In her juror’s statement in the Quilt National 2011 catalogue Eleanor McCain, started with the question ‘What about these works of art demands that they be formed from cloth and thread? Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium? What in the quilt form is important to the art? As a fiber art professor once asked, “If it’s not about the fiber, why work in that medium?”
I was struck with these questions which set me thinking. I can only talk about my own work, which was successful in being selected for this exhibition. I have not seen the discussion which June spoke of in her comments in the previous post, so forgive me if I am duplicating. (I have had irritating experiences with Yahoo which are too tedious to go into here.) The thoughts I have originate with my own work(s), but I hope that those thoughts will elicit responses from others.
What about my piece demands that it be formed from cloth and thread? Well, certainly not the subject, whatever people interpret it to be, because subjects can be explored and manifest in all sorts of media. It is essentially how the artist wishes to express themselves that dictates what medium, and what techniques within the medium are chosen. I suppose the question that I should perhaps ask myself each time I make a piece of work in quilt form is ‘Is this the most appropriate medium to choose?’ I do know that although those are the means I mostly use to express myself at present, some ideas and designs ‘do not work’ for me in cloth and stitch, and demand a different treatment. This is a kind of discrimination on my part, but I must admit that I do not rigorously investigate how far my works demand to be formed from cloth and thread.
This ties closely with the next question: Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium? Again, the answer is probably no in the case of my piece. Choosing a medium has more to do with the language, the voice in which I ‘speak’ rather than to do with the message or the meaning. Of course the medium can colour the delivery of any message, just as it does the interpretation – but is it so important that the message should only be revealed in this medium? Are there any – or many – messages which can only be revealed in this medium? What in the quilt form is important to the art? At last a question I can answer without frustration. As Eleanor McCain said: ‘The quilt is laden, even burdened, with symbolism.’. It is that symbolism and the symbolic values of cloth and stitch generally which contribute to the way the message is both presented and interpreted. Indeed this is part of what makes quilt-making a slow art: not only is it obvious that the making takes time, but also the full interpretation should take time. In this way, being judged for exhibition becomes even more of a lottery if initial impact is not part of the message.
One of the qualities of the art quilt is that it is derived from an everyday practical object to which one does not regularly pay much attention. But in that familiarity as part of the background, at a receptive moment it can catch the viewer’s casual glance to reveal more, drawing the eye to consider and perhaps understand more. Of course enigmatic work in any medium can do that. And choosing to make work in quilt form is a double-edged sword in that by that very use of everyday materials which hang as they are the work can be dismissed as somehow inferior, easily made, domestic in a pejorative way compared with neat framed wall art which is believed to take skill, and uses special materials which are only to be found in artists’ studios.
I therefore think that it is so much more difficult to make good art using a medium which is so easily overlooked or dismissed. But the question of good art was not raised.
The professor’s quoted statement of ‘If it’s not about the fiber, why work in that medium?’ I find it useful to keep asking myself questions such as whether I am a fibre artist. I could be described as a digital printmaker who uses cloth and stitch. And sometimes I develop images/designs which are not always suitable for use with cloth and/or stitch.
Part of my use of medium, I must frankly admit is practical. I develop designs digitally, which means that it’s clean. I can pick up and put down my physical work almost anywhere without having to clean up or manage materials in the way that a painter or ceramicist must. I can stitch while spending every afternoon with my aged mother with whom I do not get on and have nothing to say – but she approves of the activity which thus keeps me sane. I love the feel of cloth, and appreciate the meditative qualities derived from repetitive stitching.
But it is not just that. I’m interested in comfort and discomfort in human relationships, and for that reason domestic techniques and materials are an appropriate language for me to use at present.
What I am much more interested in really is Is it good art? And in a way the only person who can answer that is me. Hey ho.