Sunday, November 28, 2010

More thoughts on Kathy Loomis’ statements

After posting yesterday I spent a long time during which I couldn’t go to sleep because I kept thinking about the whole matter of pictorial quilts, quilts in the art world, art in the quilting world, women in art etc.

This morning I talked to an friend of mine who is a goldsmith by training, and an artist – graduate of Munich Art School – and she pointed out to me that goldsmiths/jewellers face the same problem. Jewellery has a hard time being recognized as art, because it is considered decorative, a craft.
We both agreed on that it all boils down to the question of „what is art?“ What is the line that separates some kind of self-expression from art.

For example, when you see the following picture and know that it was drawn by a five-year-old boy, you would probably not consider it to be 'art':

However, if it bore a different signature, say 'Picasso', you might assume it to be an unknown picture dating from his blue period. (Far-fetched, I know, but let's just assume.)

Or, the above question put differently: „what sells as art?“ It is one’s own decision whether one is determined to make good art or whether one wants to join into the large group of commercial artists.
If you want to sell your work, you may also have to sell your soul. If you believe strongly in what you’re doing you might not have the nerve or time or need to sell what your are making. Vincent Van Gogh certainly strongly believed in what he was doing and didn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to sell his pictures. (Of course, he was lucky in that he had a brother who paid the bills). His pictures do sell well today, though. I think they do because he only concentrated on painting good pictures, and not whether anybody wanted to have or see them, as long as he thought they were showing that he was getting better and better in what he was doing.

Another point my friend and I agreed on was that if quilters want to be recognized by the ‚real art people’ and participate in the art market (i.e. get their share of the money on that market) they need to get out into the real world and meddle with the real art people. Quilters, however, tend to hang out with their fellow quilters, and as much fun as quilt festivals may be, they simply are a big family convention – quilters meeting and talking to other quilters. The quilt world is a closed circle, and an art critic is not bound to go on the lookout for interesting new artist talents at a quilt show, even if it be a large one such as Houston, or the international quilts festivals in Birmingham, England, or Ste. Marie aux Mines, France.

Then, of course, there is the problem of making art with a needle, the wonderful title of Kathy Loomis’s blog. Any kind of needlework – as making jewellery, weaving, pottery – is still considered a ‚craft’. And, as Julia from NZ said, many quilters are perfectly content with considering themselves as crafters.
In big business art, the artist has the idea and employs crafters to execute these ideas. Ai WeiWei’s catalogue for his "So Sorry" exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany, last year, shows this very clearly:

Ai WeiWei's Map of China, as it is being executed,
photo of the page in catalogue

Ai WeiWei's carpet for the hall in the museum,
as it is being made, photo of the relevant page in the catalogue

Ai WeiWei's various tables -
photo of the page in the catalogue

Obviously he did do the vases himself.
Photo of the page in the catalogue

Ai WeiWei has the ideas, crafters execute them for him, and he earns the credit. Don’t know how well he pays the crafters … (Don't get me wrong - I loved the exhibit and I think he has great ideas, and I think it honorable that he would employ people to do the manual work.)

I won’t go into the fact that the very large majority of quilters are women. That’s too much to talk about tonight!

Let me – and/or Kathy – know what you think, I’d be very interested in your thoughts.


  1. I approach this issue very simply. What is real art? Is it something only to be judged by self appointed art critics and gallery owners. I agree wholeheartedly with you and Kathy. And I say, do what you are able to do to the best of your ability. If you need to make something to sell in order to pay the bills, it is your decision. I don't think you compromise your abilities to do this. There can also continue to create art to appeal to that "other" audience. It has been said that one man's trash is another man's treasure. I apply that to art. Some may think that Jackson Pollock's art is trash, others think it ground breaking treasure. Trends in art, as well with anything are constantly changing. In today's quilt world there is a wide variety of styles, but it still depends on a show judge as to what is better than another. And who is she/he to judge? I was watched the judging process and found that once a judge completed the workmanship critique, the final decision seemed to be more based on a personal preference as much as any provided criteria. One quilt will be judged Best of Show and receive no recognition at another show. Beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder.
    Quilted art may never play along in the same gallery as painted art, but it is still art and will be purchased by the people who treasure it as art.
    I just returned from Portland, Oregon where I visited the Museum of Contemporary Craft. I was fortunate to view the exquisite paper cut art of Nikki McClure. The museum has continuous "craft" exhibits, including textiles. There are hundreds of influential people who purchase these "crafts" as works of art. It would be worth investigating the possibility of a approaching the curators regarding a quilt art exhibit. Here is hoping that both worlds will eventually open it's arms to each other.
    These opinions from a person uneducated in the arts. Take it for what it's worth.

  2. Thanks, Mary. I fully agree with you, classification as "art" is a very personal thing, especially with modern art. And as it is not quite understandable why painted art receives more recognition than any of the other 'crafts', all we can do is keep working on increasing the reputation of what we are doing! Little periods of self-doubts included, and overcome, over and over again.