Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The challenge of challenges 4

When I was a novice quilter I loved challenges, for a couple of reasons.  First, I like assignments and rules and constraints; I enjoy the intellectual challenge of working within bounds.  I also like the way that higher levels of computer games get more difficult.  When I write poetry I like to make it rhyme and fit within traditional forms rather than just flop along free-form.  And I really love taking standardized tests.  I know that makes me weird, but so be it.

Second and perhaps more telling, I often found it it easier to work on an assignment than to come up with ideas on my own.  As I recollect my early days as a serious quilter, what comes to mind is how I decided what to make.

Mostly I got ideas from quilts I'd seen in books and magazines.  I never copied them exactly, but I would use them as prompts.  In truth, I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, but I didn't know how to access them except with outside stimuli such as seeing somebody else's work or the rules of a challenge.

With such help, I would snag an idea, formulate a plan, and make a nice quilt.  When it was finished, I was back to zero, searching/waiting for the next idea, which came from somewhere outside.  Challenges were welcome, because they would often prompt the next quilt.

In retrospect, I recognize this as a highly inefficient and uncreative modus operandi.  In retrospect, I think the turning point in my artistic development came when I started looking for ideas not in the wide universe but within my own history, my own body of work.  At a point, the quilts started talking to me.  They told me what questions they had, still unanswered, and asked me to go back and work on unfinished business.

In effect, my work had started posing its own challenges.


  1. I so needed to hear this. I get so caught up in looking at other artists' works that I physically block myself from looking inside myself. Your words and works comfort me.

  2. At what point, in people's creative lives, do they realise that making work from their own history is making "true" work ... I wonder if there has to be some critical mass of derivative work before this can happen, or if the penny can drop at any point, even at the outset.

  3. Kathy, you've once again hit the nail on the head...your growth process is so close to my own over the last six-seven years. I am thankful to read this and embrace it as validation of my own process. Thank you! Debbie Bein