or O. Melody....

    ReplyDelete
  15. It strikes me that there are two ways to make money in the quilt world, and both of them have aspiring quilters as the source of that money. One way is to make fabric, and the other is to teach. Making money out of making art quilts is a complete lottery, and is generally only economically viable if there is another source of income.

    It has struck me in reading your blog that it is getting more and more difficult to tell your students' work from your own. You are obviously one of the best as far as teaching goes - and that is a gift to cherish. But in the meantime, if there are squillions of clones out there, it must erode your personal creative satisfaction. Perhaps that's why you are -and sometimes it reads like desperately- looking for something new to do. But you don't want to damage that wonderful buzz you get from teaching and bringing the best out of your students. And would you lose that if your own work changed?

    Maybe you should take a kind of sabbatical in order to explore different kinds of work yourself, and at the same time offer a wider range of classes. Continue with the fusing ones, but I'm sure there is also a great need for classes on design where you could take examples different from your current signature work.

    You know how when one is swimming along one can suddenly think of how deep the water is - and one seems to sink a little, splash a little, gulp in a mouthful or two, .... Well, at that point, just floating there to centre oneself, enjoy being in the water, and then decide calmly to continue or go in another direction.

    Your work presents one of the best uses of bright colour that I have seen in any art form. You have so much talent as an artist and a teacher - and as a blogger. I very much enjoy reading your blog, and I look forward to reading your progress.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Late to the discussion, but this was fascinating and certainly a conundrum going on in my own mind.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm not going to add to this discussion right now. However, I am going to suggest that you add this to your "links of note" list. It's a wonderful discussion that does not deserve to go into the obscurity of the archives.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Melody! I also wonder about quilting and stretching over bars... I often feel quilting is a pain in the butt and my quilting doesn't add/enhance my work.... but I am pragmatic and don't want to ship big mounted work (Ask Marni Goldshlag how much it was going to cost her to crate and ship 3 big works from North Carolina to MO for Fiber Fever ~ $600-- she's driving the work there and back.) I've decided to consider the quilting a way to make big work that can travel economically and try to think about ways the quilting might enhance my work and try to improve my technique. But for small works and work I plan to show locally-- I'm mounting more and more on stretched canvas and calling them textile collages.... --Tricia
    http://triciamckellar.com

    ReplyDelete
  19. Rebecca4:25 PM

    As a quilter who tries to quilt artfully, rather than an artist who uses fibers to express herself, I have found these discussions very interesting. I have an art quilt discussion group I attend, but am intimidated by the definition that "art comes first in 'art quilt'" and the artists around me. Contrarily, I haven't found much interest in discussing art in other on-line quilt groups. I'm so glad I found this blog!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Stretched on a frame? Would any of the world's greatest pieces of art be any less art if they were not stretched, mounted, matted or framed? If people need to have anything and everything presented to them in that fashion for consideration as art then... um... more power to them and I hope they empty their pockets... right this way folks... and over here we have a piece that will look stunning over your sofa!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous9:47 PM

    Enjoyed a lot! »

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