competition and darkness

I’ve been set to thinking by a couple of recent posts — well, fairly recent — on other blogs. A couple of weeks ago, Meg was reflecting on “what makes attractively-installed textile exhibitions” while, over on the Textile Blog, John Hopper was pondering the role of competition in the world of art and design. My perspective on both of these things is very strongly rooted in my childhood and my school education. The outcome is that I am very, very particular about presentation and absolutely loathe competitions.

I do have a competitive streak, but it is only triggered by a certain combination of circumstances. I can think of three periods when I have felt spurred on by competition (as opposed to anxious and demoralised). One was in the early years of secondary school, one was on a postgraduate course at university and one was in a job that I had. In each case, I had a friend who was also a rival: someone who was extremely well-matched with me in terms of ability and in personality. We got on brilliantly with each other, but also challenged each other to do better at the things we were working on. We might race to be the first to get a particular result, or to master a technique we needed to use. It didn’t actually matter which of us was the first, it was the race which was fun — and, because we were well-matched, in the long run it would be fairly even.

Of course, that’s an advantage of a friendly rivalry: that there is a long run for things to be evened out in. I tended to do well at school, and in my experience coming top in the class is rubbish. Coming joint top with your best friend is fantastic. Without the relationship to make the race fun, though, I just find it unpleasant: embarassing to win, disappointing to lose. I’d rather be getting on with my own thing. And I find it hard to think of creative work in this competitive way at all. The recent ridiculous fuss about the Man Booker Prize shows how absurd the pretence at having some objective “standard” can become.

My dislike does not, of course, stop me from entering competitions, since competitions are everywhere. I’m currently thinking about which of the many juried shows I might submit work to next year, for instance. My main criterion for choosing something to enter is that it has to push me to do something I would have wanted to do anyway, but might not have got around to without that push. That is what will make it worthwhile. If I should have my work accepted, that’s when I start to worry about presentation… but I won’t go there just now. Instead, here’s a picture of my current warp.

It looks much brighter here than it does in reality. The colours are a very dark green and an almost-as-dark purple, and between them they seem to suck all the light out of the loom room. However, they are also the favourite colours of a certain relative who will be getting a scarf for Christmas. I had to wear my mini-headlamp to do the hemstitching and it was still pretty tricky to see how many ends I was catching. I’ve started weaving since I took this photo and with the weft in place — it ‘s a lighter shade of green — it brightens up considerably.

competition and darkness” was posted by Cally on 25 Oct 2011 at

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9 Responses

  1. Dorothy Stewart
    | Reply

    Love the colours of the scarf ! Can identify with your thoughts on competitions ! I too find it a bit embarrassing to win and draw attention ! Quite happy working away on my own and enjoying company of fellow internet weavers !


  2. Sandra Rude
    | Reply

    If the part that you’ve woven so far is what shows up at the top of the right column, it’s drop-dead gorgeous! Great colors, even if they were difficult to hemstitch. I’m sure the recipient will be delighted.

    • Cally
      | Reply

      Thank you – and well-spotted! Yes, that’s the one. I was pleased with it, then S came in and said, “Is that your new weaving in Wimbledon colours?” He sees the whole colour spectrum in terms of sport!

  3. Meg in Nelson
    | Reply

    Prizes for weaving/textiles, in my experience, seems too too entirely subjective and/or decided by concerns other than the merit of work that I don’t worry about it much any more. I don’t feel negative about it, but not having won a whole lot of things in my life, I see it more or less as one of those things the people in the know share amongst themselves. The harder task, for me, is to please myself with the results of my labor.

    Good luck anyway, i wherever you send your work next year!

  4. Trapunto
    | Reply

    We have the same attitudes to competition, with I think probably some of the same sources in our pasts. I enjoy reading book review blogs, and while I think the Booker and Orange Prize hype I find on the British readers’ sites sweetly encouraging (A country that actually reads enough fiction to care about the awards as something more than a marketing tool!!), it’s also off-putting. The idea that a book or an author is something people might root for like a sports team is very strange to me. If there is any medium where it would be more natural to let the the emphasis rest simply experiencing the thing rather than rallying around it, isn’t it a work of art MADE to be consumed in private, in silence?

    The trouble is: the way things are, contests mean winning means exposure means people look means people buy. And that one vote of confidence that comes from the one pocketbook is the vote keeps either a novelist or a visual artist in bread and cheese and writing more novels and weaving more lovely things for those who can’t afford to buy but have an interest in keeping the craft alive.

    A headlamp is a great idea for dark hemming. And your scarf looks awesome!

  5. neki rivera
    | Reply

    i am of the non competitive sort unless competing with oneself my environment most of the times competitiveness hides jealousy and pettiness. and makes me cringe because life’s too short for that.
    agree w. sandra, the weave’s gorgeous. and that blue weft makes it sing!

  6. andrew kieran
    | Reply

    I agree with Meg vis-a-vis winning approval versus being satisfied with your own work. The two can go together, but being satisfied with what you’re doing is the foremost priority

    • Cally
      | Reply

      In many cases, though, to participate in the creative world is to compete, whether we will or no. It might be grant applications, places where you would like your work to be seen – all sorts of things require you to compete. I suppose I’m facing up to the necessity of growing a skin! I reckon there’s no point in pursuing prizes for the sake of prizes, but if one can find the prizes worth aiming for and use them to stretch one’s own capacity – perhaps it helps to remove the sting of winning vs losing? Dunno. I’m undecided on this, as on so much else.

  7. Julia
    | Reply

    I love that warp. I never would have come up with that color combination, but it really works. It always fascinates me how completely different woven colors combine compared to felt or knit or dye combinations.

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