Sunday, 23 August 2015

A reaction

Following on from Laura's blog here I did wonder about leaving a comment, but felt I had more space on my own blog. All this stems from another blog where an artist, a TOH Affiliate Artist, had angered a visitor to her own exhibition/gallery at Festival of Quilts.

Basically, it was a strong initial reaction based on the surmise that a female artist was perpetuating a negative representation of women. I believe the viewer didn't identify with the portrayal of middle aged women as a voiceless homogenous mass. Do follow the links if you wish, and draw your own conclusions from the posting and the comments. Kudos to the artist. In the words of Joyce Carol Oates, “art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

But because of that reaction, I thought I'd also share this: when I was stewarding the Through Our Hands gallery at Festival of Quilts, a woman I know very slightly, came up to me and told me that she didn't like my current work but preferred the stuff  "I used to do; the abstract colourful stuff". She was very generous in her praise of the lovely colours I "used to use" - which softens the fact that I had been told that the same person had said that my Life Story quilts are perverted. (A Poisonous Plant perhaps?!!)

Of course, to my mind, she's missed the point entirely. The fact that someone could use the genre of a quilt to make a political or personal statement - and that wasn't "something you'd want to hang in your living room" - was entirely alien to her, but she's not alone in her view. That's fine. Everyone is entitled to their viewpoint but how unkind.

 Without wishing to bore you again, we all know the problems I've had getting my quilts viewed at quilt shows, on pinterest, in magazines etc - the fact they've needed to be shown behind curtaining, (for goodness sake) or are not suitable for main stream shows by the likes of Grosvenor Exhibitions for example. (You would have sympathy if a business was worried that showing them might affect their profits, but that is unlikely given visitor numbers from exhibitions where they've been shown elsewhere, no, that's not it, they're actually censoring you because I'm deemed not suitable for your delicate sensibilities. Perhaps they're right!! Very sad.)

It's hard as an artist to keep going in the face of such negativity; to battle forward with an idea when others are seemingly unconcerned about the consequences of their critical views. If your work puts forward or highlights an idea that others disagree with, who says you have to be strong and take their reactions like a punch on the chin? It's also kind of vital for all of us, that artists feel they have the freedom to continue to challenge. To accept criticism and understand others is an important part of the creative process, but not if it makes someone afraid to speak their mind. We have to be little careful not to wound I think. It always amazes me that there is a detachment between the work and the artist, as if one is fair game and it doesn't affect the other.

I leave you with yet another image of Life 4 - Hello Dear What Did You Do Today.

The words on it (printed underneath the picture and I'd be really honoured if you found the time and energy to read them) remind me constantly of how safe, well fed, middle class, middle aged, and white I am, and the truth that women over 50, despite being strong, powerful, ambitious, or whatever, are also a lot of the time, invisible, through no fault of their own.

We don't have to do chores if we don't want to, or have children, (and that's not true for all cultures even in this country) but someone has to take the responsibility of caring, and for women of my generation, ignoring the basic instincts they may have, they have always had the societal pressure that it will be them. It's hard to go against how you've been bought up.

Life 4 - "Hello Dear, What Did You Do Today?"

The words stitched on this quilt are as follows:

Well dear, I worried. I had coffee this morning. Coffee is the second most valuable legal commodity after oil but is largely grown by subsistence farmers and I forgot to buy Fair Trade.

Then I took our grandchildren to school. Did you know that 90% of all childcare still rests on women's backs.

On the way to the hated supermarket to buy food, I saw that lady from the house by the park in her burkha who everyone says is lonely and abused but can't tell the police in case her family is deported, and thought about the veiling and seclusion of women and the cult of virginity and the death penalty for women's adultery, and tried to imagine what it was like to be killed with stones.  I thought of rape and how under Shar'ia law a rape victim needs four male witnesses to substantiate her testimony. In the west we might just say she's making the whole thing up.  I thought how rape could end if men just stopped doing it.

Then I had my hair done and looked in the mirror and saw how old I was.  When you get old you cease to exist, people just don't seem to see you any more. Perhaps I  should lose weight or wear high heels to make me taller and show off my legs.  Perhaps my nose needs altering or I could get my ears pierced or my teeth whitened.  This made me think of trying to look nice and how idd this was when 140 million women have been circumcised and cruelly mutilated because it reduces libido and prevents promiscuity.  No, I'll just bleach and perm my hair and put on false eyelashes and shave myt legs and pad my bra, and file and paint my toenails. I'd best skip lunch or I'll get fat.

I pottered about the garden and planted some lettuce. I thought of the women who make up over 50% of the world's population yet only hold the title to 1% of the land, and produce more than half it's food.  They work 2/3rds of the world's working hours but receive 10% of the world's income.

Then I collected the grandchildren from school and took them to cubs and ballet and thought of childbearing and the way fertility can be controlled, like the 35% of all Puerto Rican woman that were sterilized by the US Agency for Development.

Then I paid a visit to that frail neighbour who The Meals On Wheels lady told me about. She's sad and alone because her family have had to move to search for work and she's frightened and doesn't want to go into residential care but she's in the system and thinks no one is listening.

Then I came home to do the cleaning and the cooking, sort out the clothes and do the washing, and remembered what the Ladybird books taught me in school.

"Here we are at home says Daddy.
Peter helps Daddy with the car, and Jane helps Mummy get the tea.
Good girl, says Mummy to Jane. You are a good girl to help me
like this." 

When I had our children I worked part time for 20 years without sick pay or a pension and tried to nurture you all in sickness and life, and help keep everyone fed and educated.  If an Englishman's home is his castle why doesn't he clean it.  Only 3% of PLC Directors in Britain are women and only 4% of judges.  78% of all clerical workers are women, but only 11% are managers.

Then I started to work on my quilt, and you're reading it now.  Women artists only earn 1/3 of male artists.  So I stopped and made your tea. That's how I spent my day,
dear, how about you?


  1. Hi Annabel, I love your current work, and also the other artist's showcase at the FoQ that I think you're referring to. I've looked for the blogs you mention at the beginning of this piece but not found them - please could you add links? Many thanks, Jill

    1. Thank you Jill. The link to Laura's blog is here (you'll have to cut and paste if using this version!) and the link to the other blog is on Laura's posting. A x

  2. I think that readers should also read the original blog post, comments and follow up blog post as well as Yours and Laura's. It makes for some very interesting discussion material. I'm not sure if Laura read the comments but there has been some interesting to and fro and in the follow up blog post. See for the original post.

    1. Thank you mckittycat for your comment, and the link is on Laura's blog if anyone wants to follow it up and read.

  3. Kudos to all artists and also, with provisos, kudos to people who speak their mind, as long as they have sound and well considered reasons for doing so, and take care with their words. To be an artist, whose work has something to say about the way we live, takes enormous courage. Trouble is you can't convey heartfelt imagery without a heart and you can't be aware of the ills of the world without an empathetic and sensitive sensibility - one which feels pain. It also takes courage to express an opinion that is considered and heartfelt, (as opposed to an opinionated blurt which is the verbal equivalent of a coward-punch) and then field the disagreements. I don't agree with Helen, but as my father used to say, I will defend to the death her right to say it. I have said it before, but will say it again, Annabel because I don't want you to stop - ever - you must be Grandma Moses for me! Your work is important and you will find yourself Corbyn-ated because of that - Corbyn-ated is my new made up word for something amazing that is vilified by those few fools who fear change and cling to the status-quo, no matter how dreadful, rather than cope with liberation from ideas that are mad, and bad and make us sad.

    1. A beautiful and heart felt intelligent reply to my posting as ever RCW.

  4. I find both your work and your words powerful - you speak to me as an artist and as a woman - you make me think about my own situation in the wider world of events. Thank you

    1. Thank you for your kind words Lynette. I believe it is a function of art to make people think, and in this case Linda has done well!

  5. There is great beauty in your work and in the older woman, naked or not. I'm now 50 and through age and ill-health am finding myself more and more invisible in the world. I'm deemed to be 'lucky' because I don't look my age, which suggests that looking 50 is unlucky in some way! Age and experience has it's own beauty and your represent that wonderfully well. Not only that, but your work is thought-provoking and resonates strongly with many women. I've stood beside other women (strangers to me) looking at your work at FoQ and the murmers of approval were quiet but heartfelt!
    You Rock Annabel Rainbow!!!!

    1. Well that's a cracking comment Alison thank you. To say such kind things, must mean that you're pretty ace yourself!! Thanks and all the best, A x

  6. I have to admit experiencing similar feelings as the lady who liked what you used to do better. Not about your work, mind you, perhaps because it has been a gentle not abrupt transition as I followed along with your journey. What you are doing now is so powerful and shows a growth of leaps and bounds. I marvel as much now as I marveled at your earlier work.

    But it IS difficult for someone who has fallen in love with what an artist does and that artist doesn't keep on that path. I had an extraordinarily difficult time coming to terms with Michael James sudden transition in style and exploration. I had followed him since before I made my first quilt. He felt like a mentor and I loved that early work and his work ethic. But this new direction, I truly did not think much of or like some of the first things he did when breaking away from the meticulous piecing and curved designs he was known for. But my - where that journey has taken him, and now I have come to appreciate and am moved by his current work.

    And if I were honest, I'd have to say this idea of becoming known for a certain kind of work and not wanting to disappoint or lose the followers you have gained has entered into my own thinking as I've wanted to try different expressions, have been compelled to create work that those who know me well would never guess was mine. Some days I do rather want to shock people out of their surety about me, while other days I like the surety of gaining name recognition via a likable familiar style. Comfort zones I guess exist for art makers as well as art lovers.

    As observers, we often want nothing to change. As artists, we often need everything to change.

  7. Change is absolutely vital. It allows you to grow in your thoughts and your deeds. Unless you make an amazingly stonking amount of money from doing things in one way only, I can see no reason not to change as often as you can. Once you have worked through an idea, leave it and start something new. If you don't ever change you will never grow. Allow yourself the luxury of experimentation and allow your heart to direct your head - you know when something is right or is on a track that interests you, instinctively without trying - I call it inspiration.

  8. Annabel - you talk a lot of sense! Please keep making and writing. So often, I read/see your work and think "I love it, and please keep going on my behalf". You represent so much I passionately believe in. And whether people like it or not, middle aged women are overlooked - and we need our own people to challenge it. Gustav Courbet's Stone Pickers was all about portraying the poor, the old and the very young - people not "suitable" for portrait painting. So you tread solid ground with your life series. More Power to your Elbow!

    1. Hello Cathy, A lovely comment, thank you! I agree with you, and although I can't speak for Linda B, I'm sure she would agree, and her work shows great insight and speaks for many. A x