Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Working in a Series or to a Theme?

Here is a less than flattering picture of me with Leaf Cluster I at the opening reception of Pend Oreille Arts Council's "100 Artists Exhibit" last Friday. The lighting for taking evening photos is terrible at this venue but not terrible for viewing the art. The place was packed, mostly with all those artists who submitted a single new work for the exhibit. I believe of the 100 artists members, nearly 80 do have a piece of art hung here, and the variety seemed to please the public who mingled with the artists. I got enough positive feedback on my little piece to confirm my feeling that working in a series based on my linocut would be worth my time and be favorably accepted by the viewing, and hopefully buying, public.

And so I've been thinking about the variations I could try out within the series. I did more quick test prints on paper, experimenting with different placements and angles within a 10 x 10 inch square, as my first thought on doing this series was to have them this size, wrapped around stretched canvas and mounted in floater frames. The paper here is actually 12 x 12 to represent that extra fabric needed for the wrapping. Light pencil lines delineate the 10 x 10 center and the paper has been folded to give me horizontal and vertical center line guides for placing the linocut when printing. Besides placement variables, there will be background (fabric) and paint color changes, and of course, stitching lines doing different things. But this is just the beginning, apparently. The more I muse in my mind and then do test prints, the more ideas spill forth demanding a larger format then 10 x 10, and even a different dimension than a square.

This idea definitely feels like a series, at least in the purist definition of the word: "a group or connected succession of similar or related things, usually arranged in order." Google "work in a series" and you'll find definitions and advice from various sources that are fairly similar to each other. From Clara Lieu: "For a series to work, you need to find a subject you are passionate about that is both open to variation and yet specific at the same time. A successful series should allow each individual work to be able to stand on its own, yet simultaneously relate to the rest of the other works in some manner." (The rest of her post is worth the read.) ArtBusiness.com doesn't care about your passion but more about making yourself understandable to those you want to buy your work: "...we need help deciphering what your art is about. So help us. Now the easiest way to do that is to work in series-- to create unified, cohesive, coherent, related bodies of work." This excellent article goes on to say that working in a series "...is not about repetition at all, but rather about being able to explore, investigate, examine or address particular ideas, themes, issues, compositions, concepts or topics in progressively deeper and more meaningful ways, and from a richer variety of perspectives than is possible by making just one or two... The knowledge and experience you gain from working within a well-defined set of parameters, while expressing yourself from a range of different perspectives within those parameters, allows you to nuance your compositions more subtly, purposefully and in greater depth and detail, and to communicate the results of your observations and explorations in more impactful, compelling and consequential ways." And all this, especially when presented as a compelling group, not only helps the viewer understand you and your work but "...at play also is the phenomenon of strength in numbers, of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. In a good compelling series, there's a cumulative effect above and beyond each individual work being considered solely on its own merits."

While in Rochester MN I became fascinated with the sound and movement of fountains

I bring this up because, since returning from that extended stay with a friend receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in 2012, I've had every intention of starting a "water" series based on the unexpected influence the many fountains and other water features had on me while there. Someone mentioned I'd already started on a water series, pointing out how many of my quilts did feature water in some way. I think this confused me and what I had in mind for the series. I had a certain sequence in mind and yet I was not following it. I made one quilt somewhat out of sequence of the order I'd been mulling (Eisenberg Fountain) and went no further, allowing distraction after distraction and thinking I was still working on my series just because what I was working on included water (Adrift which is still not finished). Eventually it occurred to me that I was more working to a theme - that of water - than in an actual series. And I don't think they are the same thing at all. A group of artwork by many artists may work together in an exhibit precisely because they all include the same theme, say of water, but they are far from being what a series by one artist would be.

Of these 3 moon-themed pieces made for a miniature-themed exhibit, only the one on the right prompted a series based on the strawberry moon

The clincher to this line of thinking was running across a blog post by Shelly Stokes where she said, "Working in a series is really about what stays the same - and what changes." Ahh, so simply stated and clarifying for me. I could quit fooling myself that every quilt I worked on with water in it was part of my water series and admit they were merely ones falling within a favorite theme. The water series is actually something very specific in my mind and I have to remember that.

As for the leaf cluster, I really do intend to work through the variations pretty much as described by the ArtBusiness.com quotation and Shelley's simple description. Even though I keep catching myself saying out loud that I will be exploring "variations on a theme", (which with all this musing about series vs theme makes me nervous), I'm pretty sure I will be going down the series track, my variations focused on that single subject of a leaf cluster. My previous exhibit experiences are also influencing my desire to pursue this as a series to present as my offering for the upcoming ArtWalk. It's an event that has the option for presenting more individual pieces than most of POAC's exhibits, and I've been caught out before looking at the "collection" of quilts I've managed to finish and/or round up only to realize how they hardly went together to present a cohesive whole. We'll see if I can do more this time than just come up with a bunch of art quilts to put up.


The Inside Stori said...

Yup, you are on to something……go for it!

Chris said...

Oh my goodness...series or theme....now you have me wondering if my energy series is a series or a theme. I am going to have to explore more on this idea. As always great blog. And you do look good next to your leaf artwork.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Chris, of all people who might read this, I thought you'd be the least confused about series vs theme what with the classes you have taken. In fact, I thought you might be able to shed some additional light! As if this weren't confusing enough, though, remember that, according to ArtBusiness.com a series allows you to explore, among other things, themes. I think your energy quilts can be called a series because you have been very focused on what it is about energy that you are exploring. And as a group, they make a powerful and clear statement about energy making/consumption and its impact on the environement.

Olga Norris said...

I have been pondering your post. Some of the trouble with distinction between theme and series I think comes from a loose use of the terms.
I would say that a series is a much more tightly linked and related group which could be numbered as in your Leaf Cluster 1, with subsequent works being numbered 2, 3, etc. even if they have different individual titles.
Series can be part of themes, and a theme can be employed as part of a series. In your Leaf Cluster series, for instance, you could have a background which indicated the leaves being in water.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing how your Leaf Cluster series develops.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Olga, I can always count on you to come up with a concise and thoughtful response, one that often makes me respond with, "of course!" I think your distinctions between series and themes is right, and I'm sure some of my own confusion stems from what you rightly call loose use of the terms. There isn't enough precision in the use of language these days.

And yes indeed, one of the variations I intend to try in my leaf cluster series is one of it floating on water, but that will not mean it is part of my intended water series. :-)