Your responses generated an e-mail from Russ Little, who asked such salient questions that I thought I'd post his message so we could keep talking. Here it is...
I've loved reading the flood of comments on quilt backs and working in a series. It seems like the surface design equivalent of stem-cell research--everybody's got an opinion and none of them are lukewarm! "What makes a series a series?" It sounds like there isn't general consensus among your readers about whether it is (a) it is a consistent subject; (b) a consistent theme; (c) a consistent design element ( e.g., color); (d) an intentional exercise; or (e) some combination of the above. This Wikipedia page shows a good sampling of works from Monet's Haystack series , which I think illustrates so clearly an artist intentionally focusing on light, color, and mood by holding other elements of the composition static. Personally I would have grown weary of the haystack (or the lilies, or the Houses of Parliament, or the Japanese bridge, etc.), but I see the value of the study, and it's amazing to see several of them together in the same room and to feel the differences between them.
If I'm drawn to the shape of leaves, and I execute 10 finished pieces that deal with leaves, is that a series?" What if the designs are radically different? What if they are created months or years apart and only later presented as a "series"? What I'm hammering away at is that if you take a liberal view of what constitutes a series, then there are a lot more of them out there. And, perhaps some of them might even be created by people who hate the thought of working in a series.
Good food for thought/discussion, Russ. Any one of the above can be a series if you deem it a series. My Poland Series began as a way to process what I had seen and felt -- but I didn't think "oh, I'm going to do a series." I just began to work. This was an early one. And over the next 10 years, pieces emerged that became - IN MY MIND - part of that group. Even though the pieces are visually different and it may not be obvious that they are part of a series, their genesis was the same and they are all exploring aspects of memory and loss -- both personal and collective -- sparked by that trip to Poland. This is the last piece - or should I say the final piece? It took me a decade to get this one made to my satisfactionand I didn't know what it was till I was 3/4 of the way finished. Then I realized what it was about -- and it was the piece I had been trying to make for years. When I stopped thinking about it, it just happened by itself. Now I have said all I wanted to say and I can move on.
In the meantime, a number of my Poland pieces will be part of a two-person exhibit in January. The other artist is a photographer.
So, to get back to Russ' questions about what makes a series...what does it mean to YOU?
(a) a consistent subject; (b) a consistent theme; (c) a consistent design element ( e.g., color); (d) an intentional exercise; or (e) some combination of the above.