Sunday, December 12, 2010

Artmaking categorized

I wrote several days ago about Jane Dunnewold's blog post in which she presented six different approaches to making art.  She pointed out, and I agree, and so did many of the people who left comments on both our blogs, that we can all see bits of ourselves in each of the categories.  But as I reflected more, her post seemed to describe not so much six approaches to making art as six approaches to making mediocre art, or six excuses for not making art at all.

I'll start with a defense of Jane -- I know she meant her remarks a lot more light-heartedly than I am taking them, and I don't want to come off as picking holes in her comments.  She said nothing wrong; it's only me, looking for DEEPER MEANING, who's being a grinch.  Nevertheless, it got me thinking.

We all love to categorize things, especially ourselves.  How many times have you taken quizzes in magazines in which you're asked what you would prefer to do on Saturday night: (a) watch a NASCAR race on TV, (b) go to a Justin Bieber concert, (c) hear a panel discussion on UFO abductions?  To which I often want to answer (d) eat ground glass.  When you fit into none of the categories, the "result" is just as useless as when you fit into all of them.

If there's any virtue to self-knowledge, we need to realize that discrete categories are a little too glib, that it's better to see life as a spectrum than as a pigeonhole desk.  And so I was thinking about different spectrums along which we might identify various work habits and attitudes and approaches to making art.

Advance planning:  This spectrum ranges from blueprints so detailed that somebody else could make it for you to 100% improvisation, in which you don't know how it's going to end up until it's done.

Tolerance of mess:  This spectrum ranges from the pristine you-could-eat-off-the-floor studio, with everything stowed in its proper drawer or cupboard,  to working onsite at the dump.

Studio atmosphere:  At one end of this spectrum is the calm, quiet, white studio, without visual or auditory distraction -- no TV, no music, no art on the walls, no piles of fabric on the floor, no clippings on the bulletin board.  At the other end, the joint is jumping with stimulation.

Accumulation of materials:  At one end, you don't buy or make anything until you have defined exactly what you need and where it will go into the finished work.  At the other, you have lots of raw materials on hand (perhaps commercial fabric, perhaps your own dyed, screenprinted or painted fabric) and they guide your decision making.

Multitasking:  At one end of this spectrum, you work on a single project till it's finished.  At the other end, you have several projects going at the same time, working on whichever one calls loudest to you on a given day.  (This spectrum also applies to geologic time, so to speak -- whether you work on one series or several.)

Tolerance of interruption:  At one end, you kiss your husband good-bye, lock the studio door and turn off the phone so you don't lose focus.  At the other end, you work at the kitchen table, make soup while you're sewing and get an adrenaline boost from unexpected happenings, maybe even incorporating the surprise into your work.

Audience participation:  At one end of this spectrum, you love studio visitors, bring your art to critique group, post work in progress on your blog, welcome comments and maybe even ask for suggestions.  At the other end, you don't show your work to anybody except the jurors until it's on the wall of the gallery.

These are some of the spectrums that occur to me, but I'm sure there are others.  I plan to discuss each of them in more detail in future posts, and welcome your ideas for other spectrums that might be equally valid and useful.  Useful, in this sense:  perhaps if we can place ourselves in a certain part of the spectrum, we can develop strategies for maximizing our strengths and overcoming our weaknesses.

Perhaps, for instance, we could acknowledge that while we love to start sewing on a new project and await the serendipitous arrival of the muse, we might save some seam ripping with a bit more planning.Or that while our tolerance of mess is extremely high, life might be better (for our loved ones if not ourselves) if we moved a ways down the spectrum.  In this paragraph, of course, I describe myself.

one of my work tables


  1. Another dimension is "importance of deadlines"...

  2. good idea, Margaret! I'll add that to the list