Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bad ideas in art

I saw an extraordinary call for entries last week, for an exhibit entitled "Demographically Speaking." According to the call, the exhibit "will reflect the vibrance of its community through the inclusion of works that speak to a diverse audience."  It goes on to say the show "will also address the inequities found within gallery and museum exhibitions posing the question, 'whose stories are being told in the art world?'"

(I gather that's artspeak for no straight WASPs need apply, especially men.)

I certainly agree with the concept of expanding the pool of artists beyond the usual suspects, with the idea that many groups have not "had their stories told" in contemporary art, and that shows with different demographic groups of artists may appeal to a broader swath of the potential viewing public.  But I was take aback by what came after the artspeak.

Each artist entering the show has to complete a questionnaire that asks "How do you identify yourself or the subjects in the work you are submitting?"  In a series of multiple choice questions, it asks you to describe your age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, religious affiliation, education level, and disabilities.

I guess I've led a sheltered life, because I was surprised to find five possible choices for both gender identity and sexual orientation (although in each case, one choice was "Other:_____).  I confess, I don't know the difference between pansexual and polysexual (but that's OK, they're part of the same choice).  Nor do I appreciate the subtle differences between cognitive disabilities ("developed after birth, from neurodegenerative diseases or acquired brain injuries for example") and developmental disabilities ("such as, but not limited to, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual disabilities, or Fragile X Syndrome").  If you're blind or deaf, is that a "physical" disability or a "sensory" disability?
Then, if you haven't already revealed enough about yourself, it says "Any other important identifiers you feel represents you or your work that should be considered not already listed above (social, physical, economic, etc.)?  Please share:__________"

Questionable grammar aside, I am horrified by these questions.  In most walks of life it's illegal to ask people about their disabilities, let alone their religion and sexual preferences.  The prospectus is coy about this; after stating on page one that the questionnaire is required, it later says "Completion of this survey is voluntary" and then asks if they can please put your demographic details on the art labels; if you say no, they won't.

I'm all for more diversity in museums, but can't that be accomplished without such heavy-handed interrogation?  Can't a curator or juror detect when an artwork is "telling a story" from a different perspective without the artist yelling "hey, I'm polysexual!!"  If seeking out diversity among artists is supposed to get new audiences into the museum, will demographic info be the most important part of the press releases and exhibit postcards?  "Come see our show; 12 percent of the artists are Latino, 4 percent are polysexual, 8 percent are transgender/genderqueer, 2 percent are Hindu, 5 percent have mental illness or psychiatric disorders."

Do you want to rush out and see that show?  Maybe, but I'm sure not going to rush out and enter it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Fake news -- the euphemism

In the field of communication, my profession, we have seen several instances of technology upsetting the apple cart.  In some ways these technological advances were GOOD because they took production out of the hands of specialists and enabled more widespread use.  In other ways they were BAD because the specialists were the ones who previously provided quality control.

So look at the invention of movable type in Europe. Gutenberg figured out how to print cheap multiple copies of books and pamphlets; if you wanted a Bible, now no need to hire an army of monk/scribes to write it out by hand.  All over Europe printers sprang up, ready to produce their own versions of the Bible or devotionals or theological commentaries.  But that meant the church no longer controlled the dissemination of scripture and theology, and the next thing you know, printing enabled the Reformation and Christianity was forever fragmented.

In my lifetime, the personal computer led to the development of what was termed desktop publishing.  Instead of sending your employee newsletter or your advertising flyers or your wedding invitations to the printer for typesetting, you bought a clunky computer, taught yourself or your secretary to use it, and cranked out your own type.  And you SAVED MONEY!  Whatever you produced and pasted down, the printer would print.  Of course, since your secretary didn't know beans about typography or readability or printing quality, many of these works looked like crap.  We saw the proliferation of ugly fonts, unreadable gray-on-black layouts, type set in curves, and other kinky practices that no self-respecting professional typesetter would ever allow clients to commit.

A few years later, the development of digital photography allowed anybody off the street to buy a camera and produce print-ready pictures, no need for expensive film or messy darkroom processing.  And you SAVED MONEY!  So instead of hiring a photographer to shoot your employee retirement banquets or fundraising galas or family Christmas portraits, you handed the camera to your secretary or propped it up on the mantel, hit the delay button and raced to get yourself back in the picture.  As a result, we got blurry photos showing too much background and too little of the subjects, plants growing out of people's heads, guests lined up grimly like watchers at Stalin's May Day parades, boring grip-and-grin shots.  Not to mention sexting and selfies.

Arguably these two latest technological revolutions have not threatened the foundations of civilization.  So what if employee newsletters and wedding invitations have that clunky, crappy do-it-yourself look?  So what if there were typographical errors?  So what if a lot of professional photographers and typesetters were put out of business?

But that leads me to another revolution that is far more disturbing if you care about civilization and democracy: the supplanting of professional journalism by social media and other content-churning internet providers.  If you see a bunch of buses parked near downtown, and you later hear that people were protesting against Trump, you do a fast google search to "discover" that no conferences were being held, so obviously the buses brought the protesters.  Then you whip out your phone and tweet same, and next thing you know, it goes viral and maybe a million people read and pass along a blatant untruth.  (The google search failed to reveal a software conference with 13,000 participants; the hapless tweeter later said "I'm also a very busy businessman and I don't have time to fact-check everything that I put out there.")

"Fake news" is the euphemism being used to describe the lies carelessly or deliberately disseminated through social media and low-end "news" purveyors these days; Obama was born in Kenya or Hillary Clinton led a ring of child molesters.  The quality control provided by professional reporters and editors is disappearing, not just from the free-for-all of Facebook "news" but from formerly good local newspapers who have fired their editors and required their reporters to practice 24/7 you-see-it-you-post-it babble without sufficient investigation.  (And they SAVED MONEY!)

Perhaps in some cases this is GOOD.  The wide availability of cellphone video has exposed lots of police brutality and fueled useful grassroots movements of many kinds.  But on balance I think it's BAD -- terribly BAD -- that a huge proportion of Americans cannot distinguish between facts and lies, that the "news" driving our public policy and voting decisions may have been manufactured by teenagers in Macedonia or manipulated by the Russian government.  And worse yet, a huge proportion of Americans, including some at the very highest levels of our incoming government, seem to believe that facts are irrelevant and lies are OK.

If there is no such thing as truth, there can be no functioning democracy.  As a former journalist and a current and passionate small-D democrat, I am in despair.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Show details

Mary left a comment on my last post wondering whether and how we displayed the title and price info for the works on display.  I grouped my tags at the bottom of each column of quilts rather than stick them right next to the piece.

Reminder to Louisville area readers: our opening is tonight, 6-9 pm, in conjunction with the First Friday gallery hop.  PYRO Gallery is at 609 E. Market St.  I know the food is going to be delicious, having seen a preview.  Please drop in and join us!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hanging the show

Yesterday afternoon I hung my work at Pyro Gallery in preparation for our holiday showcase boutique.  Each member of the gallery has wall space, so the show will be a rare opportunity to see everybody's work on display at the same time.  We're all hanging salon style, trying to cram as much art into the space as possible!

For so many years my exhibit opportunities have involved ever-larger works that require huge "body  bags" or cumbersome boxes of rolled quilts, but since we were encouraged to show more affordable pieces and I had only about ten feet of wall, I went into my boxes of old work and found a bunch of  small quilts.  My husband couldn't believe it when I brought my entire batch of things out in a single small box!

I was pleased to discover that many of these older pieces still looked pretty spiffy.  Most of them are from my "Shards" series, in which I was using bits and pieces left over from my own or other people's work.  I think most of these small quilts are abstract landscapes; when I started giving them names they were called "Red Mountain" or "Purple Mountain" or "Little Green Mountain" or "Red Sky at Night." Although my style of quiltmaking has changed radically since I was doing these little pieces, I am still proud of every one of them (actually, the ones I wasn't proud of are long gone, doled out over the years to B- and C-list gift recipients).

Here's my wall.  I'm used to having this kind of space occupied by one quilt, not 21, but we'll see what happens with a bunch of little things instead of one big one.  (Thermostat not for sale.)

Our show opens with a reception on Friday night, December 2, from 6-9 pm.  If you're in the Louisville area, please drop by sometime in December; we're at 909 East Market Street and we're open Thursday through Saturday 12-6 pm.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday deal!

Yes, it's Cyber Monday, and have I got a special deal for you!

If you buy a copy of my book, Pattern-Free Quilts: Riffs on the Rail Fence Block, between now and the end of the year, we'll send you a rail fence quilt block made by ME!  THE AUTHOR!  Maybe one that I made to illustrate a particular point in the book, maybe a leftover from one of the quilts in the gallery, maybe a brand-new block made for therapy. (I do that a lot.)

So  how might a gift quilt block improve your life?

It could become a miniature quilt for your granddaughter's dollhouse.  It could be the center of a medallion quilt, if you add other fabrics to complement or contrast.  It could be fun to look at the back and see how I do seams and pressing, things you can't see from looking at finished quilts.  It could take up residence on your design wall and perhaps provide inspiration for a future project.

To get a free rail fence block, buy a copy of the book from CreateSpace (click here) or Amazon (click here).  If it's all the same to you, I'd rather you use CreateSpace -- same book, same price, but more of it comes to me and less to Jeff Bezos, who already seems to have plenty.

Then email your receipt and your street address to  Sorry, we can't send outside the U.S.

And how might a copy of this book improve your life?  If your New Year's resolution is going to be to try something new, this could be it.  If you've been feeling uncreative and depressed, maybe a simple, unthreatening approach to quilting could be just what you need to calm down and get your juices flowing again.  If you want some new ideas for your baby quilts or charity quilts, this book has plenty of them.  If you know a beginning or intermediate quilter who still uses other people's patterns and needs the self-confidence to tackle original designs, this is the book to give!!

I hope I'll be sending out lots of blocks in the next few weeks, and I hope you enjoy the book -- and the block.  Thank you!!