Two awards and a blog post have made me start thinking about artistry.
The first award is from the Blue Ridge Fiber Show, where my wedding dress won second place in the Amateur Garment division. The second award was in my design class, where our first big project was being judged, and one of my pieces “won” the teacher’s award for best in class. (I got a mug as a prize.)
Oddly, the second award means more to me, because it’s about artistic expression, which is something I’m much more insecure about than technical competence. I know exactly how I did the wedding-dress, and while it has excellent technical quality, and is symbolic/expressive, it’s not super artistic. I have always thought of myself as more of a technician, playing with techniques, and only secondarily as someone expressing things through art. I think of myself as being disciplined, not creative. Free-form stuff like tapestry and painting terrifies me.
But what I’m finding in this design class is that I’m more creative than I thought. My winning piece, which was supposed to play around with shape and conceptual contrasts, was a collage, a “gun” made from very feminine lace, firing floral “bullets”, mounted against an irregular piece of brown suede with the wavy edges mirroring the floral “bullets”. (I’d post a photo, but the teacher took it home to photograph so he could show it to future classes.) The contrast was “leather and lace”, or maybe masculine/feminine, or tough/tender depending on what you prefer. Having gone to a hard-nosed engineering university, and having worked in a male-dominated profession for most of my life, I’m fascinated by the mix of masculine/feminine traits that women need to have when working in a male-dominated area. So I put in simultaneous contrasts: gun/flowers and leather/lace, and kept the irregular edge to add more visual interest to the piece. It was one of the most striking pieces in the class, and like I said, it was judged to be the best in the class!
I’m now working on the next assignment, which is a set of three 5×7 “postcards” with a “dream” theme, and expressing textures. One postcard is to be entirely physical textures (collage), one entirely visual texture, and the last one a mix of physical and visual textures. So I thought about it, and I’m doing heaven, hell, and earth. Hell will be a composite, barbed wire and red “flames” (dyed mohair curls lacquered down to the board), with patrolling soldier/devils. Earth will be visual textures, and will show a cracked, blasted landscape on one side, green, inviting pastures with trees on the other side, and barbed wire separating the two, with a figure trapped in the devastated, barren side reaching through the barbed wire, yearning for the green side. Heaven will be the Pearly Gates, with a cut-through barbed-wire fence in the foreground, then picked-apart mohair curls as fluffy “clouds”, and silk, lace, pearls, and gold ribbon decorating the “gates”. Angel inside, visible through the opening doors. The barbed wire will be the unifying design element, and the theme will be “Dreaming of Freedom”.
I think it will be interesting at least, and possibly very successful.
What is interesting to me about all this is how diverse my artistic instinct is when released from technical requirements. I can see why people are drawn to art quilting and mixed media…it is a totally different set of rules. Some part of me thinks it is much more interesting than weaving (creatively), but the tactile, analytic part of me loves weaving precisely because it is technical and responds to analysis.
Somewhere in this is a balance, and I think it will take some time to settle. Meanwhile, I intend to continue taking courses in design and in fine art – this dialogue between artist and technician is extremely interesting, and promising.
While pondering this, I read this blog post by Rayna, who is an art quilter. She talks about two judges who judged her early work as art, not on technique – and awarded her prizes even though her technical execution was far from flawless. This made me ponder the balance between artistic expression and technical excellence. I don’t know that I could judge a quilt show and award prizes based solely on the value of the artistic expression. Surely, technical excellence must be weighed in the balance as well, because quality of construction matters (to me, anyway) as much as concept. That is the nature of craft. But in art, does this matter?
More for pondering…
Meanwhile, I am picking up 92 lbs of chocolate today. It’s not art, and it’s ephemeral, but it’s also very tasty. Chocolatiering ho!