I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking over the past few weeks. Decorating and gardening are excellent activities for some simultaneous cogitation, and sometimes the best ideas turn up when you’re doing something else. I’ve realised that my initial plan for the year – a year in stitch – isn’t actually what I want to do.  What I really want to do is get on with something meaningful, something more ‘artful’. I really want to just make art, in cloth, with stitch.  My ultimate aim is to be known as a textile/quilt artist, and to one day be good enough for SAQA. I think at present I’m not working single-mindedly or consistently enough in that direction.

selection of hand-painted and hand-printed papers

So today I’ve been looking at my collection of printed and painted papers, most of which I produced a couple of years ago. Just moving them round, putting some of them together, thinking about how similar colours would work in fabric and stitch. I have at least three textile/quilt series in my head at present: a series in white, about the search for peace; a series in monochrome, about sensations inspired by colour; and a set of abstract compositions based on collage.

printed and painted paper

I’ve been tearing and cutting papers, just seeing them as areas of colour, and wondering if this is enough.
And then hanging them on the noticeboard and just looking.

It strikes me that people who don’t ‘do’ art themselves often have the most fixed ideas about what it should and shouldn’t be. The first thing many people say in response to one of my small stitched cloths is ‘what is it?’ – or, worse, ‘what’s it supposed to be?’ – as if it should somehow ‘be’ something other than itself.  I’m reminded of Picasso’s words:

“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one, without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting, people have to understand.”

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28 Responses to Understanding

  1. Rachel says:

    Not only do they have a fixed idea that they want to understand it, but they have a pretty fixed idea of how it should be made…

    Embroiderers confuse a lot of people, I fear!

  2. Lynn says:

    I once made a little stitched piece, I was trying out an idea. I took it to my guild meeting for show and tell and someone commented that “it isn’t big enough to be useful” and another person said “maybe you could use it as a pot holder.” Sadly, I’ve quit taking art for show and tell. Now I just show my art on my blog and to my art group.

  3. Ger says:

    Yes, one (myself included…) gets very easily distracted from a sufficently single-minded path… hurrah to your aim – I´m sure you´ll make it true…

  4. I understand what you are all saying and am really cross. Please do not let other people destroy your love for your work or tell you what your work is supposed to be or not! I know that it is a hard thing that l say but please believe you yourself and your Art. For many years l had no faith in myself as an artist or my art. Then l realised that l am a good artist and if people don’t like or understand my Art, that’s their problem. I am now also a teacher and always try and make sure that people feel safe in a class. So that they don’t feel frightened about trying new skills. Your work is beautiful my friend so please do not let anyone say it isn’t.xx lynda

    • Karen Turner says:

      Well, I don’t think I do let people tell me what it should be, Lynda, and I understand what you’re saying… but my point, I think, is that it sometimes disappoints me that people can’t see for themselves what it is. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  5. Jude Whaites says:

    Your aim is also my dream, but I always find there are so many creative distractions. I agree we have to be more single minded about the direction and purpose of our art. You are right, some people just don’t get it. “What’s it for” they say. Why does a piece of art have to be useful? Can’t it be there to give enjoyment to the beholder without having any other purpose? I like your colour boards, it’s a great way to gain initial inspiration and look forward to the transformation in to cloth and stitch.

  6. Phillipa says:

    I think that over the decades of last century and especially with the 2 World wars, stitching became linked with “useful” mostly thru necessity and its a very hard concept to break..But I think we are getting there..More and more textile arts are now in fine art gallerys..I struggle with the ” I can stitch just for the sake of stitching and it doesnt need to be useful”
    We all enjoy following you so keep stitching from the heart. and remember a painting is there to be visually pleasing. So is our art 🙂
    Regards Phillipa in NZ

  7. tina slipper says:

    I think you have identified how most of us feel, isnt it frustrating, like trying to catch a bird in a large room whilst wearing a blindfold…… how do I tell the differance between confidant and delusional,I was stood by a quilt I had worked really hard on and was happy with at a show last year when some ladies really slagged it off, who was wrong?I think its the elusive journey thats important….ultimately, quilts are a lot like marmite!

  8. Penny says:

    Karen, your work is beautiful. Your spirit is stamped all over it. That is what makes us vulnerable. We need to grow thick skins!

  9. Janice says:

    Just been over to SAQA – hadn’t heard of them. It’s a worthy goal, and one that I believe you will be able to accomplish. The key, I think, is in art as a vehicle for / expression of your message, exactly along the lines of the three pieces of art you’ve been mulling over. I think your work is beautiful. Through it I have always had a sense of you as a person.

  10. maggi21 says:

    Nothing wrong with changing what you had set out to do. Just let your inspiration lead you. You don’t have to be an established artist to be a member of SAQA by the way. I don’t think that art needs to be understood, just appreciated.

  11. Bea says:

    Your new projects sound exciting – looking forward to seeing them develop. Usefulness – the difference between art and craft? I must admit I tend to the safety of craft, but long for the wings of art.

  12. serenapotter says:

    cheering you on!!

  13. elizabeth says:

    Thanks Karen for writing this post and thanks to all the commenters it made it a very inspiring and interesting read. I look forward to read about your travel plans.

  14. jude says:

    i am not a fan of SAQA or any other organized group. they too have a fixed idea. never think about being good enough. that in itself is an obstacle. just continue.

  15. karen says:

    Oh I hate that ”what’s it supposed to be”…can’t count the times it has caused me to bite my tongue and force a smile….

  16. I’ve come late to this conversation but agree with the wish to have my work respected and accepted as (a rather large) part of who I am. Joseph Pearce said “to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” It takes courage to create ART and is a struggle to continue in the face of indifference. That struggle and courage is what makes our creations truly ours.

  17. deemallon says:

    you are so right about ideas coming while doing other (active, right?) things… it’s that way for me too. I’m all for pursuing one’s own form of greatness and while I suspect that your sense you are keeping it too narrow is right (b/c you are the best judge), I agree with Jude about ‘membership’ – and SAQA requires certain show hurdles, etc. Why not let the focus be on continuing to find out about what stimulates your ideas? Letting yourself experiment across media? Finding out more about what your ‘voice’ is? I think the SAQA goal is probably shorthand for all that, but there’s a subtle difference.

    • Karen Turner says:

      Thank you, Dee. I think it’s just a matter of wanting to be ‘good enough’ for something like SAQA, not necessarily to join. Actually I’ve never been good at being in groups, now I think about it. Too many rules!

  18. Angela says:

    What a lovely and thought provoking post. I certainly am not talented enough to think of myself as an artist but when I’m stitching something family and friends do often ask me why I’m doing it and somehow they don’t quite get the ‘just because’ answers they sometimes get 🙂 I’ve never understood why people always have to attach meanings to things

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