I believe last weeks’s blog post, Some Thoughts on Sharing, received more comments than any other blog post I have written. Oh yes. Those where I give away things have gotten more comments, but this post was about ideas, not freebies, and you commented. Thank you. Thank you.
I encourage you to go back and look at what everyone said. The comments were so good and so varied that I thought I might respond to them here in a new post.
Color Study with Concentric Circles by Wassily Kandinsky 1913
Before I became a quilter, I was a writer. I have an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master’s in creative non-fiction. I used to beat myself up about having wasted all those years studying writing and then ditching it all to be a quilter. How foolish! Now, I know it was my right path. I use those writing skills to create this blog, to apply for art opportunities, and to craft lectures. But sometimes, I get overly creative with my words. I take liberties with my language. I exaggerate the situation to make it more dramatic. In reality, I have not been strip mined. I hope you all understand that.
Many of you apologized for not being grateful, and that made me a bit sad. Those of you who read my words and follow my work and try out the techniques I have shared are my favorite students! You are part of me really. The part that keeps me going when I have doubt. The part that helps me celebrate my successes and cheers me on when I fall down. In a way, we are in this together. We are all working to be better people and better quilters. Thank you taking this ride with me.
Circles by Andy Warhol, circa 1960
Under the Sun
Some of you suggested that there is nothing new under the sun. I have been thinking about this all week, and here is my take on it. I believe there are TWO new things, and they are actually quite substantial.
1. This first is YOU. Your interpretation of an idea is NEW. You are an original being, and therefore, your interpretation of something can be unique.
2. This place and time in history is new and original. So while it may be a decades old idea–the lone star for example–your take could be fresh. The fabrics, the stitch work, the machinery and how we use them is of our time and therefore has the potential for originality.
Blaze Four by Bridget Riley, 1964
Voice & Culture
A long time ago, I wrote a blog post called Voice and Culture. It is one of my favorite posts. Our culture encourages conformity—if we act as a herd we are so much easier to manage—but art requires bravery—a willingness to stand out from the crowd.
Take the two things listed Under the Sun and be brave—that’s being an artist.
Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II by Frank Stella, 1969
Teach = Share
If we teach, we must understand that what we share will be passed on to others who may or may not have paid to be our students. I think we have to accept this fact. We can watermark and copyright and make loud proclamations, but there will always be someone who thinks it is okay to photocopy our handouts and disseminate them for free.
Chinese Souls #1 by Nancy Crow 1992
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
When I was a Bluebird (think Girl Scout), members of my group would copy my artwork. This drove me bananas. I would become truly frustrated by the fact that I spent loads of time thinking about being original. Meanwhile, my teammates would chew gum, braid each other’s hair, and chatter, focusing only long enough at the end of the meeting to copy my work and take it home to their parents as something they created. This was maddening for an eight-year-old Maria.
Circles by Elizabeth Andersen 2008
But decades later, I am over it.
I am fine with people copying my work. Would I like to find out that a company in China is selling mass-produced versions of my quilts, well no. But if a student needs to copy first before making original work, that is okay by me. Many people learn this way.
M-Eye Perspective by Maria Shell 2010
I am bothered when someone copies something and then tells the world it is an original work. Still, how do you separate this out? For example, say I saw a Frank Stella piece, and then years later, I made what could essentially be considered a pieced and quilted version of his work. I think my work is original, but is it really?
Sometimes, we do not consciously know that we’ve copied or stolen or borrowed.
And sometimes we do. And if we do, then we owe it to everyone to give proper credit.
I hope you have enjoyed my celebration of the circle in artwork. Isn’t it amazing how such a simple shape can create such powerful and original work?
Thanks for another great post, Maria. I don’t remember ever seeing M-Eye Perspective before. Are those really concentric circles in the quilting…and did you bury a million threads?
Marla, I don’t bury my threads, but what I do do is outline each twice so that the thread is of double thickness. It hides my starts and stops and gives the quilting a clean look.
One day I sketched a bent tree, but when I came back to it several days later with a new eye, I realized it looked very similar to Jane Sassaman’s piece, “Willow.” I need to keep in mind that what I may think is original may just be a subconscious image I’ve seen before. So it makes me feel a little better to think that I may need to copy a bit before I find my own voice.
Doris- What a good story! I, too question how original I am and some times I discover that I one piece I make is not very original, but the next one is. We just need to keep making!
I kept thinking all week about your post as well.
Yes, I kept coming back to there is nothing new under the sun. However, it’s what your heart , head and hands make it to to be-uniquely yours. And I thought of the old respected masters and how they learned copying at the feet of the generation before until they found their voices. They didn’t have the constant visual bombardment and luxury (?laziness?) of the internet.
You nailed it- “Take the two things listed Under the Sun and be brave—that’s being an artist.” I would love to add heartfelt passion as well. Because if you don’t feel it, you aren’t going to push yourself to be authentic and honest.
Another great post and look at all those wonderful circles. And artists behind the circles. 😉
Thank you Colleen. I couldn’t have said it better. The heart is so important to our work. We are nothing without it.
Love reading about your considered thoughts, these sort of thoughts go around my head quite a lot. Thanks for showing the artwork with circles, I enjoyed it.
Thank you Linda! I think I am going to try and do some more posts that follow a particular idea expressed by an assortment of others. It is fun to see them all together.
What a great group of circle paintings and quilts.
I like your point that we don’t always know we’ve copied someone’s work but when we are aware we should credit them. That seems like a good compromise between pretending we aren’t influenced by anything and obsessively searching for every possible precursor to our work.
I agree. We need to try be honest, but we can’t spend all of our time worried about what inspired the work and if it is “copy” or not.
Great post, Maria! I firmly believe that we learn by copying or emulating someone we admire, but then we must move in our own unique direction. And then it becomes our own.
And I love all of the circles! Beautiful
Thank you Heather! You have clearly done that in your work.
Thank you for another thoughtful, well-researched post Maria. Your ability to dig into a subject and provide excellent visuals is inspiring!
Thank you Kerrie! Congrats on being a cover girl! It is well deserved.
I got distracted last week and didn’t comment on your great post. I’m glad to see your follow-up and all the thoughtful comments. One person noted that she saw your quilt in a show and from 20 feet away, knew it was yours because of your distinctly unique style. This is the exact point: Your work is uniquely you.
I have been influenced over the years by many amazing artist/quilters, starting perhaps with Yvonne Porcella and Nancy Crow in the 1980’s and most recently Gwen Marston, Freddy Moran and Maria Shell. I am so grateful for you pioneers who continue to break the sound barriers of quilting and share your thoughts, works and processes so freely. How far you all reach and how great the influence.
I believe in honoring my teachers. Anytime I show a piece in my tiny (emphasis on tiny) local gallery, I speak about the quilter/s who most influenced my growth. I made a Maria Shell Cross Quilt that looks not much at all like any of your quilts. But, it was your work that lit “the spark that’s uniquely me” and sent me forth into action. I remember these sparks long after something is completed and carry them with me on the journey. And I believe they live in the quilt and are an extension of your good karma. I envision a grid of light all over the world where we use one candle to light another. The is how we live our art. You have lit many candles Maria.
This post, with all the circles is a wonderful illustration of how we synthesize an idea and use it in “process” and I can say that it’s these kinds of posts that keep me coming to your blog over and over again. I used to read 10-20-30 blogs a week until I realized they were all saying the same things. Now I read one, yours, and occasionally a couple others. And I read yours because you encourage dialogue and real life engagement and you leave me thinking about art and about taking risks. You create conversation and, unbelievably, take the time to reply to all your posts! You make your readers feel like real people, AND, you provide eye candy!!
I can’t wait for your book. And a workshop with you in Alaska is definitely on my bucket list.
Your generosity is grace in action.
Penny, I am so sorry to take so long to reply to your amazing words. I have thought about them daily since you wrote them. Thank you so much for your support of my work and blog. It really means a lot to me. I tear up every time I read what you wrote. Thank you so much.
First I truly appreciate the personal response to my comment on your last post! That takes time and energy in a busy life. You asked questions, your readers responded and your counter thoughts have widened my world. I have followed you for a while and see an energetic, dynamic, passionate artist who shares positive energy into the world. For example your work with SAQA and around the conference. Sharing with your peers!
Sharing with your bloggers! Sharing with your community.
I think with this post you have written I am finally going to start my own quote journal. My first quote written will be a Maria Shell quote. “Take the two things from under the sun and being brave – that’s being an artist”
This will remind me to be me in this place and time and to be brave with doing and learning about being me as an artist!
Jo. Thank you! Your words make me feel I am on my right path. I can’t wait to see what brave looks like manifested through your hands.
First of all, I did enjoy your celebration of the circle!! And I do agree with you about your thoughts “under the sun.” I think that was my unspoken thoughts on that subject—thanks for fleshing it out! The quilts in the “New Quilts from an Old Favorite” are a great example of this, I think.
Debby- You and I circle around the same territory in a way. We both try to honor the old, but remake it with our hands. It’s a good thing!
Thank you for another great post. I am wondering about your thoughts on inspiration that are made into quilt then into sell-able patterns – quilt patterns. Giving credit is understandable, how about permission? Do you think one would need a permission just because one was inspired by another art/quilt/technique? Thanks…
I think if you teach, lecture, and/or sell patterns or books, people have paid you for that knowledge and what they do with it next is theirs to own. Like you said, giving credit is good. But asking for permission is over the top. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It is always good to hear from new readers.
I’m so happy to have stumbled upon your blog today! Your circle study is fantastic, I enjoy eye-candy so much! Your ideas here and in your last blog post about sharing- are ideas that have been on my mind a lot recently.
I feel a need to share. I don’t know that I could keep things under wraps for a book or show… ever. I feel my quilts, and they take on a life of their own as I’m making them. I quilt for my own mental therapy, and because of that, I like to show my work as I’m going along. Sharing helps me work through personal issues, and makes me feel a part of a larger community. Much healing happens through each little stitch.
I’m sure everything has been done before, but I believe like you- that each of us is unique, and our moment in time is unique. Thanks for sharing your perspective and inspiration!
Thank you so much for commenting! I agree–sharing is a positive aspect of quilt making. And it is so true that making makes us feel better!
I was a Bluebird, too. We need to go for a walk.
I would like to go for a walk with you Bluebird! Now we just need to find the time!
I just picked up “Steal Like an Artist” today and he confirmed much of what is discussed here. One of the quotes was from Francis Ford Coppola: “We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.”
I just started reading that book. He has a lot of great quotes about what you talking about. We learn from taking from others and then developing into our thing. It is good! Thank you Kristi for stopping by.