Quite by chance I came across the text of a talk Jane Dunnewold gave in 2011 at the Form/Not Function art quilt exhibit. I was looking for examples of work by Ellen Oppenheimer and followed a Google images link to Jane’s now inactive blog.
2011 was the year I decided to attempt original designs and leave the harbor of quilt patterns and blocks. I began by sewing together scraps left from a paper piecing project and composing them into a design. I was reading Jean Wells’ book, Intuitive Color & Design, at the time.
But, back to Jane. She came up with six categories in which to group art quilts which I think stand up well. I urge you to read this if you read no other part of her talk.
She points out that art quilting is dominated by women and has evolved its own organizations and venues for shows. Then she asks, “Have we created a textile ghetto by being willing to develop our own venues?” She also notes that a male quilter said men get involved in an area when there’s money in it. Cynical, yes; true, possibly.
I spent some time studying the following statement Jane makes:
“And what about the charge that art quilters don’t take critical analysis seriously? There is a palpable tension between the desire to welcome newcomers/beginners non-judgmentally and the reality of the importance of refining standards of excellence, so that collectors will take art quilts seriously.”
I find myself back to the same questions I raised in my post about is it art? I don’t think anyone changed his/her mind after reading that, but it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one with such thoughts.
I believe that if you want to gain mastery of any artistic medium you need to hear informed opinions of your works’ strengths and weaknesses and work to enhance the former and address the latter. I’m part of an art quilt critique group that has become more show and tell than critiquing, in part due to the very different skill levels of the participants.
Here some of the responses to Jane’s post that made me think. I don’t know if I agree with the comments but they echo perspectives I struggle with:
-I really welcome your comments because at last I am hearing things that are critically analyzing the issues. Especially whether art quilters are willing to enter the fine art mainstream using fine art parameters. Like the basics of good composition, knowledge of the elements and principles of art and making reference to the history of art in general. [emphasis added by me] It seems we need to embrace all aspects of art and be willing to abandon some of the traditional formats and techniques in order to be truly creative with this medium.
-I continue to be put off by the plethora of articles and books on the market which approach art quilting as if it were merely a trendy, ‘quick and easy’ craft project, step-by-stepping the art form into a kind of homogenized eye candy. I came to this discipline from a painting/print making background. Certainly there have always been similarly simplistic ‘how-to’ publications about those media but they don’t irk me like the art quilt articles – not sure why. Probably has to do with my fears that my standing as a professional artist is compromised by association with the concept in the banner of many articles “you don’t have to know how to draw/be an artist to make this” (art quilts).
Lack of critical standards and guidelines for what constitutes original vs. derivative work make me squeamish about identifying myself as an art quilter; I feel less limited with the identity ‘fiber artist’, and terming the work I make mixed media textiles.
-I think every media will have its large pool of neophytes and a few masters. Perhaps it’s more a product of our predominantly female mind-set in this genre that we want to see ALL our sisters regarded as Masters and are loath to admit that any one of us, let alone the majority, are really more like amateurs.
You have identified that many art quilters do not have an art education. I suspect that this is why we are not taking the art world by storm — the majority have not been trained to see museums and galleries as venues to actively seek out. We grew up in, and are afraid to leave, the comfort of the quilt-specific womb we’ve created. [emphasis added by me] You’ve also pointed out that a good many of those who do have an art education, have garnered a degree of recognition in the greater art world. I propose that the proportion of those who try and succeed is similar to the ratio in other media. We are just so close (via forums like QuiltArt, SAQA, and our self created venues) that we miss their entrees into the art world because we are too focused on the larger numbers who stay close to home.
Neither Jane nor I (most assuredly not I) have the answers, but I’ll be mulling these issues as I strive to create art that can take its place in the larger art world.