One day I shall write a book entitled Lessons from the Folk, a fleshing out of my observations of human nature and Making the Thing That Is Not. (If you are interested in what those observations might be, see here and here.

One of my observations is that “given sufficient materials and time, humans prefer the ornate, the baroque, the over-the-top.” Today we’re going to look at some examples from the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, ME, from their collection of American artists and see what we can STEAL.

The first is nowhere close to being a folk artist, though: Louise Nevelson, stellar sculptor from last century. Here is her The Endless Column (1969–1985):


A view from the side:


And a detail of the right-hand pillar:


If you use our Precept of STEAL FROM THE BEST and reverse engineer Nevelon’s work, you can see how she used bits and pieces to build up the work. She used repetitive elements but did not repeat them mindlessly with the same rhythm throughout. You can presume that she must have arranged and rearranged the pieces many times (GESTALT/SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION) before finally gluing/nailing them to each other or before painting them.

You can see how she deliberately thwarts your desire for symmetry and uniformity. Did you notice how the ‘S’-curve in the upper right panel neatly segues into the ‘C’-shape on the left-hand pillar?

Here’s a Nevelson, Trinity (1976–1977), made for a chapel. See if you can apply the same lessons:


(I actually see a reference to a basic theological concept. How about you?)

Now let’s look at something directly from the folk: a crazy quilt:


Crazy quilts have irregular patches of fabric, embroidered with wild combinations of different colored threads and stitches. Some may have been made to use up scraps of fabric, but many were deliberately concocted.

Have a close-up:


Positively riotous, isn’t it?

Notice the insane variety of stitches and embroidery. The seamstress (we must assume it was a woman) seems possessed by the idea of letting every single notion that enters her head find embodiment on the quilt.

Another detail:


Even worse! You would think that in order to unify the flower pattern we might use the same stitch along all its differently-colored petals, but no: the stitches effloresce with random abandon.

So, STEAL FROM THE BEST: Pile it on. Layer it. Encrust it with every single idea you can come up with. Don’t look back. (Trick question: You’re allowed to look back.) You know you want to.