Friday, January 07, 2011

Now someone is upset!

This comment, from my old pal Anonymous, appeared today on the blog post about sketchbooks and drawing from a couple days ago:

"Am I the only one who is more than a little upset at the comment of "slapping a few pieces of fabric together, handstitiching and adding a few beads and calling it fabric art"

Exactly which kind of fabric art would Picasso or De Kooning be making? Mine or yours?"

Oh dear—"more than a little upset"! That would be a lot, I guess. She (I am assuming female. I could be wrong.) is referring to my friend, Diane's earlier comment. You can go back and read it if you don't remember it. She didn't say exactly what was upsetting about it, so I'm going to assume she must be someone who enjoys slapping a few pieces of fabric together, hand-stitching and adding a few beads and feels like calling it fabric art. Then she asks what is actually kind of an intriguing question. What kind of fabric art would Picasso or de Kooning be doing? Not sure how that follows the upset part exactly. I am having to read quite a lot between the lines, so bear with me.

I am guessing that Anonymous is making a comparison between art that relies on a background in drawing (since that was what I was blogging about), art study, design principles, etc, and art that relies on none of those, but is instead simply a joyful, spontaneous outpouring of native creativity, ie slapping a few pieces of fabric together, etc. etc. etc. Then asking, which approach would Picasso and de Kooning go for? I'm betting Anonymous believes it would be the latter. I disagree.
As we know,  de Kooning was a Dutch-born Abstract Expressionist. He studied at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Art and began his career as a commercial artist. Like Picasso, his classical training consisted of years of drawing classes and he was very grounded in the basics of design and composition. There are several books of his drawings available.

An early painting.

His later work builds on similar themes—mostly portraits of women, but he has developed his distinctive style further abstracting the colors and forms. Still, his grasp of composition and yes, drawing, is the basis of his work. He was so obviously in love with paint and gesture that I don't think he would have considered working with fabric, so it is hard to imagine what kind of fabric art he would have created.

Picasso was also a wonderful draftsman. I saw some of his drawings in the exhibit in Seattle last month and felt so inspired by the confidence and strength of his drawing. I have been thinking about his drawings a lot.

Some are very funny!

You see a lot of drawing in his paintings as well, from the classical pieces to the cubist to the abstracts. He was far too macho and far too impatient to have been a fabric artist, but much of his work has a kind of sensibility that it seems to me would translate to fabric fabulously!

 If I could make a quilt that looked anything like this, only out of my own head, I would be a happy woman! It reminds me a little of Pamela Allen's work.
So, here's what I'm trying to say. There are a lot of ways to become an artist. You can go to Art School, or you can go to Community College or you can just take a lot of classes or even hole up in your room and read a lot of books. Or you can just jump in and learn it all along the way, but it is SO much harder that way. But however you get your training, you take what you've learned and you make art and make more art. And every little thing you've learned helps you make better art. If you learn to draw, in my opinion, you've learned a lot more than how to make marks that look, on paper, like something in the real world. You've  trained your eyes to really see the world around you. You have sensitized yourself to details that are usually missed. You've studied shapes and volume and the way light affects what you see. You've had a little love affair with line and swooned over its thicknesses and thinness-es and swoopy curves and elegant endings. You've played with balance and movement and you've taught your hand and your eye and your brain to work together. You bring all those skills to your fabric. Then it doesn't matter whether you are recreating reality in painful detail or creating a unique abstract vision. You have mental and physical tools to use and ways to make decisions and you would never slap a few pieces of fabric together and call it art.

You know, of course, dear Anonymous, that I'm not your boss? I can't tell anyone how to feel or what to do. I'm out here in Oregon, in my p.j.s, typing my thoughts and opinions into my computer. Just like Diane, who left the comment you responded to. There's no need to be even a little upset. Maybe I've interpreted your upset all wrong. Let me know...


  1. See, once again, you've said what I think -- not in response to Anonymous, but the general idea that an art education IS valuable. I'd like to add that along with drawing, art history is incredibly important. Being familiar with what is going on in the art world, or even on it's fringes, and where that all came from and where the stuff before that came from, and on and on, helps us to understand what we ourselves are doing and reacting to, and keeps us from trying to reinvent the wheel. Somehow think we are amazingly clever even when we've done a novice job if we don;t understand that someone else has already done it ten times over. Even re-taking an Art History course several times because one school wouldn't accept the credits from the other school and the third school was just summer school (but in Paris) was a great experience. It's wonderful to hear teh different points of view of varied instructors. I also learned heaps from my color theory class (no fear of matchy matchy here), and from various techniques classes. You complain that you can't draw a straight line -- an entire semester spent hand painting typefaces so they looked like you had printed them out from the computer will steady even the shakiest hand and train the eye to see both the slightest variance in line thickness and the slightest dent in a curve. I know there's a lot of textile artists out there that defend their untrained genius, but I stand firm on my formal training (of course, I haven't been accepted to Quilt National and I know one "natural" has been accepted several times, so take my monologue with a grain of salt).

  2. Dang. Firefox won't let me leave comments or blogger doesn't like Firefox. I do not have a formal art education, but have tried and continue to try to make up for that. You did a great job of analyzing the work of both of these artists.

    And, Diane did not say anything that many, many of us have said over the past few years.

  3. So right about Art History, Kristin. I'd love to take another Art History class myself because so much art history has happened since I took the class 40+ years ago! But even all that is accessible--movies, books, museums, magazines. I think those "naturals" who seem to be imprinted with the artistic tools are studying it one way or another--or they are incarnates of former art students. Ha!

  4. Please don't stop saying what you think Terry - I have so much been enjoying your posts, which express so well feelings I agree with absolutely, and which keep me thinking...

  5. Please keep sitting in Oregon in your p.j.s, typing these kind of posts. Your writing is always an education. Sometimes, like today, it's just plain theatre of the mind. The rooster made me laugh and reminded me that even Picasso had a sense of humor. Adoring you from the east.

  6. Ahhh, what a great way to being a Saturday morning...good cup of Kobos coffee(oldest coffee house in Portland) and good heated discussion about art/fabric...I'm in heaven here in Bend, Or. Thanks Terry!


  7. Anonymous6:58 AM

    Good Morning. Interesting spin here and good reading. I have an extensive art education and inborn talent (my teachers said so, not me) and I wonder about "pieces of fabric are being slapped down with some hand stitching and a few beads". I tend to work that way. Should I be offended?

    I would hope that the few hand painted pieces of fabric that I "thoughtfully" slap down would give the viewer a more painterly aspect, more abstraction in the use of fabric. I see less and less figurative or drawn subjects in what now is being juried into Quilt National. More organic swirls and lines.

    I think there is room for both types. As a more abstract fiber artist, I can still be wowed by a realistic approach. I didn't like the first comment from Diane but she is free to express her opinion. Our nameless author has the same right. Either "slapped together" or meticulously planned--some work is not art and will never be art. Let's hope the makers are just having fun. Joanne S

  8. You go girl! I only wish I had just a small bit of your great talent. I've known you since 3rd grade and you DON'T slap/throw your art! You are so talented it may take just a short time to create!

  9. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Gee I miss our walks. Would love to hear more about this...enjoyed the art lesson and pics. I'm making my own "mess" here and will be home in 10 days (wx permitting)

  10. Interesting chat this morning. I am also in my PJ's in Oregon reading and writing. Terry I loved your post. It really struck a cord with me. Being someone who wished she had continued the Art education she started. In college I decided I needed to change my major and do something which I could make a good living doing (STUPID).... I quite mid way through my 3rd year because I just was not happy (because I was not learning about art). I have regretted my decision ever since. I love nothing more that learning. I am currently reading and learning more about color and the use of it. Education in any form is always good.

    Knowing some about Design, Color, composition, etc. all help me. ;-) Saying that however there is so much more to learn and I will continue to learn.

    Thanks for making me think about these things today Terry. Have a great weekend.

  11. Anonymous12:24 PM

    WAY TO GO! TERRY! thank you

  12. Oh dear. I didn't mean to offend by my comment but of course in retrospect I can see how some might have taken offense. I apologize for the sloppiness of my comment. I could have been clearer.

    In the context of Terry's comments about what the sketchbook challenge is, how people are using it, and experimental sketching, I meant to distinguish between the sort of experimental process that is creative and fun but (in my view) not necessarily quality art in terms of the product. I was trying (clumsily, clearly) to distinguish between the artistic process -- which I think has tremendous value -- and the result -- which may or may not be of strong artistic merit.

    And I guess I *do* see a trend reflected in certain art quilting magazines to display bits of fabric roughly stitched together and calling them "art." I tend to get offended at how quickly some people dismiss the skills and techniques of working with fabric and using artistic principles that (to me, anyway) provide a foundation for strong art quilts. And Terry, your thoughtful post today highlights those foundational skills in the painting world. Thanks for understanding what I meant and trying to explain.

    So again, I'm sorry if my comment led to offense on the part of "anonymous" or anyone else.

  13. There is nothing wrong with "slapping a few pieces together etc." als long as you know what you're doing. And some people just play and have fun. Nothing wrong so far. The trouble starts with what you call it. The blogging world is so full of encouragement that you sometimes miss a way to find your own place and rank within the world of art. And then comes training in art skills. It is incredibly helpful to have this base. We know that people with little understanding for abstract art may say: "Oh, I can do that!" We know they are wrong.
    Scrap slapping people should be encouraged to do what they do but not to call it "art". Call it fun or whatever. If anybody feels offended, the best argument obviously is to show them what the great abstract artists did in their academic phase. It is not your fault if anyone feels offended by your thoughts, Terry, it is just a lack of self-criticism on the other side! I enjoyed your posting. Thank you!

  14. Anonymous8:30 PM

    I think it is always illuminating to examine the things that cause a defensive reaction. In ourselves, or in others... I loved the image of "slapping" the fabric together and calling it art. (And don't forget to melt some Angelina fibers on while you're at it!)

    Another question: why do we get so excited about what others do or don't call "Art"? Just because it is art, doesn't make it good art! I could write a novel and you might think it was a load of junk, but you probably wouldn't say "that is not a novel"-- you'd just say it was a bad one!