Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Art Quilt Reviews

Have you ever wondered how you ended up in the middle of a heated discussion without even knowing about it? Well, that seems to be the case for me this week following an art critique by Joanie San Chirico (a highly regarded fellow artist working in fiber, fabric, threads, surface design, etc.) of the Fiber Revolution exhibit at Georgian Court University during the month of October. As those of you who read my blog already know, I was in great part responsible for both securing and hanging of this exhibit - with help from Kevan Rupp Lunney. The critique is honest, clear, and provides examples to back up her critique. It is also less than flattering to the curator, the venue, and Fiber Revolution. You may go to the here to read the review and the 30+ comments that have flowed from it.

This kind of critique is a great learning opportunity for all - especially for me, one who is totally new at curating and still learning the process by immersion. The ongoing discussion growing out of the critique is enlightening, informative, yet not without some prejudice. I must admit I am prejudiced - I happen to have ties to the school, having taught for the Holistic Health graduate program for 3+ years... And having taking an amazing art class from an extremely gifted and well-known artist and author, Geraldine Velasquez, Ph.D. I found the art department at this very small Catholic girls college to be extraordinary in it's curriculum, class content, and professors. The gallery itself is something my own college did not have back in the 1960's - any more than it had lessons in curating exhibitions. O well.

So you may find it useful to follow these discussions and see where they lead. I can only hope they do not degenerate into Fiber Revolution bashing or worse. There is a growing tendency towards a polarization of views, which is not helpful.

Some of the latest comments are really criticisms of Fiber Revolution - about the very name of the group. And while I might agree with that assessment, this is not the forum for that topic - nor is it for outsiders to determine the name of our group - or so it seems to me.

Personally, I find the very term "art quilters" a complete misnomer as well. It puts everyone in mind of bed quilts and grandmothers attic, which does not help our cause to bring our art into the fine arts arena and gallery settings. We must, I think, graduate out of identification with quilting and quilt shows if we want to be considered serious in the art world.

Laura Cater-Woods has long been a proponent of separating our art from the word "quilt" for numerous reasons, but mainly to identify ourselves properly and advance our art and our careers. She recommended that I come up with one statement about my work that encapsulates the art in a single sentence. If the listener is interested in learning more, then I have a follow up sentence or two. And if they really get excited about what I am saying, they will continue to ask more and more questions to learn about this exciting medium.

The discipline of writing a single sentence about my work was both difficult and refining. Since I love to write, talk, and teach, I rarely consider limiting the number or words or sentences. Writing artists statements that confine me to 25 words is just as difficult for me - but the assignment forces me back to the base skeletal structure beneath my work, and that has proven to be invaluable to me in understanding my own work and in sharing my work with others, especially non-artists.

Writing an artist statement is just as difficult but perhaps more important since it will represent me to those who may never meet me, but will critique my work. My current statement is rather lengthy, at 84 words... I also have separate statements to accompany each piece of art work pertaining specifically to each piece. These exercises (in training my mind to think about my work in a linear fashion so that I can better explain it) have been a powerful part of my growth this year as an artist. If you haven't already done so, you may find it helpful to write your own.


Karoda said...

I found the review interesting and helpful and thought provoking and have re-read several times hoping that I'd come to an understanding of the whining point of art quilters/quilts not being accepted into some holy "art world". I really want to get it and understand how this debate impacts on my own work but at some point I just dismiss it as someone else's personal journey of being.

What I get the most which reinterates my experiences as a poet, is the artist must control how and where and why they select to show their work...the personal is political and vice versa.

Pat's Place said...
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Pat's Place said...

Karoda, I think that you've quickly come to the heart of it all:
How and why does/can critiquing impact an individual artists' work?
Who is the one critiquing? - this relates to the personal/political aspect.

Yes, critiquing is very personal in many ways: levels of knowledge, understanding, education and/or formal art training, ways of presentation of comments, and certainly personal opinions and preference.

Whether it is seen as personal or political is another subject for debate altogether. In this particular critique session with its ongoing comments, much of it is about ideology and goals. Some folks have chosen to take the prestigious gallery approaches to their careers while others of us have varying degrees of passion for exhibition and sale of our work.

Therefore, there is no right and wrong - no point in taking sides on the issue. We can learn what we can from such discussions, but you are absolutely right in saying it is up to the artist to control how, why, and where they select to show their work.

Thank you for your clarity!

bopeep said...

Let me think....art is political.
Life is political.
therefore, either art and life are controled by the ruling political climate...or they conflict.
How many years, Pat, have we, together, been on the side of conflict....
.......a half century of growth.

Pat's Place said...

Ah, Girlfriend, beautifully said! I guess I hadn't even thought about it in quite that way, but you are absolutely on-target. We have known and loved each other just short of a half a century - and we've always been following a different drummer than the majority follows. We tend to think of the so-called "underdog" as equals to ourselves and so we invite ourselves into an arena where we become the odd ones out.

I'm not so sure that we select conflict, per se. Rather, we see the universality and connectivity of all life - and refuse to draw lines where none should be drawn.

One of the thoughts I had about the artists who refuse to hang their work on pegboard is that they might then have to refuse to show their work in the inner city, the impoverished areas, the farming communities - for fear of being thought unprofessional by the “professionals.” How absurd that is. Real professionals are unafraid of doing precisely that!

I'd love to be able to bring my work and enthusiasm to those students with few opportunities to see and/or work with fabric to create art. When I taught at the Good Shepherd Home in St. Paul all those many years ago, I watched those troubled girls come alive with examples of and lessons in creative stitchery. Their creativity and completed projects were amazing to me, and even more amazing to the girls themselves, all of whom had extremely low self-esteem. These were tough street girls, all of whom were in trouble with the law. They blossomed that semester – and then I had to leave…

Art is educational as well as political and personal. Art should never be denied anyone. Yes, respect should be taken with regard to showing our art, with that I agree. But arrangements can always be made to accommodate the safety and security of the art while in any environment.

Just my opinion, of course. A strong opinion, to be sure!

Deborah said...

Pat, you write about the girls you taught in St. Paul; their response to art and their creativity. Yes, I concur that art or writing, another healing art, can make students "come alive."

Some of the students who share my classroom space at Hudson County Community College in urban Jersey City certainly may be tagged "troubled." Their essays tell the story of lock-ups, early fatherhood at age 18, nights on the street, early pregnancies and leaving a respected, secure lifestyle in another country to come to America and "find the dream." Sometimes, their writing is piercingly beautiful, sometimes their writing is starkly horrific. This semester, many have found a voice, and even though it is a college course, many have told their stories and shared them with me, on paper; and at times, out loud in our "literature circles."

Hudson has a "fine arts" program. Some of the student work is absolutely haunting.

Some of these students are self-described as "hungry" for the arts, "hungry" to learn. If they would have had the opportunity to see the GCU show,I doubt that the pegboard would even be noticed.