Friday, February 16, 2018

Art and fear this week

I wrote last year about making collages on wood painting panels, or perhaps they would be better described as assemblage because I added a lot of found objects to make them 3-D.  Check them out, with lots of photos, here and here.

For the last couple of weeks I have been working on a new batch, and I took them to my critique group a few days ago.  As I pulled them out of my bag and started to pass them around, I said "Clearly this one isn't finished yet...."  And somebody said "Why do you say 'clearly?' I think it's finished right now."

I was taken aback by the question and stammered around for a bit, trying to figure out why I had said that.  The answer took more soul-searching than I'm usually asked to provide; I'm usually pretty articulate about what I'm doing with my art.

What I came up with was that I am still struggling with the whole concept of making art on a painter's surface, because I feel very insecure about doing anything resembling painting.  And so I have probably been adding the 3-D elements as a protective barrier between me and anything painting-like.

My friends all agreed that two of the pieces were finished.  A couple more coats of matte medium to seal everything and give it a uniform surface, and they can go on the wall.

I'm still not sure I have internalized what they told me and I agreed with.  I do love minimalism, so the blank spaces don't scare me.  I guess it's the two-dimensionality that does.

You will note that I still can't bring myself to call them "paintings."  Having wrestled for a long time with calling myself an artist, and my work art, I guess this is my next wrestling match.  I'll let you know who wins.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Valentine's Day in first grade

Because the parents had to take the baby to the pediatrician at exactly the wrong time, we needed a grandparent to attend the Valentine's Day party, and that was me.  I discovered several things that have changed since the previous generations were in grade school.

First, no paper valentines.  Instead they had a whole sheet of Valentine stickers, distributed to everybody in the room.  Many people got two.  Some of the kids affixed their stickers to their faces instead of to their clothing.

Second,the messages on candy hearts have been radically updated.  Yes, you can still find BE MINE and LOVE but you also get TEXT ME, LOL, TTYL and CRUSHIN'.  (I also learned that first-graders don't yet have good chopstick skills.  Don't ask.)

Third, little girls wear valentine outfits.  Do you think they sell those tutus in grandma sizes?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"I'm Kathy, and I am an artist"

Many times I've participated in discussions of how difficult it is to announce to the world -- and maybe even harder to announce to yourself -- that you are an artist.  I vividly remember the first time I said that to another person.  Strangely, it was probably five years after I had announced to myself that I wanted to make art.  I had become comfortable with that idea, and that wording, but the next step was still hard to take.

I announced that I was going to be an artist to a woman sitting next to me on an airplane, one week before I retired -- my last business trip.  She said something like "that's nice."  The world did not end because the word "artist" had crossed my lips.  This surprised and reassured me.  I soon tried it out again on somebody I knew.  Pretty soon I could say it without even stopping to think whether it was OK.

This memory was prompted by a blog post written by Alisa Golden, an excellent book artist who has recently decided to also make quilts.  She talks in this post about two qualities that enable people to describe themselves as artists (or writers, or calligraphers, or any other kind of non-credentialed but esteemed calling).  The qualities are proficiency and identity.

If you're not sufficiently proficient, compared to others whom you clearly regard as artists, then it should be difficult to call yourself an artist, and if you are, then you should be able to claim the name.  But proficient in whose eyes, Alisa asks.  In your own eyes? In those of others?  And which others count?  Your mom may have thought you were an artist since age four, but her opinion probably doesn't count as much as the opinion of an art professor.

Then comes identity -- whether you feel that you are a member of the group.  Clearly you have to feel like an artist before you can call yourself one.

I like Alisa's breakdown of the situation, and if you have struggled with this situation, or are struggling with it now, you might like to read her entire post.  But I am particularly intrigued with her last remark, "These days, I'm working on accepting a new term for myself: quilter."

Imagine me with a rueful smile as I think of Alisa, who easily calls herself an artist, trying hard to call herself a quilter.  By contrast, I easily called myself a quilter for decades, and then had to try hard to call myself an artist.  Not just that, but since then I have spent many years trying NOT to be called a quilter.

Perhaps it's because I live in a region where traditional quilts were part of the culture, and are still highly prized and widely made.  So many times, when I would say the Q word to describe my work, the response would be "Oh, my grandmother made quilts!!" and then I would have to explain that my quilts were not like those, that they belonged on the wall and not on the bed, that they were made by machine and not by hand, that they didn't use traditional patterns.

I'll make a Q quilt, but avoid the Q word

And within the wider world of art, I have often felt that quilters, unless they come from Gees Bend, are not regarded as "real artists." So for a long time I have most comfortably called myself a fiber artist, and tried to avoid the Q word altogether.  But even that seemed to have a faint aura of second-class citizenship within the wider world of art, so for the last few years I have pretty much dropped the word "fiber" too.

Alisa's right -- it all comes down to identity.  We all have our strange ways of feeling and expressing that, and one person's take can be quite the opposite of the next person's.  How do you describe yourself?  Was it hard to reach that point?  Has your chosen nomenclature changed over the years?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

An experiment

I haven't been accomplishing much in the studio since the first of the year.  Lots of meetings and writing from the two art groups I'm on the board for, lots of time on organizing and cleaning out the studio and throwing away decades worth of crap, lots of baby time.  But little in the way of art.  I really must find a project and get started on it before the Olympics, so I can work while I watch.

Two weeks ago I thought I had found a project that was going to keep me busy for a while.  I wanted to make a piece so heavily machine-stitched that it would start to bend and ripple.  I wanted to use some of the dozen-plus cones of pink polyester embroidery thread that I inherited from the museum, just on general principles that when you have a dozen-plus of something you should try to use it up.

So I made a quilt sandwich, covered the top layer with scraps and bits of various pink fabrics, and started sewing.  It didn't take long before I realized that first, I wasn't enamored of how it looked, and second, it would take years to finish the piece to the size I had originally thought.  So Plan B: I cut off a small panel and finished stitching that very densely.

Then I cut a piece of paper to that same size and experimented with folding and rolling it, looking for a geometric shape that might be attractive.  I thought it might complement the one stitched pyramid that I have left after our gallery sale last summer (at top right in the photo).

Maybe a cone?  But that would reveal the back side of my stitching, which wasn't very attractive.  I folded and rolled some more, came up with nothing interesting and got discouraged.  Finally I decided to heck with it, I wanted to be done with this failed experiment.  I stitched the two ends of the rectangle together, then turned it inside out to make a cylinder.

Well, oops.  The piece had gotten so stiff and bulky, between that full quilt sandwich and the stitching, that I had to fight it all the way just to get it to turn.  But I kind of liked the lumps and wrinkles that ensued.  The bottom edge had a binding of peach silk, left from our kimono stash, but the top edge was raw, so I turned it inside and sewed the top shut.  This made it about six inches tall and three or four inches wide.

So is the experiment a failure or a success?  I think maybe some of each.  Plan A certainly didn't work, but Plan B may have some promise (as in so many other aspects of life and art).   I love to stitch, stitch, stitch all day so the process works for me.  I like the beat-up, bumpy look.  I don't think I like the cylindrical form all that much, although in some of the views it's intriguing.

Maybe I'll try another one and try to repeat what I like in the first version, avoid what I didn't like, and figure out a way to make it technically easier.  I'll let you know how that works out.