Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What makes it "rise to be art"?

Recently a reader left a comment on my blog:  "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?  I would really like you to discuss this more, sometime."

I had talked about making a fabric collage every month in 2015 as parallel play with my great friend and art pal Uta Lenk.  Each month, we each opened an identical envelope of three or four miscellaneous bits and pieces, and had to use them all in a collage.  The collages, of course, looked very different, but part of the fun was trying to find where the same bits showed up in each piece.

August -- Uta
August -- Kathy

For instance, in August you can find the hand-dyed red fabric in both pieces, along with a shiny ring, a silver button and some red cord.  There's red netting (Uta wadded hers up while I mostly spread mine out) and ribbon with a woven rose (Uta used the back side, mainly pink, while I used the right side, mainly white).

I think my August collage is cute, and indeed, I might even hang it in the gallery to see if anybody needs to buy a Valentine's Day present, but I see it more as a clever challenge to use the random bits than as an intentional piece of art.  You can see how I kind of hid the silver button in the bottom right corner -- not sure whether it would have made it into the composition if it hadn't been in the envelope, and the red ring at center bottom was probably added just to make the silver button look more at home.

April -- Kathy

Here's another that I rate as a clever solution to what was in the envelope: a white lace medallion, some selvages from blue hand-dyed fabric, and four little metal L-shaped brackets.  With the help of a lot of hand stitching, this turned into an attractive floral composition, but it probably would have been better if the blue strips had been ribbons or torn silk or mulberry paper.  And the metal brackets, doing their best in a bad situation, would probably never have made it into the collage if I were making "art" instead of playing a game.

Many fiber artists are drawn to challenge projects in which they are given specific fabrics to use.  Because fabric is so distinctive in appearance, even when cut into smaller bits, it's particularly suited to this kind of challenge.  (It doesn't work in other mediums -- think if painters were each given a tube of alizarin crimson and challenged to use it.  Lame.)  And especially if the fabrics are beautiful, it's hard to resist this kind of temptation.  But the work that results is often identifiable as stemming from a challenge rather than from an artistic vision.

If you're lucky, you can achieve both, and out of my 12 collages, I judge three or four to be pretty good.  I'll show them in my next post.


  1. looking forward to the next post then- and thanks for the thoughtful descriptions of these collages.

  2. thank you for taking the time to explain this to us..... I am not an artist and it gave me more to think about when looking at your postings.

  3. Interesting to think about this. Challenges might be seen as a way to stretch and grow stronger as an artist, rather than as a way to produce great work.