Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why are we so interested in art that is "new"?

Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about the dilemma between creating a body of work versus the urge/need to create something "new." Certainly there is a lot to be said for a body of work--there is the old adage that "Practice Makes Perfect." If you hope to support yourself selling the work, then customers need to have the reassurance that they are going to get what they want. This is especially true if your customers--like mine--may take years to finally have the space and money for one of my pieces. I believe in the business world, this is called branding.

Indeed when I apply to craft shows I usually have to show 5 slides showing this work. Because this body is juried as a whole, I have learned it is important to have the slides be closely related so they can be read as a statement in the 3 or 5 seconds the jury may have to observe my work.

On the other hand, show directors, gallery owners and even the general public like to see something new. Indeed there are shows that I believe I did not get into because my work wasn't "new" enough. I recently had one customer ask me if I didn't make something different--even though he hadn't looked at my work for over a year and almost every quilt in my booth was "new".

Now I will be the first to admit that I have rolled my eyes--politely of course--at the numerous artists I know who had one great idea maybe 20 years ago and have been selling it--quite successfully I might add--ever since. Why--I would wonder--can't they come up with anything new? When they did present a new concept, it just never worked as well as the old concept.

Yet now that I am feeling that I am becoming one of those people without even knowing it, I wonder if I am giving them short shift. Let me explain. Certainly I use one concept--quilts made in blocks using a method I call quilt as you go to create abstract landscapes. ( Regular readers of my blog do know my technique--or check out my quilts at my web site Within the confines of this process I am actually always pushing myself to say new and different things. For instance I began by making this work--views of spring--a few years ago.

Wonderful piece. It took forever to make.  It helped me win an Award of Excellence at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore back then. I tried numerous variations on the form and the colors until I learned all I could from the piece. Then a couple years ago I figured how to simplify it by making prairie dawn.

Again--a great piece. I made a number of similar pieces to understand this piece. But it could be even simpler--so this winter I made prairie sky.

For me, I think of these quilts as new approaches to similar feelings of sun and sky. The time between making the first and the last was actually several years. Each quilt presented new artistic challenges and questions. Certainly the work can easily be identifiable as my work. And yet I can understand why--even though these quilts are part of my same body of work--others may think that I am not creating new-enough work.

Now I do also know and admire those who are challenging themselves to create totally new work. One quilt maker I know took an entire year off to learn how to felt. Her new work is wonderful and I so admire her effort. Another friend--a weaver--is now working in sculptural glass while retaining the feeling and memories of weaving--amazing work. How brave these women are!

But I am not sure this is for me. At least not at this point in my artistic life. I still have much to say with my current techniques. I just wish that those seeking something new would also consider the body of the work. What do you think? How do you approach the dilemma between new and having a body of work? Is it even a problem for you?

1 comment:

  1. Good food for thought. It's something all artists are forced to consider, I think. The "branding" and sales vs. all those new ideas that keep popping up in our minds! I'm trying a little of both. I've been working in a series I call "Split Circles" and each one informs the next, and the whole concept still excites me, so I continue with it. I also have several new ideas that don't fit that model and I'm not going to let the larger world tell me I "shouldn't" and stop me. I love the new ideas; why stifle them?