How do you assess your fibre art – or that of someone else?
The delicate task of providing feedback
Judi Tompkins 2017 ©
Sooner or later you’ll need to stand back and take a long, hard look at a piece of your own fibre art and assess the good, the bad and the “I gotta rip it out” aspects. Casting a critical eye over your own work is one thing, but what on earth do you say if a group member (often a friend) asks, “give me your honest opinion about my work?”
The first response is generally to mumble something generic like, “Gee, that’s really interesting.” Or “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” These responses do buy a bit of time but don’t address the problem about of how to offer useful and constructive feedback.
Feedback is important to both give and receive, but it needs to be offered with a bit of thought and reflection in order to be valuable to the recipient. Like most people, I tend to be highly critical of my own work and generally have a good idea about where I went wrong but fail to note where I went right – or where I could improve. It’s difficult skill to have both a balanced view of my own work and that of others but there are a few general guidelines that help us offer reasonable, useful, balanced comments.
Note: The information offered here is for use by an untrained “judge” in an informal feedback situation and is not intended to represent the criteria used by the professional artist or a judge for a juried fibre / textile event. Most events or exhibitions, whether they be at the CWA or an Art and Craft Show, or a more sophisticated professional gallery exhibition or competition will have well-established, clear judging standards and criterion set in advance. As a result, professional artists and exhibitors are well aware of the standards and criteria they must meet.
Technical Skill Assessment
Try to assess the technical aspects of the piece – technique used, execution, construction – and any other demonstrations of the skill and craftsmanship of the person involved in making, finishing, hanging / installing the piece.
- What kind and quality of backing is used? Is it appropriate for the piece?
- What fabrics are used in the piece and are they appropriate for the technique used. For example: Perhaps a different yarn or fabric would have been a better choice for a Waldoboro style than what was chosen to achieve a particular result.
- Does the piece include a label on the back with information about who designed / hooked the piece – copyright information should be included if appropriate; the date and location; the title of the piece if it has one; description of the fabrics used (new/recycled, other specific fibres and embellishments); care and/or hanging instructions.
- If the piece is described as being in a particular rug making style, does the piece reflect that style? For example: Waldoboro, primitive, geometric. etc.
- Does the piece look “good”? Is it clean, well-blocked and hang properly? Rugs for the floor and wall hangings should lie flat and not be hooked so tightly that they curl.
- Fibre artists / rug makers are often very “touchy” about someone looking at the back of their rug. However, in formal judging situations or if the piece is for sale, the back must be seen.
- Backing foundation should be well covered so no backing shows through the top. Loops should be an even height unless irregularity is part of the design.
- Foundation showing underneath is generally unacceptable. The amount of exposed backing will depend on the style and design of the piece.
- Avoid crossovers of hooked material, this not only looks bad, it sets the piece up for damage and fraying over time, particularly if it is to be used on the floor.
- Have a neat finish. A number of different finishes may be used and the finish may depend on the work’s style.
Design / Colour /Planning
- Colours should be pleasing to the eye. Try to avoid an area “jumping out” at you. Brilliant colours can certainly be used for a desired effect or in keeping with the general style. This can be very subjective and depends on the subject and design of the work. It may be intentional that a colour is used the way it is.
Various galleries, art / craft shows and competitions generally have well-established criteria that must be met before pieces can accepted for juried shows. Even if you are not a “professional” artist you can still learn a lot from looking at the established guidelines, standards and criteria that have been set for exhibitors within a particular venue.
Below is a Juror’s Statement (used with permission) by Jane Dunnewold (www.artcloth.com), President of the Surface Design Association. Jane prepared this statement for the 7Stitch Exhibit of Kentucky region members of Surface Design, held at the Claypool-Young Gallery at Morehead State College, Morehead, Ky , summer 2013.
I select work for an exhibition based on the following criteria:
Freshness. Yes, everything has been done, and yet we keep on doing it. What makes the piece a fresh version of something seen before? Maybe color, pattern or an unexpected, surprising element. Maybe materials used a new way. If a piece is fresh, it makes me forget the versions I’ve seen previously; I look at the piece on the screen and see something new.
Coherence. The parts work together. Every element is important. Otherwise, the composition/combination doesn’t make sense to the viewer. This is an area that usually benefits from distance, analysis, and selective elimination.
Workmanship. I propose a distinction between workmanship and technical proficiency. Technical proficiency is how good you are at something. Workmanship reflects the intention behind the work. In other words, a piece may look sloppy to an unappreciative eye, but further evaluation proves that refining workmanship could compromise the message. It’s a paradox. Sloppy isn’t good; but it might be – if it’s deliberate and suited to the content.
Delight. You know it when you feel it. Admiration! A perfectly organized composition. Spot on use of color. Humour. Quirkiness. Evidence the artist’s decisions were consistently guided by making the most elegant choice. Elegant as in: perfect for the piece.
Note from Jane: In this exhibition, each piece I selected fulfilled at least two of the above criteria. Sometimes freshness trumped workmanship, and sometimes workmanship trumped freshness. Coherence had to be there; not negotiable. Delight is personal. That’s reality. Rarely do all criteria meet effortlessly on one surface. It’s elusive, but it happens.