Friday, January 8, 2010

Developing Your Aesthetic

Looking Out the Back by Elizabeth Barton

Just recently I had an email exchange with my friend Elizabeth Barton relating to personal aesthetic. Elizabeth is an artist who has been working with fabric for sometime and maintains an excellent blog where she writes about her thoughts on art and art making.

Elizabeth visited me recently and we discussed our attractions to complexity and/or simplification when composing a work. My work is abstract and generally utilizes large shapes with the detail coming from the quilting. Elizabeth often works from photographs and recognizable imagery with varying amounts of detail. We talked about how much information was desirable and the fact that with recognizable imagery, the minds eye wants to read certain things into the composition.

This conversation led to the both of us agreeing that we each had a specific way of working and that we both were sometimes attracted to work which is unlike what we do. Elizabeth posed the question: Is it possible to be attracted a particular approach to making art yet be unable to work in that way. Example: You might love very spare work or very intense work etc. that other artists make but when you make art, you find you are not happy with those elements.

This is actually a concept of which I have been aware for sometime. There are artists whose work I adore and who perhaps work very differently from me. When I attempt to work in a manner similar to another person, my aesthetic is not satisfied. I don't totally understand this duality but I think we build our 'eye' through observation and study and by being open to many different kinds of art experience.

I did a tiny search for information on this duality of aesthetic and didn't find anything but I did find some good information about learning to build your personal aesthetic.

This first link is to an excellent article by Ronald H. Silverman, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Art, California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Silverman discusses the components of looking at art and how this feeds into building and understand your aesthetic. It is well written and easy to read and follow.

The second link is from The Warhol. This link is to the Warhol Museum and their resource pages. If there are any of you who are teachers, they have some excellent lesson plans and powerpoint programs which are are available and I believe they are free.

I would love to hear any comments about building personal aesthetic as I know I have some readers who have very well developed aesthetics.


  1. thank you, Terry, for writing such a thoughtful post based on our discussion! Cogitating while reading, though, I wonder if the beast doesn't have multiple heads instead of just two!! I can think about work I just love, but I know is not within me...for example Paula Nadelstern's gorgeous kaleidoscope quilts...I love their richness and their rhythmic order like a fugue...they go round and round...but I could never be that controlled or restrained. However there is some work that by its sense of space, mystery, volume and vastness reflects my own heart. But I find I can't make that kind of work...yet. This may be because my own history and visual experiences have not supplied me with enough data....but as I write I begin to see some possibilities!! Eureka! I'm off to explore.
    and thank you, Elizabeth

  2. Actually, I agree with your thoughts. I believe our aesthetic is just like us....a work in progress. Have fun and enjoy the exploration!

  3. "... building personal aesthetic..."

    I struggled with this early on as a painter. Now that I've shfited my focus and essentially need to relearn how make art, I'm struggling with it again. I'll be interested to read what others post about it.

  4. Terry, this is an excellent point to bring up. I find this same thing in myself...I LOVE your big graphic work, and would love to hang it on my walls, but find that personally, if I just work with colors, I must do more. I think I am just a "layering" person...the more stuff on there, the better!!! It was great to meet you at New Albany. And again, big congrats on your best of show at FNF.

  5. Hi Katherine, Thank you for checking out my blog and for commenting. I often find I love work which is not representative of how I work. I can admire it and appreciate it, but I can not adopt that approach to my work. Perhaps this is just another nudge for each of us to trust our own instincts and follow our own paths. Please come again.

  6. Thanks for a great post Terry. I think this came into focus as the Compositional Conversation went through it's multiple forms: if we are true to our own aesthetic we can't make someone else's work, and our own voice comes through even when using the same materials. In the same way, we may use the same words and formal structure in spoken language but each have our own ideosyncratic ways of combining them to create the rhythym and sound that is ours alone, and which comes right through the written words on a page when we read a letter from a dear friend, for example. And of course, we can love, love, love other people's work and other people's voices for the contrast and counterpoint they afford our own. In fact, doesn't there have to be some of that for us to fall in love with it?
    As for an aesthetic being a WIP, I see it more as a process of excavation. The more I work, the more I clear away the elements that clutter and blur my 'voice', and the stronger and clearer the work becomes, (thank heavens I've probably got years and years ahead to work on this!).
    I teach a class in discovering the raw material of personal aesthetic, and it's always so much fun to see these come into focus as the students work. And it's always so much easier to identify the major elements of someone else's aesthetic than our own!

  7. Niki, Thank you for your wonderful comment. This area is one that is so interesting and I don't think many people ever study aesthetics in a formal way. I'd love to hear more about your course. Please come again! T

  8. This my first visit to your blog ~ found you through Elizabeth's link (post re intuition). It is a joy to find the two of you.

    I love bold, spare work like that of Nancy Crow and I love small, layered, extremely detailed work like Jude's ~ but neither approach is "me" and every time I attempt to "be like Mike" things go awry. After several false starts, I am getting better about honoring who I am. It is indeed journey!

  9. Thank you Quiltdivajulie. I hope you will come again. Remaining true to yourself is always difficult but you just have to if you want to make authentic work.