To these birds at the feeder last winter, success meant a perch to rest on while selecting tasty seeds to survive another day…
Marg B. posted her thought provoking question at the end of March:
My current fascination lies in the topic, “Do art quilters who come to the work as artists, using textile as their medium, differ from those who come to the work from a sewing/quilting (versus art) background?” And…a sub-question: which ‘group’ has had more success as quilt artists? Or has this even been examined?
I have been pondering this two part question ever since it was added in the comment section by Marg. The question has entered many of my conversations with fellow artist friends without yielding satisfactory answers. Several tries to compose a post were abandoned. I finally came to the realization that in order to fully explore the topic I should gather several focus groups, or even create a lengthy questionnaire, distribute this form and hope that a large number of these would be returned. Analyzing the answers and compiling my findings would take up countless hours. I have to be honest: I am not a scientist!
While I do not have the answer from a wide demographic I have decided to share a bit about my personal journey. I enrolled in London City & Guilds classes in 1997 because the words “art and design” on the syllabus caught my eye. “Embroidery” was the fine craft that was part of the course, but I did not pay much attention to it. Neither did it worry me that embroidery would be part of the course. Already proficient in embroidery, I knew I could devote most of my time immersing myself in the study of art and design.
The original certification course I signed up turned into two diploma courses, and before I knew it, eight years had passed. Life continued: In the beginning I ran my fiber arts shop full time, later I was able to devote myself to full-time study. Staying focused became my mantra, sometimes neglecting family time, dinner with friends and social activities. My most loyal friends were waiting after I graduated, and my family was by my side throughout the long years of study.
First and foremost, I consider myself an artist: I am a visual artist who works in textiles. Quilting and embroidery are the techniques I employ to create texture and dimension in my work. When getting together with other artists, the medium does not matter as the elements and principles of design apply to all disciplines.
This brings me back to Marg’s question whether art quilters who come to the work as artists, using textile as their medium, differ from those who come to the work from a sewing/quilting (versus art) background?
In my conversations with textile artists I have not found a difference at all. I am of the opinion that art is all encompassing. Over the years I have seen firmly ensconced fiber artists sell off their equipment and move into sculpture (pottery, stone carving) or begin painting full time. I have also witnessed painters become full time textile artists, embracing quilting and embroidery to the point where their paints, brushes and easels gave way to a new sewing machine, fabric and threads. No matter which art form we embrace, we do it with passion, commitment and dedication, embracing the challenges and rewards that present themselves. I have a strong interest in photography which was originally sparked because I had to take pictures of my artwork for submission to exhibitions. One never knows what interest we might pursue next… or what might spark this interest.
During my continuous conversations with artists I specifically asked what success means to them. Success is an illusive word… Is it a reference to exhibitions? Finances?
From where I stand, success is ever evolving, it is a dynamic component of my career. At first success meant realizing the opportunity to study art, something I wanted to do since I was a teenager, but parental opposition led me to my first professional career as early childhood educator – I taught Kindergarten.
Once I was focusing on my art education, success meant completing an assessment piece without further work. When I fulfilled the requirements for the first certificate, I felt I was successful, and again when I received my first diploma. Eventually success meant acceptance into an exhibition at the Whyte Museum in Banff, and mounting my first solo exhibit in La Conner, WA in 2005. At the same time I began to teach, and with each workshop more students filled the class room, eventually leading to international teaching opportunities.
If a sense of accomplishment, happiness and personal satisfaction are synonymous with success I have experienced it at every turn of my artistic journey. There is not one thing I can identify as pure success. It is the many facets of my career that lead me to conjure up a strong feeling of success. I feel excited and proud when my students have a break through in class, when a former student has been juried into a show, or has received an award. Their success is my success!
Before I move on to turn questions over to the readers, I want to take the opportunity to mention that my success would not be possible without the steadfast support from my husband throughout our life together. He knew how much I wanted to study design when I was a teenager. He gave me the gentle push I needed to register for the London City and Guilds course. Over the following eight years he “held down the fort” at home and the business. Our young daughter provided support in her own way, cooking meals and helping out where necessary. When we moved to Saskatchewan Colin built my dream studio, a huge undertaking with many sacrifices. Success is not something I measure, it is something I embrace with humility. It is not something I could have achieved without family support, the trust of organizers and students, and a lot of hard work.
What does success mean to you? Does it relate to personal achievements, financial gain or being able to pursue your dream? Is it early retirement or the joy of a rewarding career? Is it the opportunity to further your knowledge by taking classes, or could it be the number of friends you have on FaceBook? Make sure to weigh in below. It is time to communicate your experiences!
P.S. Anna, thank you for your thoughtful commentary. I didn’t realize when I asked, that the question would be so complex!
Marg, it was a great way to reflect on the topic. Finding the words to convey my experiences and what success means to me was something I needed to do. So, the thank you goes right back to you for posting your question(s).
I am Marg B…and I agree with Ginger in particular: ” I view all personally-made quilts (as opposed to store-bought-off-the-shelf quilts) as some form of art.”
That said, I have been finding that it’s one thing to be considered successful within one’s art quilting/quilting/textile art cohort; it is quite another to be so in the wider world. So often (too often?) ‘success’ is equated with sales (especially in the US, in my experience).
Perhaps I have a thin skin, but I long for the day when observers/acquaintances no longer dismiss my work with “Well, it keeps you busy” or “You have a nice little hobby” or “Cute!” (when looking at a several-hours- beaded piece with layers…)
I start out happy with what I have produced; I put it out for others to see. While not seeking 100% approval, I would prefer rejection on thoughtfully critical grounds to the above-mentioned off-the-cuff comments.
Marg, developing a thick skin comes with experience. We love what we do, and we expect others to understand the passion we feel for our art. But not everyone will “get it”. It is important that you continue to pursue your passion. The key to “getting our point across” and make others understand is continued commitment on our part to the chosen medium.
You may have noticed that I do not measure my success on how much I sell. We are in Canada and fiber art is still not fully accepted as a fine art form. This is something I have tried to change for nearly ten years. When I get frustrated with derogatory comments I make sure to take a break and not get defensive or confrontational. Believe in yourself and what fires you up! Rejection is part of life.
Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I am learning to value how far I’ve come in this work, and to try not to worry about how far I have to go! 🙂
One step at a time, Marg – that is how I operate. There is no value in rushing. Enjoy the process!
Oh Anna, what a wonderful column you have composed today! I believe that one’s definition of success, if it’s well-crafted, applies to all walks of our life, and really doesn’t change from one experience to the next. For me, (in part) it’s about having a sense of completion, about being able to contibute and about having balance in my life. All of these things (and more!) need to be there. What I love about your blog today is that you have taken it a step further — you have analyzed your “baby steps” that will take you from one level of artistic experience to another. Many of us don’t do that. Hidden in your words I feel your passion, your drive and your need to be creative, all of which are part of a personal definition of success. I just have to say, you’ve come a long way, baby!! Hugs and kisses to both you and Colin!!
Kathy, thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. Your feedback means so much as you have been part of my journey for nearly ten years now. How time flies – and how wonderful to know that we stay connected across the miles!
I look forward to spending time with you in October. Warm hugs right back to you!!!
I love Gingers take on this. I agree anyone who produces a creative piece of work be it functional or for display has within them an artistic mind. We who quilt and produce those beautiful (and artistic) functional items for ourselves, for charity or for friends would not call ourselves artists. Does that mean we cannot use the term. I think not. Perhaps the term hobby artist is correct even though I do not like it.
I have sewn clothes, knitted, produced pottery and sculptures, had a gym suit business and now quilt. The amount of work produced would fill a shop but that is not why I do it. I do it for myself satisfaction — does that make me less of an artist? I have worked with my hands in my profession by day and on my creations in the evenings and weekends.
As they say art is in the eye of the beholder and when my friends say “how beautiful”, “how did you do that” and “you are so creative” I believe at that moment that I am an artist.
Margaret, thanks for your input.
I am beginning to think that I have missed the point. The discussion is not about whether one is an artist OR a quilter – I feel that anyone who sets out to create something unique and original is an artist.
The post was about what success means to the individual. Feel free to comment.
As a quilt artist from a sewing/quilting background I view all personally-made quilts (as opposed to store-bought-off-the-shelf quilts) as some form of art. Even the most functional utilitarian type of quilt had elements of art in its making, perhaps not immediately visible to every viewer. The main difference, in my mind, between “art quilts” and “non-art quits” is the ultimate use of the end product. That is, art quilts are usually made with an end point in mind such as a gallery exhibit, commissioned work or teaching tool. I’m sure there are many other artistic endpoints for quilts. While I do not currently aspire to reach a gallery-type level of work, all of my quilts are made to satisfy an artistic bud in my creative soul. A charity quilt, a block made for a raffle, a quilt for a niece’s birthday, or an art-quilt for my husband to hang in his office, are all made by me with an artistic vision in mind and a need to create something of beauty and worth.
Thanks for your comment, Ginger!
I appreciate your personal view on art quilting. Do you have some input for Marg regarding success? And whether you have observed others who have come from either the art or quilting path to join the art quilt industry?
Upon further thought, regarding the “artist” conundrum, I did not mean to detract from the value a professional artist, such as Anna, adds to the art community. Obviously intensive study and training are part of what helps an artist become a professional artist. My previous comment was focused more on the value of the creative process and its outcome to the artist herself.
As to the definition of success, I second Kathy’s comments regarding Anna’s blog today. Success happens on many scales throughout ones life. “Completion, contribution and balance” are excellent words to describe success.
Thank you for taking the time to add to your initial comment, Ginger!
Everyone’s opinion counts and I value your input.