Things are getting more and more eccentric at Casa de la Swain. Changing styles in my textile work, falling in love again with painting and photography...and then there is the ever illusive quest for continuing creativity through working with Eric Maisel. Still on the road teaching, posting now at the Ragged Cloth Cafe and taking the pledge to keep handmaiden up to date.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

This Is Sure to Get Me In Trouble

Please be kind in the nasty comments that will follow this post...but I just gotta get this our of my head. Also please don't take this personally because some of the work is very well done and has raised lots of money for charitable causes....but I just don't get this working in a format that is 4" x 5" or 10" x 11"...you get the picture. I am willing to be educated to its value so I welcome your commets. However, I have some problems with it.
First, when you work that small every design element has to be perfect...a place for everything and everything in its place...even the smalles of errors is glaring. In large pieces you can kinda hide these oops.
Second, to me these are exercises, studies for larger work....a way to see how the composition is flowing, how the colors work, etc. I often do these but then they are discarded for the larger piece.

Visual impact is what we are going after and while I have seen some smaller works that are wonderful, they get visually lost next to a larger piece. I understand they are fun and provide instant gratification but as a body of work...hmmm?

Wouldn't you be able to say more at say 24" x 36' or 36" square....still small but with greater impact? I don't mean to be all spiky and artsy but such a small format only allows for so much imagery. The journal quilts were a great project but that is just what they were sketch book exercises....journaling in fabric instead of on paper. Many of these wonderful pieces need to be taken to the next level....larger.

QuiltArt, the famous internet mailing list, is going through all sorts of angst about our medium and how to develop a style. These small works would be a great way to develop style because you can play with lots of ideas quickly....but again this is a learning process to push you to larger work. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you get stuck in any particular format it is difficult to move beyond it.....you are all so talented, I want to see some larger, bold work developed possibly from these small studies.

Okay so now I have offended the entire ring, bummer. I also get these are easy to sell because they are small and therefore less expensive.....but is money your motivation for creating? In some cases, absolutely necessary but in others not. Trust me if they will buy a piece it because they want it....no matter the size.

Sheesh, where is all this coming from? Ah ha! Just dawned on me this is a trendy genre...easy, fast...when are we going to get over it is how many quilts you make and focus on the body of work you want to be rememberd for? I have already promised to pull a Georgia O'Keefe when I know the end is near and burn all the work I don't want to be remembered for. I promise, trust me.
Having fun and experimenting is a great aspect of our work but at some point we need to move onto developing some larger pieces incorporating all we have learned from this play. At least, to the size of a canvas format that will stop someone in their tracks.
I have said way too much and expect to be blasted immediately....but just give it some thought before you fire away. Off to the safety of the studio... where the walls are lined with kevlar.
Sidebar: Some wonderful comments already in defense of small works. My postscript is: usually, not always, small quilts allow for only one major design element; otherwise, the piece becomes a jumble of images. Larger pieces allow for complex or simple composition. And in defense of our media, it ain't painting, folks. Paint works in a completely different way where light and shadow can be placed in small areas; complicated composition can be captured in a small space. Quiltmaking/fiber arts by its very nature is opulent in its complexity requiring some negative space to offset the composition. I agree small can be beautiful...don't misunderstand there are some incredible post cards and small works in Fine Focus. I am only asking you to consider does this make a complete body of work without larger pieces. And is this a trendy genre that will eventually run its course? Or will we all be working smaller and smaller just to get lots of work done?

17 comments:

Valeri said...

As always you have put it so well! However although I do agree with you on the whole, it is important to remember those wonderful works of art that were mere miniatures. Whether it is possible to produce that perfection on a small scale in a textile format is another matter. Again you have brought up a superb subject for dissection and discussion! Big is beautiful! Of course most of my work is small! Goes with the minute workroom. Grin!

Karoda said...

Now I can step in here as a self declared defender of 4"x6"!

Small works first started out as experiments to learn techniques for me...but then something unexpected happened...I really fell in love with them as a stand alone...as the INTENT! They are much more intimate then larger pieces and are not made to compete with larger pieces at all...instead of a conversation with a larger audience, small works are 1:1 conversations...the wall flowers at the party and I do indeed think they can develop as a body of work with entire seperate criteria from creating large pieces for visual impact.

Terry said...

I have just started doing some small pieces in the last year--always worked fairly large before, though never huge. I agree that a lot of the small pieces being made look either like a study for a small piece or piece cut out of a larger piece, and to my mind don't work especially well as something with its own integrity. That said, I am finding a wonderful challenge in working small and trying to create small works that have presence and impact on their own and would not even work were they to be enlarged. After all, there are very small paintings, drawings, etchings, even sculpture that sparkle like small gems--why not fiber as well? Seeing the Fine Focus exhibit last year was one of the things that compelled me to try some small work. At the recent John Singer Sargeant exhibit here at the Portland Art Museum, my favorite piece was a heartbreakingly perfect portrait that was about 10" x 12". Small can be beautiful.

Terry said...

Well, it's me again. I am frankly sort of puzzled by your point of view. "does this make a complete body of work without larger pieces" you ask. Well, of course, it does if that is the work you are engaged in. Maxine Farkas, for example, tends to work quite small and has quite a cohesive and interesting body of work. Perhaps you are saying that your way of working would not lend itself to a small format. OK, I'll buy that. But size as a determining factor for the optimal fiber art expression, across the board? Not buying that one.

And, what's wrong with simple, focused imagery, large or small? Complex is not necessarily better or even more interesting.

Deborah said...

Why do I make small items? I find it thrilling. It makes my heart race. I find myself in love with the work and the results. That's enough reason for me. (I could say more about your bigger questions here. I think you've brought up some interesting points...)

PaMdora said...

I find it difficult to see how you can even develop a "style" in such small works. It's often too small to make the work different from other small works. I can only think of a very few people who have been able to, and their work is almost forced to be small (such as embroidiers - sp?) or they are artists who have developed a distinctive style working big and then were able to distill some of the key elements of that style into the small format. I think it would be harder to do the reverse, because being able to blow up a small technique and have it carry cohesively throughout a large work is not easy.

I don't like working small, I've got too much I want to put into the work. Except I'm thinking about doing a series of small still lifes. I think they'll be kind of cutish like home-decorish, but certainly not have impact like larger work.

Karoda said...

I hope that small works are not a trend because I think they pose a design challenge that has yet to come to fruition by those of us who the format is most appealing.

I think Fiona Chan at Leap-of-Faith in the blog ring does phenonmenal work with her small size that are simply designed but pack a punch.

Deborah said...

Don't forget that some of us are not out to develop a body of work. We're just artsy types that like to make stuff. Maybe that grows into some level of professional success, maybe not.

Gerrie said...

Gee, Gabrielle, I spend the morning with my guild and you go off and start a riot!! I must defend working small. It has changed my quilting life. I just love trying to condense design elements into a concise piece of work.

Maybe it is because I am not "enough" of an artist to work large.I better be able to because I have a commission to do a 7' 6" X 8' liturgical piece!

I think it has also opened up a whole new clientele for purchasing fiber art because it is much more reaonable - and that may be the biggest reason that it has caught on!!

Deb R said...

I do small stuff. I do medium stuff. I do jumbo large stuff. If I can compare it to books (surprise, surprise!) sometimes what someone has to say is a short story's worth of ideas. Sometimes it's a novel. Sometimes it's an epic.

As a rule the epics are going to be more memorable than the short stories, but not always. ("The Lottery", anyone?) And there's nothing worse than someone taking a short story's worth of idea and trying to pad it into becoming an epic.

And so it is with small and large visual artworks, IMO.

solje said...

I enjoy the small scale. Plain and simple. A second reason I like the small pieces, it's easier to be able to have a "piece" of another artist that I may otherwise not be able to afford. My studio has small works on the walls of various people that inspire me.

I have also had a very long creative dryspell, and the small size is helping me break out again.

Cathy said...

Oh...what a can of worms you opened....All I want to say is that you have a great way of asking questions that make people think about what they're doing. Isn't that what it's about, We have to be able to say why and for what reason we create,no matter whether the works are small or big or abstract or pictorial or just fun or "ART".

Liz said...

Very interesting comments, Gabrielle. So far, most of my work has been small - 40 by 40 is the biggest thing I've done even through my C&G course. I think partly it is because (i) I like small works personally and (ii) I tend to focus on details or close-ups of things for my designs.. mostly. The sort of stuff you'd do in macro photography. I remember reading a Robert Genn newsletter where he suggested using a viewfinder to find good areas of a big design - that often, it was specific areas that were particularly brilliant and that if you cut off the rest it would improve the whole.

Just some thoughts I throw out. I'm by no means an experienced artist; if I do C&G part 2 we have to make a double-quilt sized piece of work so I would have to meet this challenge head on!!

Joanne S said...

I have been puzzled by the Trading Cards and now the Postcards. Just don't get the appeal. Small for me is 12 inches square and the public sees them as "potholders". Small also has always been an exercise-a trial of a technique but so many teachers have lots of these 8 by 11's to sell at shows and classes that the public (us) now see this size as a seller.

teri springer said...

Not gonna blast you...really.

Actually, I am getting very tired of working on the postcards, as much as I have enjoyed it. I am ready to move on....as soon as I finish the two committments I have to them.....

teri

Omega said...

I really like Debr's comment about literature. A short story is a whole different beast from a novel, and I think that size in textile work should approached in the same way. It should involve a whole different scale of design consideration, and to compare them with larger work we should really photograph them in proportion too so that they are not compared as if the same size as big work.

But lots of people are enjoying writing blogs and are not trying to write short stories nor novels.

deb said...

I've been grumbling about the size issue with myself also. In the past year I find myself wandering back and forth between big and small pieces. Guess which ones get finished. It feels like a losing battle sometimes but ever since I went to Quilt National back in April I have been longing to honor my need for BIG. Back in the day I was a painter who built canvas on 2x4s, painted with siding brushes and then had to break down the things to get them out of the room. I miss the day.

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