What Makes an Artist?

Last week, as I reluctantly drove to my artist’s reception at Oak Hills church, I heard the news about one of the highest selling artworks at auction–a painting that sold for $110 MILLION DOLLARS. Unbelievably, the artist was only 21 years old when he painted it, and he died when he was 27 from a heroin overdose. As the newscaster described it, I was pretty sure that I would NOT like this piece of art. Primary colors, and a skull. Yuck. How does an artist become so famous? Is it just on the whim of another person, who likes the painting? Did the artist promote the daylights out of himself? Was he really talented? How does it happen?

At the reception, I enjoyed talking to my friend Teresa. I discussed how much I DON’T enjoy promoting myself. I did not want to “bother” anyone by asking them to come to the reception. Teresa said she had read a book that said most artists have to spend 50% of their time on promotion! (By the way, in the end, I very much enjoyed the artist’s reception. Not a lot of people came, but it was so fun to interact with people and hear what their reactions were to my quilts.)

When I got home I looked up the artist and the painting. Sure enough, I don’t like it. However, I do like the layers that are in it, and the complexity of it. And it was very interesting to read about the artist’s history–he was encouraged artistically from a very young age. He was always heavily involved in “the art scene.” It seems like his talent was noticed and appreciated from a very young age.

In general, I am more attracted to textile art. But even there, I don’t like all textile art. Here is a quilt that won $100,000 in Australia. I don’t like it either.

I know that I am attracted to certain colors and color combinations that I consider pretty. I appreciate handwork. I like circles and spirals. I like geometric compositions. There are lots of things I do like 🙂

I want to make it clear that just because I don’t like something, I am not denying its artistry. I am just musing over WHAT MAKES AN ARTIST? Its not always classical training, although that seems to help. I don’t think its always promotion, although for sure that helps. One thing that seems consistent for “successful” artists is that they are passionate about what they do, and they spend a great deal of their time working on their art.

In the end, I don’t think it will work to try to make art that you think is “artistic.” You have to make work that you yourself love, and that makes you happy. Why would you try to do otherwise?

P.S. Here are a few of the textile artists whose work I love:

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The Memory Quilt

I finished piecing all the blocks for the memory quilt. I mis-calculated, so there are 12 repeat blocks. Otherwise, all of the blocks are made of a different center square. There are 156 blocks. The finished quilt will be 90″ X 97.5″. That is the biggest quilt I have made in a long time.

I sewed the blocks into panels either 4X4 or 3X4, and made them into quilt sandwiches. The idea is that it will be easier to embroider around each block in this smaller size. I steamed the layers together and then actually quilted at the seam lines and basted around the outer edge. And then I will sew them together into one big quilt–that quilt-as-you-go thing. I have never done this, but Katie PM does it quite often and demonstrated it at the class I took from her. It looked easy.

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I finished the embroidery on one panel. Only 144 blocks to go 🙂 It takes quite a bit of time to embroider around one block–usually an evening. This quilt might take a LONG time to completely finish!

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One of the ideas I had was that these would be good projects to work on after I have my knee surgery in July. So I’m happy to have all 12 of these mini-quilts ready to go, waiting in my closet.

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I still love store-bought fabrics. Its just fabulous to find fabric that someone else designed, but that has your own color and design aesthetic all ready for you to use. Elephants were my favorite wild animal as a kid, and after I went to Africa, I collected quite a few elephant fabrics.

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You can see I am still using my same simple stitches in various combinations.

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So far this has been a completely enjoyable project. I loved going through my stash and cutting out squares of all the fabrics that I liked, and so many that held special memories for me.

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Of course, this is not the only project I am working on. I will try to catch you up on some of the other projects in the next week or two.

You’re Invited!

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The eighteen quilts in the What They Said series will be in a solo exhibit at the Art & Soul Gallery from May 14 through June 18! There will be an Artist’s Reception on Friday May 19, from 7 to 8:30 pm. I would love to see you there!

 

The Art & Soul Gallery is located in Oak Hills Church, 1100 Blue Ravine Road, Folsom, CA 95630

People often ask “how long did it take?” All quilters know this is a funny question. Here’s how long it took to make all eighteen of these quilts. First, I pieced all the little cross-cut squares on a self-retreat. I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I just had fun making them.

Then one day, and I don’t know how I got the idea, it occurred to me that I would like to do a series on how people responded to Jesus, and what they said. So I started going through the Gospels and taking notes in my journal. I knew right away that I wanted the words to be the main feature in these quilts.

And then one day it occurred to me that these little cross-cut blocks would be perfect to accent the words. So I looked at them, chose one for each of the responses, and sketched how they would be set in the small quilts. And then I pieced each small quilt. I used Kona Snow for the background of each. And I put the stack of pieced tops in the closet…

Then one day, when I had run out of anything to embroider, I got all the little tops out, and I made each one into a quilt sandwich. And I put them into the closet. But I started embroidering the words, one quilt at a time. I thought about what people were thinking and feeling when they said what they said, and I tried to include that in the embroidery, and later in the quilting.

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Finally, all the embroidery was complete, but they stayed in the closet for quite a while. And one day, when I was ready to quilt, I got them out and started quilting them one by one. I really enjoyed the quilting. In most of them I included little clues as to the setting.

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And then, of course, all eighteen quilts had to be finished. Ugh. I faced all of them, and by the end, I was pretty good at facing quilts 🙂

In the meantime, I ordered many cradled wood panels to mount the quilts on. I tried staining them, but did not like that look, so I painted them all black. I think it sets off the quilts nicely.

So…. the answer to the question “how long did it take?” is a mystery. I worked on them, on and off, over a two year period. I loved this process, and I am proud of these quilts. I hope that they inspire others to see scripture differently, and to think about their own response to Jesus.

If you are in the area, and are free next Friday, I’d love to see you!