23 April 2007

Doing the "Artist's Statement" is Less Fun than Doing the Art

I'm planning to enter a couple of pieces in the Columbia Stitchery Guild's annual show next month. They require an artist's statement, which I know some people dread and hate to do. But I approached the task confidently; I am, after all, a professional writer and editor. I figured it would take 15 minutes at most to string together some art-speak BS and ship it off. It turned out to be a lot harder than I'd imagined. To begin with, it's a pretty ambitious theme: Who you are, what inspires you, what your work represents. You don't want to come off as foolish or pretentious. You try to avoid clichés and pat phrases. You aim to sound creative and original because you are, after all, an Artist.

What I submitted is true (write about what you know), concrete (don't tell; show) and coherent (first person narrator, minimal artsy jargon). I feel more secure about my writing than I do about my art. Here it is. But dang... how did all those passive constructions get by the editor? And I see I used the word "gravitate" twice, which is once too often. As we say in our household, "the editur never sleeps." But sometimes she nods off a bit.

My work is inspired by the natural world in all its manifestations, and by human-built structures that resolve into interesting abstractions -- in other words, by anything that catches and holds my eye. The pictures in my “ideas” file range from Hubble telescope images of towering galactic clouds to electron-microscope photographs of cells and tissues. I carry a camera almost everywhere to capture the center of a flower, the veins in a leaf, a silhouette of tree branches against the sky, a pattern of cracks in a crumbling wall, moss on bricks, peeling paint, the geometry of windows and roof-lines.

As a journalist, I was trained to “get it right.” Writing fiction was difficult, because it meant giving myself permission to make things up. As a visual artist, realizing that my landscapes didn’t have to be literal -- that I could take liberties with how objects really looked, rearrange them, add elements that weren’t really there, play fast and loose with the “facts,” abstract-ify and invent -- was a profound and liberating revelation.

I gravitate to hand-dyed fabrics in part because they don’t impose (although they sometimes suggest) an agenda. I’m also drawn to the ethic of re-use, recycle and re-purpose, which lies at the heart of the quilting tradition. Several of my pieces incorporate worn denim, suede from a much-loved jacket, or damask from a family tablecloth. I enjoy altering commercially-printed fabrics, making them more my own, through discharging, overdyeing, painting or printing. Recently I’ve been experimenting with wool, which takes plant-based dyes beautifully, adds textural interest and is soft and fun to work with.

A given piece typically draws on a combination of construction techniques, including appliqué, reverse appliqué, and piecing. My decisions are based on structural integrity, aesthetics, and the simple matter of getting the job done. I often lie awake at 3 AM mulling design options and puzzling over the practicalities of assembly. I conceived my first wool hanging, for instance, in terms of reverse appliqué rather than piecing, primarily because I was concerned about the bulk that might result from sewing wool to wool. But the material proved surprisingly malleable under the needle, I liked the look of the resulting seams, and I ended up piecing more than I thought I would. In general, I gravitate toward piecing as a construction method. I appreciate the nod to traditional quilting, the reminder that I am working with fabric rather than some other medium, and the element of discipline, and perhaps left-brainedness, it imposes.


Gerrie said...

Ummm — that is a pretty long artist's statement. I would recommend paring it down to the essence. Try to use fewer I's and my's.

I am giving you advice given to me my Alison Stansfield, the Art Biz coach!

katecat said...

I know zip about the art biz but I qas just going to say I loved that statement.