A reader's comment: "One of your entries was about how there were many collages and how only few 'rose to be art.' How did they? How did you decide?"
Maybe the hardest question for any artist, in any medium, is "Is this art?" Or as a variant, "Is this art yet?" We're always evaluating our work for composition, design, craft. We sketch, we audition, we turn it upside down, we let the piece sit in plain view for a week while we think about what to do next. In the end it's a matter of judgment. People without a good sense of artistic judgment, or those who hurry into completion without enough thought, often end up producing stuff that doesn't "rise to be art."
Here are the three collages that I decided were good enough to hang in the gallery, and what I like about them:
Gold Star: I like the simple, perpendicular composition: a large rectangle of complicated straight-edge shapes hovering symmetrically over a small square and an even smaller star. That stack is moved a bit off-center and balanced with the tall vertical line at left, and the massing of gray squares at left in the large rectangle keeps it from falling off the page.
I like the simple palette of yellow and gray, and the variety of textures that become apparent when you look at the piece up close -- smooth on the "quilt" piece, rough on the sew-off square beneath, smooth on the star, ridged on the oval bead sewed to the square, ropelike on the twisted cord.
Slick Dude: I feel a bit guilty over calling this piece "art." It's almost cute, which makes me uncomfortable, but this guy is so obviously made out of leftovers that he has a compelling personality.
The bit of snakeskin calls out to be part of a living creature (interestingly, Uta used this material twice in her collages, and both times ended up with creatures -- here and here) and the practice buttonholes gave him shifty eyes. The preexisting hole in the snakeskin made a sneer. All he needed to be complete was a spiky hairdo.
I liked the background interest of mounting him on four separate panels of linen, joined with subtle hand stitching to give more texture.
Pig Newton: I like the juxtaposition of the two varieties of text -- one a replica of the Gutenberg Bible, one a scratch hand-lettered screenprint -- and the serious animals on the background fabric. I like the red-white-and-blue palette, accentuated with buttons and hand stitching.
I like the composition, the severe vertical of the old text and the flowering vine, lightened up by the horizontal fragment of the hand lettering and the curvy line of bubbly buttons. The sewoff square at the bottom is almost invisible in the composition, anchored by a blue button, but it plays an important role in keeping everything grounded.
And I like the title. It might have been more appropriate to call it "Pig Gutenberg," but that would have just been weird, not funny.
Maybe you won't agree with my analysis, and that's OK, but I hope that when you look at these three pieces -- or any other work of art that you're trying to describe and evaluate -- that you will think in detail about what you like (or don't) and why. That's the most important part of developing and strengthening your own sense of artistic judgment.
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