contemporary collage paintings
the process
Leslie Avon Miller

My life flows when I'm in my art.

Jean De Muzio

Friday, January 23, 2009

Of Dots and Falling in Love

This collage is another of my recent series. I’m rather fond of it. Perhaps this will be the one I keep for myself. I feel an interest in dots coming on….finger painting is so tactile. Perhaps a dotty name for this collage will come to mind.

Dave King at Pics and Poems blog brought up a discussion about liking art. Do you need to understand art to like it? Or is it enough to know you like it? That issue was pretty well discussed at his blog. I must say, Dave is good at causing me to think about things.

Years ago, I took a week long class at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. It was a large gathering, with many individual classes. It was a symposium of contemporary basket makers from all over the country. The structures made by contemporary basket makers are wondrous sculptures. I’ll add some links to some of my favorite artists.

The course I took was all about nurturing and developing ones own creativity. I was really excited! Here I was flying across the country and going to one of the well known national colleges of arts and crafts, to attend a gathering of many of the best know artists in contemporary basket making. I would be part of all that creative energy!

So I looked around for examples of my teacher’s work. And I discovered that, well, it was ugly. Really, well, ugly. I thought about changing classes. Still I was so very interested in working around development of my own creativity. So I just went anyway. I told myself I could work around the ugliness of the teacher’s own work. I would just ignore that part.

The first day in the class we did a lot of exercises. We “drew” with whole arm motions in the air. We drew lines with charcoal on paper, expressing emotions and qualities such as joy, excitement, and calm. Soon we had an assignment to make something using items in their opposite function. If it was a material usually used as a fastener, then we used it as the structure. If it was usually the structure, we used it as the fastener. I wound coils of metal wire and placed metal binder clips affixed to the wire, but the clips didn’t hold anything. It was a stretch to think in opposite directions, and I could tell my brain was working. We learned about critique, which is an art in itself; expressing truth while honoring someone else’s vision and execution in making an art object. We began to learn about telling a story, about having something to say with our art.

By the evening of day two I was invested in what I was doing, excited, and really getting value from the teacher’s guidance. And I really enjoyed who she was. I stayed up late at night along with everyone else to talk about art and creativity, to share what we were doing and to be part of that intense energy. The excitement in the air was palpable. The multiple conversations created a din of noise. But still, in the back of my mind, was the knowledge that my teacher’s own work was so unattractive to me.

Wednesday morning our class went to the auditorium and saw slides of our teacher’s work and listened to her talk about her work. She had started out as a painter. Her paintings were of faces of people, somewhat abstracted in a Picasso type of style. And the faces were always in relationship, looking in a similar direction, or at each other, or away from each other. Then her path took her to making of structures. Her structures were unique, made of thousands and thousands of knots of waxed linen, and did not have a cavity as a traditional basket. She called them contemporary baskets. And her structures were usually in relationship to one another. Touching, or leaning, or wound round one another. Or very alone. She began to tell us what these structures represented to her. They were her family members, her loved ones, in relationship with her. They experienced struggles as always occurs in families. Conflicts. Love. Hate. Differences. Breaking away and coming together. These were reflected in her work. No words, no objective images, but relationship, proximity, and gesture.

During the course of that work shop and in the hours we studied our teacher’s work I began to fall in love; with her work, and with her vision. Because I learned about the artist, and about her vision and who she is, my response to her work had completely changed.


  1. Leslie, a fabulous story, thanks for sharing - your personal experience is such a valuable lesson for all of us.

  2. Love your post!!! Leslie, am I connected with you? Your last collage and my paper work, ... you write on your workshop and I prepare analogous now...Incredible!

  3. I feel inspired every time I visit you, Leslie! I have a huge collection of vintage emphemora and have been wondering what to do with it. Hmm.

  4. Thankyou for this. YOur words vividly describe the journey an artist can travel.

    ps Thankyou also for the kind comment you left over at my place.

  5. Now, I am loving those dots...and even more so to think they are your finger prints, just precious.
    Yes I read and re-read Dave Kings post too.
    Wonderful it's causing us to think, as does this post. Great story Leslie, thanks for sharing.

  6. Leslie, interesting topic. When my art rep would come to pick up my art pieces, he would always want me to tell him about each piece, give him something, even if I made it up, because he used that information to sell the work. I guess people are somewhat interested in knowing that sort of thing. I, of course, was not always able to provide him with the Kind of information he wanted, so I'm betting he made some stuff up, too. I mean, who is going to buy your art because you need new carpet in the family room, right?

  7. Your new works are wonderful Leslie!..and this post is very inspiring...I do need to learn so much more..

  8. I just went on that journey with you, such is your eloquence.

    I've run across similar situations, and now I will remember your story and give these artists another, deeper look.

  9. Leslie, Thank you for this post. I so appreciate your part in the story...staying open and not closing off to this teacher's work. What beautiful lesson on so many levels...the best!
    The Dots would be a personal keeper if your asking me!!

  10. Lovely work and interesting blog! I just know what I like and that is as far as I think about it.

  11. This is one of my favourites, so far. I think it is my favourite, love the dots.

  12. Yes this has happened to me too. I so enjoyed this post and love your collage (so what else is new :-) and love your studio things in the side baR.

  13. Leslie, this is such an interesting question. I have had the experience you describe so eloquently, and I have also had the purely aesthetic experience of enjoying a work of art, having it move me purely, though I haven't the faintest idea of the artist's intent. For me, it is a small miracle when a work moves a person in the same way an artist intended... And it can happen, or not happen, depending on the artist and the viewer... such a long comment! Maybe I should write my own post about this. Thanks for the thought provoking post & feel free to edit this comment!

  14. Jeane: always good to have a visit from you! There will be more dots….

    B & W: “connect the dots”. That’s us! Seriously, there is a connection… thanks to the internet we know about it now!

    Willow: You are inspiring to me as well! I hope you have fun playing with your ephemera, and composition.

    herhimnbryn: thanks for visiting. I love your blog, and vision.

    Jo: finger painting is so freeing. Being playful is part of the process.

    Mary: You always make me laugh! If your inspiration is “new carpet” I say, go with it!

    Oliag: What a pleasure it is to learn. I hope I am never done learning. it is so exciting!

    grrl: Taking a deeper look at art sounds like a good thing. I have been quick to dismiss art too. Even if I still don’t care for it, I am going to try to honor the effort. Karma.

    Mary Ann: thanks for pointing out that one has to be open to learn. That is such a good point. If I ever get to teach a workshop I’ll remember to talk about an open attitude as we start.

    Phillip: I just was over at your blog. What a great visual treat. I will go back to look at your photographs as well. The questions you post over there are causing me to have another round of thinking…If you haven’t seen Phillips blog, dear readers, I suggest you go take a peek.

    Luisa: I am happy you like this one. Perhaps there will be dots in your MEME.

    Robyn: I love all the great treasures I am rediscovering in the studio move. Dale Copeland says she keeps things for many years before she may find a piece they fit in. I have all this stuff and have never actually done assemblage. But I never know when I might need a packet of vintage buttons…

    Ruth: I have had immediate, visceral experiences when seeing some art for the first time too, along the lines of an aesthetic experience. I look forward to reading your post about this topic!

  15. This experience of yours affirms my feeling about blogging about art... that the more we reveal our thoughts about the work we create the more our customers will respond to our work in an increasingly complex way. People like to buy the work of artists they know, and the better we are known the more attractive our work is. After all, our buyers will be looking at the art over many years and the more complex the relationship with the artist the longer it will be appealing. I subscribe to several blogs where the artist posts only the art and no words to support it. Sometimes that's okay but I always enjoy knowing the who what when where and why of it all.

  16. Really thoughtful post Leslie. I find that sometimes when I meet and artist and hear their story, I like the work so much better. On occasion the opposite happens as well. Glad you gave the workshop teacher a chance. And beautiful collage as well.

  17. Our stories are always at the core, aren't they? Finding out how we connect to others? Past, present and future? Art seems to be the thread that binds us together.
    Your collage (especially your fingerprints!) tells a ripe story.

  18. Jo: Yes, it does enrich the experience for me if I know something about the art and the artist. I can still respond deeply to some art without more information, but as you said more information can deepen the experience of art. And even then there is still some mystery left.

    Seth: I agree a negative contact with an artist can color our perception of the work as well. Fortunately, I mainly have positive experiences with artists.

    Catherine: What a thoughtful comment. I totally agree that the stories are at the core - in life and in art. I try to express a value of mine in my recent work; and connection with others and with life in general is the value for my current series. I also enjoy genealogy, but the perspective I take is to try and capture the stories and write them down. So I really appreciate your thoughts here about the stories. Thanks for commenting.

  19. Oh... what a beautiful story you have shared. I wish I could take a workshop like the one you took. What an impression it has made on you, and now me and so many others. And your art, it is enticing... I have to see more! Roxanne

  20. found you through the rambling rose, and very pleased i did!

  21. Roxanne: I hope you find a great workshop too. Technique workshops are fun, creativity workshops also expand who we are as artists. I have found both valuable in my own growth. Thanks for visiting!

    India: I am pleased you found me and I found you! I’ve popped on over to your blog as well. All that juicy creativity going on!


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