Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Gestalt of Weaving (or Spinning, or Knitting, or ......... )

I have had something percolating in my mind, and the comments from my last post have really turned up the heat. Donna (blogless) left a comment on my Fibonacci post with a link to an article entitled "Gestalt Principles and Dynamic Symmetry: Nature's Design Connections to Our Built World". It's a rather scholarly article, which meant that I had to read carefully and think hard, especially in regards to how it applies to textile arts.

When I first read this article, the terms "Gestalt psychology" and "Gestalt principles" roused vaguely stored memories of college psychology classes, but no more than that. A little research, and I came up with this definition from Wikipedia:

Gestalt - A collection of physical, biological, psychological or symbolic entities that creates a unified concept, configuration or pattern which is greater than the sum of its parts.

On one level or another, we're all aware of the interplay between the parts versus the whole. For example, have you ever been complimented on a finished piece only to feel compelled to point out it's flaw(s) or what you don't like about it? Have you ever looked at an item and thought "Ug-LEE!," while the person next to you is sincerely raving over it to the point of actually buying it? Or, have you ever carefully planned out all the details to a project only to not like it once it's finished? I say, blame it all on Gestalt.

What I have been pondering in regards to weaving is the relative importance of the various details versus the overall impression that the finished piece gives. For example, Kate commented that my dishtowels look complex. And they do! This is exciting to me because the individual parts are very simple in themselves. (Gestalt again :)

Consider the parts:

* A simple warp of only three colors counted in a simple sequence ......

32 navy, 20 green, 12 brown, 8 navy, 4 green, repeat
* A simple threading plan repeating only two possibilities on my four shafts......

Summer & Winter A and B blocks.

* A simple tie-up......

Summer & Winter 6 treadle tie-up.

* A straightforward treadling, simply repeating my threading plan.

I think what makes it look complex is the interplay of the stripes and colors. Gestalt.

As makers of textiles, it seems to me that we usually focus more on the details than on the whole. We notice them, analyze them, and fret over them if they don't meet our expectations. When I am unhappy with some part of my work, I am reminded of something my grandmother used to say......

No one will notice from a galloping horse.

I nod to the truth of this statement, but still dilemmize over whether to fix it or not. It ultimately boils down to how much I know it will bug me if I don't. Sometimes the only one it bothers is me.

When someone looks at my work and likes it, I realize that they don't see what I don't like. They are responding to the whole rather than to it's parts. I realize too, that people respond to things subjectively. To like or dislike a particular item, whether a skein of handspun designer yarn, a painting, or a handwoven dishtowel, is an emotional response based on one's own personal preferences and cultural tastes. We're all different so we like different things.

So after all that what's my point? I'm not sure. Yet. I suppose that understanding all this should free me from being overly critical of what I create. And it should encourage me out of the rut of working only with what I like. It should free me from a solely analytical response and encourage me to participate in an emotional one. I suspect however, that this may be easier said than done. Still, it's something to work on.


Anonymous said...

The gestalt process of engaging with the materials and your whole being is not to be underestimated. You may plan a project, gather all the materials, engage your skills in creating your creation only to find that the teatowel you planned looks like a cushion and becomes a unique object, the sum of all its parts. As artists we have a need to create something which is satisfied when we have created the object and engaged with the process, then at the height of satisfaction realise the completion of the object and prepare to let it go. In the meantime, as individual you have engaged all your being and learnt to improve your skills, or try out another way of overcoming some frustration. It fullfils a need in you and when completed you can sometimes let it go….Then you start to engage with another set of materials to create another unique object that enfolds not only its parts but some of your parts too, including a unique expression of the need or emotion you had that started the whole process off. It’s a dance, a beautiful dance…..

Woolly Bits said...

I agree! it is easy to "know" about this in theory, but to act on it when doing a project of whatever kind, this is an entirely different matter. I don't know how many times I have been raving and ranting about a mistake in something I made - while someone else either didn't mind that "mistake" (because only the result is important) or didn't even see it in the first place. on the other hand I am sometimes amazed at what other people consider special - shoddy work, ugly materials etc. and they still manage to sell their work to someone. maybe we should simply enjoy what we do for ourselves and enjoy the process of working on it - and keep what we like ourselves and give away what we don't:)

Tina T-P said...

Leigh -

It must be a hoot to go shopping with you - you'd have to stop and look at each item with a (figurative) "critical eye" as in "how'd they do that?"

RE: handling compliments - I came to this "realizaton" when I was singing & playing my guitar at a local restaurant - I would finish a song up and think to myself, - "Whoa, that stunk" and someone would walk up to my table, put a buck in my tip jar and say, "I just love that song, it reminds me of my mother" - or some such thing - I realized that when I said "Oh, I really didn't think it was very good" I was putting down that person and their "beliefs" etc. - but if I simply said "Why thank you, how nice of you to say that" - we both felt good about it , and I won many fans that way...go figure -

Sure wish you were closer - love to sit and chat about all the wonderful :-) things that you do over a glass of wine or a cup of what ever - (of course, being int he Pacific NW, it would have to be coffee, right LOL)

Hugs to you and scritches to the furbabies - T.

Cathy said...

Thought provoking post. As is Angora's comment.

Laritza said...

Your towels are beautiful. I can not find a way to reply via email on blogger. Yes, I used carpet warp for weft, loved it.

Charleen said...

Wonderful post, Leigh, with lots to think about. I had to laugh at Tina's comment! Back in our twenties, my sister and I used to go shopping all the time (I actually do little real shopping these days) and she finally put her foot down. I was not allowed to scrutinize any of her potential buys. She was tired of hearing comments about how poorly it was made or wondering how I could do the same thing!

Peg in South Carolina said...

Interesting post and responses. For me the issue is, yes, there must be a positive response to the whole, but included in that response must be an invitation to look closer and be rewarded. This is how I look at paintings that I like (at the risk of museum guards kicking me out......grin!) A really good painting will invite the eye in, and I think a really good piece of fiber art will do the same.... And this is why there ought not to be mistakes. Nothing like setting one's goals a bit high......VBG!

Leigh said...

Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful and helpful comments. You've given me some good things to think about. And Tina, I'll take you up on your offer next time I'm in your neck of the woods!

Sharon said...

Your comment link is missing in your last post. It might be a Blogger problem. A friend complained about it to me earlier as a suspected goof. I love your fiber shots!