I recently read a blog post by an artist named Salley Mavor regarding how she feels about creating patterns and instructions for people other than her self to purchase and use. You can read the post ‘To Teach or Not to Teach’ here. It was interesting to read about how an artist, who works in the same realm as I do, hand sewing, embroidery, doll creation, thinks about their own original art creation and the creation of patterns and instructions of their original work for sale to others.
Before I go any further, I should note that I have owned a copy of her book Wee Felt Folk in the past. I think it’s a lovely book with clear, easy to follow patterns and instructions for creating incredibly sweet, tiny dolls. I made a few dolls from the book and while they were a lot of fun to make, I found myself more interested in creating my own original artwork and art dolls.
One of the many reasons that I found Mavor’s post so interesting is that I have been working on a project that would at least partially encompass patterns and instructions for doll creation that I may offer for sale. Some of the points that Mavor makes struck a chord within me and made me think that maybe I didn’t want to make and sell patterns and instructions for doll making. This made me feel as though perhaps I had wasted the time that I had already spent planning, writing and creating patterns for my project.
There were three points that Mavor asserts that she feels negatively affect her feelings towards creating patterns and instructions for sale.
Salley Mavor, in addition to being an artist, is also an accomplished illustrator. She creates intricate embroidered illustrations using a variety of different embroidery techniques as well as her own original compositions that are just brimming with amazing details. Her work is enchanting, sweet and elegant all at the same time. The longer you look at them, the more little surprises you find within them, which makes them all the more fabulous!
Mavor speaks about how there have been people wanting to know if she would ever create patterns for some of her illustrations. Which on the face of it sounds like a huge compliment, but is in fact more complicated than that. Mavor states that she feels creating patterns for some of her larger illustrations and pieces of art would stifle her own artistic creativity, because she would constantly be thinking about how to create instructions for other people, instead of being within the moment of creation, actually making the art.
What makes this complicated is that would people ever ask a painter or a sculptor for instructions on how to re-create their original artistic creation? Did anyone ask Picasso for instructions on how to re-create Guernica? Was Rodin asked for instructions about how to re-create The Kiss? This is a weird double standard that artists who work with textile and fiber arts, and something that within a consumer economy, where everything is for sale, customers think that they should be able to get that pattern and those instructions, because, you know, it’s just sewing and embroidery, right? It’s not like…you know, Art of anything. It’s just craft…right? (Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox of sarcasm now.)
Another point that Mavor makes is that she wants to keep some of her own creative secrets for herself. She has her methods of construction and creation that she has honed over decades of artistic practice. Why give that away? In addition, what she does and how she does it may not be something that can necessarily be ‘taught’ via a set of instructions and a few pattern pieces.
I know that I have ways of holding the pieces of felt that I’m sewing together that work for me. Doing it the way that I do it has simply evolved over my own decades of artistic practice. At this point, I don’t need to always create a pattern either. Sometimes I just sit down and start cutting. That’s efficacy and it’s earned by years of dedicated work within an artistic medium(s). That cannot be conveyed through a set of patterns and instructions, unless the purchaser is someone who already has a fair amount of knowledge, skill and ability under their own belt. So, I get that point. I like the idea of keeping some of my magic for myself as well.
Salley Mavor has published a book of patterns and instructions, Wee Felt Folk. She took one of the simpler elements (the dolls) within her own artwork and broke down the construction into easy to replicate steps, complete with patterns. She hoped that people who purchase the book would put their own creative spin on the dolls — alter them so that they are more an expression of the person who is utilizing the patterns and instructions, rather than just an attempt to copy exactly what Mavor creates herself as an artist. As stated previously, I’ve worked with her patterns. I chose to create my own dolls instead, because…I’m an artist too. I want to make my own create visions, not the visions of someone else.
Mavor speaks about being a bit of an outsider within the greater world of Art (with that capitol A). She’s expressed that she doesn’t even really fit with current trends within sewing and embroidery movements, which are much more modern than her personal style of needlework. There is also the resurgence of needleworkers who create patterns and kits for people who want to follow someone else’s creative vision, instead of creating their own unique pieces of work. And that’s fine, but it should be noted that when you create something using someone else’s pattern and instructions, without making any type of creative alterations yourself, you are creating a craft, not a piece of original artwork.
The weird space that I feel as though I tread is not considered Art and not considered craft, simply because I utilize tools, materials and techniques that are not considered by the wider world as a form of Art — with that capitol A — and is somehow less than a painting or sculpture. I’m not bemoaning this; it just seems to be the way that people other than those who work within the same creative realm think when they look at my work.
I can see my own thoughts regarding my artwork reflected in what Mavor writes. There are two big differences between the two of us though. 1) I’m a very, very, very small art creator by comparison and 2) I’m an art teacher.
I truly enjoy teaching people how to create artwork, especially their own artwork. This may mean that they begin their work by utilizing a pattern or technique that I have demonstrated or supplied, but their end product should be, will be, their own. Mavor stated that teaching people how to create using her techniques is not something that she is interested in. And she totally has the right to say that. She doesn’t owe anyone anything, period.
As an art teacher, I have learned how to give the student enough information to get them started, to allow them to get comfortable with the entire creative process, so that when it comes to the point within the creative process in which the student needs to take that leap and put themselves into their artwork, they are brave enough to be unique and add themselves into their artwork. Teaching art is not something everyone can do or wants to do. I love being there when the art begins to happen. When the confidence is built. When the students tries out an idea, and another idea and another idea. I love the planning, creation and implementation of art lessons. I think the biggest part of why I love it so much, is that I want to share with my students this amazing thing that makes me so incredibly happy and I want them to be able to experience it as well.
So, I am going to continue working on my plans for patterns and instructions…and the other things I want to go along with it as well.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.