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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn
Some thoughts on art, society, and embroidery...
Yes, it's another genuine rant!

I've never regretted the discipline required by this technique-driven form of the needlearts; (though neither have I finished my piece) but I'm glad I taught myself most of what I know about embroidery. Much of my formal visual training has come out of the academic tradition, which has as one of its strengths (and some would say weakness as well) focus on overall design. My exposure to members of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America introduced me to the concept of focus on execution (i.e. that business of the back looking as good as the front). Japanese embroidery is perhaps the apogee, as a student isn't supposed to even design one's own pieces unless s/he's spent 20 years copying some one else's stuff.

I've since met people in other craft disciplines, most notably beading, who get so bent out of shape if one bead or sequin is out of place that it seems to me they lose sight of the long term goal: why am I making this piece? How does it convey my sense of line, color, design–aesthetic, if you will?

Instead, they find a pattern some one else has made up, and copy it. While there is a great deal of pleasure in the physical act of creating needlework or beadwork, I think coming up with the concept, fitting it to the medium (or pushing the medium to fit it) is the point of doing this sort of thing–not an aggravating barrier to be crossed as quickly and painlessly (ie with as little thought) as possible, so that one can “get on with it”.

There's no question that the (ugh, pretentious phrase warning) creative process can be frustrating; but it's also exhilerating. So, I don't think waiting until one's techniques are perfect to create is a good idea–I'd still be waiting!

And as for that tired old argument of “but I can't draw”? Phooey. Most beadwork and many modern textiles are abstract anyway, their focus on color, texture, and design elements (the rhythm); but if you wish to incorporate recognizable imagery in your work, then yes, you need to learn to draw. Think of it like knife-sharpening: if you want to cook, you really need to master some method of obtaining sharp knives, because otherwise, your range of cookery techniques is just too limited. And some forms of food prep positively require a good sharp knife and a cutting board. So, sharpening knives becomes a necessary skill to accomplish your long term goal, making wonderful food. So it is with drawing: it's handy for some kinds of art-making, essential for others.

Drawing, however, is a skill, not a magical talent visited only upon a privileged few at birth. Betty Edwards, in her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, explores this issue in detail. Drawing isn't easy, but it's probably easier than learning language (and if you're reading this...)–in fact, it requires not very much co-ordination at all (a show of hands please, for those of you who saw My Left Foot) but it does require a different kind of thinking. If you can write your name in cursive, you can draw.

You may decide you don't need to draw to make art; that's fine. You may decide you'd rather learn to play the harmonica instead, or that you have to take care of your ailing mother; that's cool. But please, don't not learn because you think you can't. Most people can, just as they can learn to ride a bicycle or speak a foreign langage. Some may do it better than others, but with determination and practice, most people succeed. Besides the fact that drawing gives you a new way to look at the world and a new way to think about things (and I wonder whether the mediocrity that permeates much of american architecture, graphic design and other visual elements of our society would be improved if we all had art training), it's fun, too.


[embroidery] [screed]