Thelma, in a comment on the last post, quoted from The Writer’s Almanac where Garrison Keillor spoke about Gertrude Stein: “She was one of the early students at Radcliffe College, the sister school to Harvard University, and her favorite professor was the psychologist William James. He taught her that language often tricks us into thinking in particular ways and along particular lines. As a way of breaking free of language, [William James] suggested she try something called automatic writing: a method of writing down as quickly as she could whatever came into her head.”
Is there an equivalent in the visual arts?
In creative writing classes, automatic writing is often used as a warm-up exercise, just as gesture drawing is used as a warm-up exercise in figure drawing class. But of course, even jump-started writing is carefully and thoroughly edited before it gets published. And gesture drawing is only exhibitable by a very few very accomplished artists. The rest of us hide our pathetic attempts.
Are there equivalents in stitched and quilted art? And, are there drawbacks to such methodology? Can it lead us astray, down paths that end in a tangle? Is there something in the properly finished product that art quilts tend to be that prevents “automatic quilting” from being as useful as it might be to the writer or drawer?
I myself use a form of automatic writing when I start an essay or a post, but I have to edit hard after that first draft. And I use automatic painting, sometimes to see a place to begin (as others do with hand-dyed fabric) and often when I’m stuck in the middle of a piece. But the closer I get to the end of any of these processes, the less I am able to tap into the automatic flow. Every decision means a host of decisions that have been closed off.
This can have a less-than-useful effect on pieces that start to go wrong. Even as I’ve finished some work, I can know it needs something, but I can’t figure out what. Or sometimes I get just beyond the start and then come to a complete halt.
Here’s a piece that stopped me mid-stream. I began with the automatic writing, but once to this point, I could go no further. I didn’t know, still don’t, where I was going with the images I created. And they were not going to look polished no matter what I did.
And below is another:
I think both of these look better as images than they do as quilted art. They are too unfinished, unable to attain a finish, that would look “decent” beside the work of the exquisite craftspeople in our field.
I have tons of these kinds of pieces. I also have work which evolved out of this kind of procedure that is highly finished — but looks more like automatic writing than like the well-crafted bed quilt. These particular works, I feel, are the best I’ve ever done — but they look raw and ragged when seen in public.
So, what artists do you think use automatic visioning? Someone mentioned Dali, but when I paused to think, I decided that his work is far too deliberate in its final presentation. And I’m not sure that those artists who probe the subconscious use it as a finalizing technique. Have you seen and studied worksheets of people who proceed in this way? Does the art they produce show the process they use? And what about your own processes and finished products? Do you carry through beyond the first impulses with the ragged look of automatic writing?