Last week the New York Times had an article on LeRoy Neiman, the just-deceased artist who specialized in sports scenes. The writer recalled that when he was in art school, people would often comment that a painting looked like a LeRoy Neiman.
"A reasonably sophisticated art student knew what that meant, and it was not a compliment," the writer said. "To compare a student's work to Mr. Neiman's meant, 'You are trying to distract the viewer from noticing your wooden draftsmanship and your ineptitude with matters of form and structure by larding your canvas with loud color and patchy accretions of paint.' Or, 'What you are making is all frosting, no cake."
The article goes on to discuss Neiman and other artists "marginalized by the cognoscenti" but loved by the masses, including Walt Disney, Salvador Dalí, Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth. (I'm surprised he left out Thomas Kincade, who also became rich and famous well beyond his artistic abilities.) But that's for another discussion.
What struck me about these remarks was how well they apply to the "art quilt" world, if you change a couple of words. Make that "You are trying to distract the viewer from noticing your mediocre design and your ineptitude with matters of form and structure by larding your quilt with loud color and flashy embellishment." Ouch?
All frosting, no cake -- that's as good a description of a large portion of the "art quilt" world as anything else you could come up with. Unfortunately it's probably easier to find some of these no-cake wonders than it is to find quilts with more rigorous art underpinnings.
Go to the State Fair, for instance. The judges are knowledgeable to the point of hysteria about stitching, binding and making points match, but generally have no training in design. Go to the quilt shop, and find patterns and samples that showcase the latest fabrics but don't go much beyond cute in the artistic department. Go to the magazines and books, and find project recipes complete with patterns and directions so you can replicate somebody else's superficially attractive creations.
In particular, I have to agree with the writer's assessment of loud color as a distraction from mediocre design. I once took a non-quilting friend to a show that featured work by a quilter I have no respect for. My friend said, "oh, these are wonderful!" I said, "what do you like about them?" She was slightly taken aback, thought for a bit, and said "I like the color." More thought. No more response.
The fact that I didn't respect this quilter didn't stop her from selling a lot of work and becoming quite well-known locally. She did have a way with brilliant color that knocked your socks off at first glance. But there was nothing beyond the color that I could ever detect.
Fortunately there is another school of thought in "art quilts," one more firmly rooted in the traditional principles of high art than in the worlds of craft and decor. I aspire to be part of that school and am grateful for the venues that support it. I happen to think that Quilt National, the biennial exhibit at the Dairy Barn in Athens OH, is the mother of all such venues, which is why I'm madly piecing away this summer on my entry for that show. Sure, you can argue with the jurors' choices in QN as in any exhibit, but I believe they generally look for the cake, not the frosting. I hope they'll find plenty of cake for QN '13.
Friday, June 29, 2012
All frosting, no cake
Posted by Kathleen Loomis at 6:26 AM
Labels: artist's voice, painting, Quilt National, shows
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Interesting view. Would you be willing to divulge the loud colorful jquilts that you dislike? Privately, just so I could see what you are talking about, specifically?ReplyDelete
Love the analogy. Quilt shows often give me sugar overload!ReplyDelete
More cake please! Get your next quilt done and into QN!
instead of cake how about something we can really chew on......a nice cheese sandwich on fresh bread with watercress...now that would please the palate and the palette!ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for riffing on the Times reporter's memories!
Kathleen - I hear you loud and clear! I just read your post today after writing a similar comment on my blog, where you can see my example:ReplyDelete
"Go to the State Fair, for instance. The judges are knowledgeable to the point of hysteria about stitching, binding and making points match, but generally have no training in design. Go to the quilt shop, and find patterns and samples that showcase the latest fabrics but don't go much beyond cute in the artistic department. Go to the magazines and books, and find project recipes complete with patterns and directions so you can replicate somebody else's superficially attractive creations."----ReplyDelete
ut these particular venues don't claim to be art, do they? This is just what they do and they appeal to a large segment of the population. I don't think there is anything wrong at all with what they do. It's just not what I want to do.
This post has given me some great food for thought. I do love frosting without the cake but after awhile it can make you sick to your stomach.ReplyDelete
I think I was in a workshop with Nancy Crow when she made similar comments. A participant had a beautifully embellished piece but it lacked in design. She pointed out there is nothing wrong with embellishment....in fact, it is lovely, but that most people tend to use it to distract the viewer from the lack of strong design. She coached the woman that if she could get strong design married with embellishment, she could knock people's socks off.
I read this yesterday thanks to your post on the SAQA list, and immediately deleted my own draft where I was TRYING to say the same thing! You said it so much better- thanks! And good luck with your QN entries! I don't think I'm going to make the deadline, too lazy.ReplyDelete
Enjoyed reading your blog post. I worked as a tour guide in a museum for some years and had to know more about design than history. It has helped me be a better artist.ReplyDelete
Over-reliance on any one component of design can be stultifying. I am puzzled by the people who find a compositional strategy or technique and repeat it over and over in different colorways. I flip through their website galleries and start humming "Little Boxes" -- There's a pink one, and a green one, and red one, and yellow one. . . .ReplyDelete
Comparing quilts at the state fair to ones accepted into QN is ridiculous. They're not the same thing, nor does either side ever pretend to be.ReplyDelete
As for the "quilter (you) have no respect for", why the sudden coyness? Name the quilter and stop hiding behind vague accusations.
I frequently read references to "strong design" but no explanation to what this is. I probably do not have the correct reference books, but I do not even know what to look for. I know this is a very complex topic, and condensing into a blog is unrealistic -- but I sure would like some direction. Color, focus point, symmetry, asymmetry?ReplyDelete
Aren't you confusing a state fair with a contest for professional artists? Judging for the two are completely different.ReplyDelete
A state fair has, and always will be, a place where amateurs can compete for fun. It's all about the icing quilts, and the cotton candy, and the corn dogs, for 10 days. Then everyone goes back to their ordinary, non-professional artist lives.
A blue ribbon prize of $10 to $25 doesn't recover much of the initial investment of materials. The person will live with the quilt after the fair so it's made to be something the maker can be happy to live with for a long time.
I think the judges know that only a very few individuals entering an item in the fair have more than self-taught skills. For some individuals it might be the first item they've made in what the individual hopes will be a future professional talent.
Please don't be so hard on the judges for realizing the work at the fair is mostly that of amateurs and judging accordingly.
you're right, I shouldn't have used the state fair as an example (see my subsequent mea culpa posting).
I do love the state fair in its own context, even if the quilt judges don't have a clue about art and design.
Hi, Kathleen. You expressed this problem well. I am reluctant to make judgements on other people's work as there is a wide spectrum. However, I do notice a lot of eye candy out there, and not very much work that has "teeth". But then again, how does one define "teeth"? Great post.ReplyDelete