Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Connecting with Content.


I was reading a very interesting article in the latest issue of International Artist the other day. The author of the article, Philip Miles, pointed out something that I have been aware of for some time both with my quilts and my paintings, and that is that when people buy them they do so because of the content. For example the quilt on the right sold because the person was familiar with the place...... And had very fond memories of it.


Other pieces sell because of colour - one very nice collector I know loves black-and-white - as do I as it happens.... I'm always trying to black-and-white paintings and black-and-white fabric and black-and-white clothes!
Other friends like to buy only red pieces .......

There's a lovely little anecdote about a farmer looking at Grant Wood's famous painting Stone City and saying to the artist:   " I wouldn't give 35 cents  an acre for that land."   He wasn't interested in the quality of the painting at all but rather on what it depicted......

Content, or sometimes colour, is what draws a person to look more closely at artwork.

Consider an art show: Nearly everybody approaches a piece more closely because of  the content  of your artwork than how well it's made. ( Except perhaps those nazi  judges everybody talks about!)
  Furthermore, as Miles points out, whether or not they will actually buy the piece depends much more on the content than anything else.

For example, I recently sold the following painting because the buyer said it reminded him of his mother's house.


They love to be reminded of happier times..... Places they've lived,  people they have known.... Holidays that they've taken - connections.  I have a friend who mainly paints pictures of her husband and she is surprised that nobody buys them...... Now I think a Painting would have to be unusually and extremely good for  you to want to buy an image of somebody else's husband!

So what do artists think about when they are deciding what to make....
I usually have an idea that intrigues me...something that's an interesting and challenging puzzle to think how to work it out.
And In painting, particularly, I want to focus very much on improving my technical abilities....... and certainly in traditional quilting we were all very focused on making the most beautiful stitches we could. 
I really enjoyed making a series of quilts about industrial buildings -  the very unusual shapes and forms really interested me...... However,  guess what? I was never been able to sell any of those quilts!   Nobody is interested in having the image of a factory or steel mill hanging on their wall regardless of how well it's done.    While people don't like a  complete lack of craftsmanship, they are much less interested in how well something is designed and crafted for its own sake.   The balance of the composition, the beauty of the stitch line it's not as important is the connection that they are making(Or not making) With the piece.     Or, Of course, whether not it will match the sofa!   I may think how wonderful a dress is, that is made in white wool, finely pleated in the most exquisite way - but I could never relate to actually owning such garment.

Businesses buy work that they hope will convey a certain mood..... For example cheerfulness and hope for a hospital department..... Or calmness and productivity in an office setting.

So this puts us in a kind of dilemma.  Does it mean that we should only be making work with a kind of content that we think will attract people?    Or, Do we really want a room full of quilts.... stored up.... With increasing technical skill... or paintings with  considerably improved draughtsmanship stacked up against the studio wall?

I think the answer lies in bringing the two together..... Is there a way that we can develop our ability to create a beautiful form while at the same time using content that resonates  - whether it be realistic, impressionistic or abstract.    Trying to develop technical skills that help want to communicate much better about particular imagery...... So perhaps not changing content so much as making it in richer and more satisfying way.   As Miles says you want the form and content to work together.
I think we do want our creations to go out into the world, but we also want to develop our skills I work on things that are meaningful to us.


A lot of people ask me about developing their own voice or style.... And, while predictable content does play a part in that, a consistency of form is much more important.   How  you set about creating your composition...and the way in which you carry it out.    For example you could style yourself as  the person who makes quilts about flowers..... But you could not be considered as having developed your own style if your   flower quilts were all done in different ways.

  Developing a voice is much more likely to occur if you use the same kind of technical skills whether it be related to design or construction in each piece.    It's how we express ourselves about the particular content and how we communicate our feelings about it.    Think about personal style as the way in which people tell you about the things that excite them.... What are the kinds of words they use? what are the kinds of expressions they have? what are the kinds of gestures?  In design terms, these would be the shapes, the colours, the value patterns, the textures, the favorite basic structures and so on. Do you talk about things in strong bold way, or do you put ideas across in a much more delicate unassuming manner?    Do you like hyperbole, or do you prefer nuance?    So I see style as relating much more to form than just the content itself .
Content, in fact, is just one distinct parts of  a personal style.

So going forward, Think both about what you want to say and how are you want to say it! And be consistently true to yourself.

If you have been, thanks for reading...... And I look forward with pleasure Reading your thoughts on this subject! Elizabeth

13 comments:

Janis Doucette said...

But it IS a beautifully rendered watercolor! It sings with light and color.

marj k said...

I have an acquaintance who has a museum of old cars and old toys and he always says, that once the people who drove those cars are gone, and the people who played with those old toys are no longer around, people will generally not be interested - we like the cars we either drove or rode in during our high school dating days. So the personal connection, as you stated, is what makes people buy. They are buying memories. We need to be able to create those memories for them.

mjs said...

I am reasonably new to art quilting (2 yrs) but I always read your thoughtful blog with a great deal of interest. I don't usually reply to anyone but this one made me laugh. The first and only quilt I've ever sold (I've only ever offered 2 for sale so far!) was a nude of my husband! He had a fig-leaf over his face. It was made entirely of floral fabrics for a 'floral' competition. It made me laugh to make it. Go figure!

Ellen Lindner said...

I like the way you related artistic voice/style to the way a person talks. That's a good way of describing it. I always like to compare it to personal style. Take Dolly Parton, for instance. Her style is over the top: big hair, perfect manicure, high heels, etc. In the 70's she wore spandex and rhinestones. Now, it's more appropriate for today's styles, but still very body conscious, embellished, and over the top. If she's ever in a nursing home, she'll be the one wearing a wig and a mumu with beads.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you all for your comments!
Thank you Janis for the compliment on the painting - I do hope it was formally successful as well as memorable in content for the buyer.
thank you Marj....re the cars...nostalgia is strong!! that's for sure...you can tell that because some of our old British things do not stir people, whereas same era American objects would...."the good old days"....
And to mjs - of course we're all wondering if the ONLY fig leaf was the one on his face!!! what fun to find a buyer with the same sense of humour.....
Ellen...it;s a puzzle why people puzzle over personal style! For we all have it in many different areas of our life...with a little introspection (and some technical skills) the inclusion of a particular art form should not be such a huge and unknowable hurdle.

Melanie McNeil said...

I think it comes down to how a piece of art makes one feel. Content or color or some other elements may spark the right emotion in a viewer. My quilts say different things to different people. I have one niece who's fallen in love with a wholecloth quilt on unbleached muslin. She loves the shapes created by the quilting. Another niece has oohed and ah-ed over a quilt in only red and white, because she loves the strong contrast. What touches them so differently? I don't know, but I know they FEEL differently about the two quilts.

Gjeneve said...

I had never thought about the "memories" thing. I belong to an art quilt group and their focus is usually only on composition and design, which are important, but not the only thing if you want to sell something. I am tired of making art quilts to sit in a drawer or closet so I will think about your points that next time I am making a piece or doing a water color painting. Yours is the BEST blog.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you Gjeneve! Like the journalists say....you need a hook!
To Melanie....philosophers and psychologists - and others I'm sure - have debated for years over which comes first: the cognition or the emotion....some say one, and some say another...but it's good that your nieces can articulate what they find beautiful...you're lucky!!!thank you all for your coments...

Alexandra Philippas said...

Because of my passion for portraits, I feel compelled to suggest that it depends on how one's husband or any other family member or friend is depicted that determines the attraction to a portrait -- as seen in the fig leaf example by MJS. I gather her husband's face was completely out of view, but there are many ways to portray a posed likeness and still have a universal feeling of a moment caught in time. If you don't label the painting or portrait quilt with the actual person's name and their relationship to you, then it's just a figure, a face, a gesture, a glance, a facial expression that anyone can relate to.


jeanne Marklin said...

I've thought about this a lot because I wonder about all my quilts piling up. And why more of them don't sell. It would be interesting to do a survey and see if work in any genre sells better than others. I've always assumed that landscapes sell because they are restful and everyone relates to nature. it I could be wrong.
I really enjoy your thoughtful blog and your enthusiasm for so many subjects. Thanks for all the time you put into it.

Elsie Montgomery said...

Well, this post has stuck in my mind since reading and will likely be there for a long while. Thank you, Elizabeth. One of my quilts went to a lady who said she didn't like quilts, but the content got to her and she loved it. I've wondered about that and now have some clarity. I agree... a survey would be interesting, yet it is often difficult to figure out why I like something, never mind get inside another person's head. I also agree... your blog is just the best!

Pat and Govind said...

In case anyone is in southern Ontario from now till July, there is an exhibition of Georgia O'Keeffe's works at Art Gallery of Ontario. Details here:

http://www.ago.net/georgia-okeeffe

As to why art appeals, their publicity department has decided that in her case it's sex. To paraphrase the message: 'Some people say her works are all about sex, she denied it. Come and decide for yourself.'

Elizabeth Barton said...

I guess they'll do anything to get people into the Gallery....but! oh so cheap.....but I suppose if it sells cars - and bathtubs (judging by the Viagra/Cialis etc ads)..they'll use it. O'Keefe herself always always denied that her big flower paintings had anything to do with female body parts.
Seeing the Brooklyn show it was evident that she painted a huge variety of subjects...I see her art as being about HOW to look.....
but yes...let's flood all public galleries! Let's show everyone that we really do need culture and art and music and all the finer things of life. And Science too......