Saturday, January 19, 2008

Expressive Quilts

I have not done a stitch for over a week now and I really need to work on another coral variation for an article I am writing for the Dutch Quilters Guild magazine. I wanted to share the original inspiration for the Coral Variations. This tiny piece of something ( I think it is coral but I am not absolutely certain) was the inspiration. It measures about 1 cm across and I picked it up on the beach when we stayed at Turtle Beach in Queensland a couple of years ago. At one end of the beach was a rocky area which was a graveyard of broken shells and somehow I spotted this tiny fragment and picked it up. It was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. But it is also about looking- looking for possibilities, for form and lines that can be used as inspiration for work , to create something in another medium not as a faithful representation but as something that inspires a feeling . For me, this tiny fragment filled me with awe for its sheer beauty- so much contained within a tiny tiny fragment that once was life.

So why am I waxing philosphical? Yesterday as I was trawling the net i came upon an article Gwen Magee had put up on her Textile Resource blog ( which has all sorts of wonderful things on it). In a recent post she transcribed an article by Nancy Doyle entitled Getting Discouraged. These lines struck a particular chord:

The bottom line. I don't believe in the idea of talent - that we have it or we don't. Art is not measured only for its perfect design or flawless technique - the main objective in art is expression. If an artist has great skills, and has little to say, his art is not as valuable as someone with little facility and a great vision. Of course, the ideal might be to have both - but of the two, expression is the more essential ingredient. Expression is what is remembered centuries after the fact, whether it is Michelangelo or Van Gogh. So - this means that we are to be evaluated not by our aesthetic perfection, or our talent - but by what we have to express, and how well we express it. So, if we are criticized for weak design, or poor drawing, this is not necessarily a sign that we are not good artists. We should strive to be the best artists we can, in terms of formal elements, drawing, etc. - but the ultimate goal is our expression. We should not be as concerned with whether or not a work of art is "good," as whether or not it expresses something substantive and meaningful, for us and for others.

For me this Expression is the crux of the matter- it is what i try and teach especially in my Inspiration in Fabrication classes. Looking is part of expression , learning to look is part of the journey, part of the process. Without expression things can be nice, with expression they can transport you to another place, another way of seeing ,to some form of understanding. For example rough stitching seems to have become a bit of a rage at the moment- and especially in contemporary quilts much more hand stitching is apparent now to say 10 years ago- rough stitching seems to be the used to express some form of individuality. However for whatever reason, unbeknowst to me ( because it certainly doesn't form any part of my housekeeping routine ) I stitch rather neatly- I can vary the size but I can't stitch rough- I have tried but it always becomes neat- there is a regularity in the rhythm with which I stitch and I suspect that is a determinant in the neatness- so is my work any less expressive because of this neatness? I am isolating an element of part of what i do but it is also llustrative of the fact that single elements do not a whole make- you need many things to create expression- and creating expression to me is all about communicating a feeling.


marja-leena said...

Well said, Dijanne, and so true! And what a gorgeoua little find, I can see where your inspiration has come from.

Anonymous said...

well said! I appreciate seeing the 'raw material' inspiration for your lovely coral pieces - I liked your comment about using it as inspiring a feeling rather than faithful rendition.

Kristin L said...

I was just going to say what Marja-Leena said, but she said it.

What really resonates with me is "this means that we are to be evaluated not by our aesthetic perfection, or our talent - but by what we have to express, and how well we express it." I think this is also what makes work individual and not derivative: when we are expressing our own experiences then the result is uniquely our own -- like your neat stitches.

Linda said...

A good quote.

I believe that your neat stitches are you and therefore your art. The rough stitches you refer to reflect nothing more than fashion in a lot of work

Sharon said...

I always love your thoughtfulness that is shared with us. Today's is especially meaningful for me as I search to articulate my thoughts in fabric. I believe your bit of coral might be fossilized like the Petoskey Stones found in Michigan that were caused by glaciers and corals. You can see them here:

ANNA said...

I love your insights and wish I could 'see' things like you do - such fantastic inspiration

Susan said...

I'm just one of those people who generally "lurk", too in awe. Today, however, I am compelled to say "Thank You". The article you included speaks volumes.

MargaretR said...

This is a great post Dijanne! I'm the same having tried to stitch roughly and I just can't do it. I have been handstitching since I was a child at my mother's knee.
As you say expressing oneself is a coming together of many things and your piece of Coral is very inspiring. I would love to come to one of your classes one day.