Sunday, May 09, 2010

Edge Finishes & Critiques

In the previous post, I solicited opinions about what kind of edge finish you readers would prefer on my "Lights of Las Vegas" quilt. A little conversation between Terry, June & me ensued in the comments section. I couldn't help noticing that both were quick to temper their opinions with the caveat that, since this was my quilt, I should do what felt right to me. I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know, yet here was Terry saying almost exactly what June had said when she saw it in April: "I would finish it without a binding...This design radiates out from a center point...All those lines that go out to the edges of the piece imply that they continue indefinitely, adding to that dynamic sense of space and depth. The border brings the energy to a screeching halt and boxes it in." That was not what I wanted to hear, because I'd decided I liked the binding I'd applied. The debate I'd had with June and then with myself started up all over again.

I've written about asking for critiques before, so went looking for the blog post. What I said in it's opening paragraph applies now as it did back in 2008:

"Olga made this comment on my post about the Anything Goes Exhibit and my past struggles to find my creative voice: "I think that finding one's own voice can be very difficult, especially if one is the kind of person who is used to listening to others." One of my great loves is doing research - a form of listening to others. And I often ask others' opinion in an effort to clarify my own thoughts, not necessarily to find answers. But she is right that by listening to others, we may allow seeds of doubt to be sown about our own vision."

If you read the rest of that post here, you'll find that it describes an almost identical experience of taking a quilt to show friends in Hood River only to have them disagree with my binding choice. Maybe I should quit taking quilts to Hood River for critiques! Seriously, though, the seeds of doubt sewn back in 2008, by June with this piece and anew by Terry have had happy outcomes for me. In both cases, I went with my gut feeling, but because of the questioning, I worked out why my gut was telling me what it was, and thus clarified my thoughts on more than just how to finish this one quilt.

My thought process went like this. I think Terry and June are saying no binding because it stops the outward movement because they are so used to seeing paintings and quilts without binding or frames, especially in their own work. We're getting very used to seeing paintings on gallery canvas hanging without frames. The art quilt movement ditched traditional binding methods early on as much to distance itself from bed quilts as to connect more easily with the fine art community. Terry did say she's not opposed to bindings in general, and neither am I opposed to edge finishes other than bindings (as in this journal quilt of mine). But I do think which direction one trends may be more because of one's personal aesthetic as much as what the piece calls for. After all, if "Lights of Las Vegas" was a watercolor painting, it would be matted and framed, which would have the same effect of "bringing the energy to a screeching halt." And now that we've had this conversation, June has found herself in an ironic position of working up a textile piece that appears to need borders, so she is rethinking her arguments and making similar observations about how we come to decisions. (See this post.)

Defaulting to the personal aesthetics argument felt like a weak defense in the end. So my mind kept grousing all evening over what Terry had said. I considered a "faced" edge finish and then mounting the quilt to a gallery canvas. I've seen my smaller works hanging in gallery settings and looking odd or diminished, which is why I've been moving towards methods that either mimic matting or are actually framed. Maybe just having it stabilized and not flat against a wall would give it the presence I feared it would lack without binding or framing. I even considered an undulating edge, similar to what Terry later suggested. I kept going back to this thing about the energy running off the edge of the piece and thought, but I don't think I WANT it running off the edge. I remembered what I'd been taught, and later taught my own students, that a binding is the final design decision, your last chance to make a statement. It stops the action. It contains what you have to say. This idea of letting the design run rampant beyond itself, if only metaphorically, is a bit foreign to me, and against my training. With this insight, I now understood why the look of a binding or frame appeals to me and is usually my first choice. I prefer a neat and tidy look, formal and contained. I still wasn't sure this was a strong argument, but I went to bed thinking, darn it, I DO think I want the energy and action stopped, and that is why I feel good when I look at the piece bound.

My brain must have cogitated on this all night because, disgruntled as I was when I fell asleep, I awoke knowing why I kept fighting against the idea of no binding, and when I peaked in at the quilt, I was sure. I didn't want the energy flowing out of the quilt because for me, I'd always seen the energy of this design flowing towards the center. So I really need that binding (or frame) to stop the eye and get it moving back towards what I see as the focus of the quilt: those rays of light emanating from the city of Las Vegas. I think it must be one of those
image perception things, like the picture of the old hag, or is it a young girl? It can be both depending on how your eye adjusts. Some people immediately see the hag and have to look really hard to see the other image. And others. see the young girl first, struggling to make out the hag. So I'm guessing June and Terry see it all rushing towards them while I see it all rushing away from me. Make sense? I need that binding to contain what I'm saying - look at the lights, feel the lights pulling you towards them. See how everything is rushing towards Las Vegas.

Most people may not need to go through this much analysis to come to design decisions, or at least to be comfortable with the decisions they make. But my analytical mind simply refuses to rest until it knows the why of things, especially if it's been challenged by respected friends who I count on to stretch me, make me doubt, hold me to a higher standard and remind me of my brilliance (really?) and my blind spots (so many!), to paraphrase Stanier's quotation. Thanks, and I'm off to make that binding permanent.


Terry Grant said...

I think you are quite right about the issue being one of personal aesthetic as much, perhaps, as what the piece calls for. Your thought process here is very interesting and you have shared it very articulately. Perhaps the the most important thing to take away from the discussion is that decisions like this be made with thought and reason and not simply as the way you always do it. Good exercise.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thanks, Terry, I was hoping I could pull off the explanation in a way that others could understand. I really appreciate the time you took to weigh in on this. It pushed me to truly resolve what was going on in my head and was indeed a good exercise, in spite of my complaining!

June said...

YOur explanation made me see the piece differently -- which is why language is just another piece to the art process. Good job of sorting through the options.

Art really isn't just intuition -- it requires intentionality. And that's what you've worked so hard on here -- sorting out your intentions. Good holding of your own ground, while granting others their ground.

I think this could be more than an exercise; it could be a breakthrough. I always solicit critiques from people -- and sometimes I even accept their advice. But I always brood over what I hear until I resolve it in some way. Usually not as deep and concentrated as you've shown, but thinking through "why" is as important as knowing instantaneously "what".

Good on you. Now if I can only suss out what I might be doing paint-wise for the April piece.... Maybe I need to think some more.

Katney said...

Listening to others is research--good point. If what they say makes you second guess, then you have to work it out. But others might also see something that you didn't see, and open up new possibilities that you might otherwise not have thought of. They may not be something you use in the piece you are asking about, but may be useful in the future.

Just coming back here to see what you've been doing may actually send me to my sewing machine today. I may second guess myself on that as there is lots to do in the yard, but at least it has opened up that possibility.