Saturday, July 08, 2006

but is it art?

There hs been some (not enough,as far as I am concerned) discussion about 'art' quilts and whether they are, in fact, good art.

This was generated by the exhibit of contemporary quilts at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, and one viewer's assessment of the work in the show. This viewer was not alone in his thought-provoking assessment. Art quilts are not necessarily good art any more than a painting is good art just because it is on canvas. The term 'art' quilts came about to distinguish them from quilts made from a traditional pattern -- or, in fact, from somebody else's pattern. In fact, the exhibit of the Shelburne quilts contained several original, delightful, quirky, amusing 'journal' pieces that would certainly fit today's definition of ART quilts. And they were beautifully executed - with workmakship I could not begin to imagine doing. Quite a few of them were two layers - not three; a number were NOT quilted, and at least one had hand AND machine stitching, done sometime in the 19th century. Juxtaposed with the Norton's beautiful collection of 20th century American art, the 'art' quilts, with a couple of exceptions, paled on every level. Part of the problem may have been that there was a theme; pieces made to a theme are a double-edged sword. When was the last time you saw a museum or gallery exhibit of paintings/works on paper/sculpture - etc. where the work was made for a particular theme? I don't mean an exhibit where the curator determines the theme and selects work from a broad range of sources that fits his/her vision of the exhibit's theme: I mean a juried show where the work submitted was specifically aimed at the theme, as so many 'art quilt' shows are. Yes, we are insular. Yes, many of us think that the more embellishment piled on, the better. And yes, too many of us are unaware of what is being done outside our medium. I maintain that the medium is meaningless unless the piece works visually. On the other hand, each medium has its own characteristic which either adds or detracts from the artist's intent. But that is another conversation.
In the meantime, please add your comments about the image below, which is the same as the one at the top of the post. Whether or not you like it, irrespective of whether it is cloth or a serigraph or a painting on canvas, does it work as art? Would stitching or embellishment add anything to improve it or would it only detract?

Let's talk.


Beverly said...

The first word that comes to my mind when I look at this piece is BUSY- there is a lot going on! And, that busy-ness would make me say a resounding NO to any embellishments- too much there already!
So, as to whether it's art- not sure, but it's not speaking to me. But, I'd love to hear other's comments- that's how I've been learning about this art thing--

Anonymous said...

Hi Rayna
Just back from NC and I want to tell you while I did several pieces in our class-4 came out terrifc! About 11 are so horrible---

This piece yo displayed does exhibituse of line,motion, repetion,
perspective,contrast,scale. However, I feel it is busy and yet interesting.
It would need minimal quilting or embellishing if this ere a quilt.
I prefer sparer design and I do like the background of this. Maybe a few less spirals? Although they are varied in temperature and size.
sunny Venice Fl

The Calico Cat said...


(That covers it in 1 word!)

Anonymous said...

This piece is quite busy, so I don't think it needs more "stuff" added. (Although it's hard to know without knowing the scale, etc.) There's a lot of repetition, but I'm not sure about unity. I don't detect an obvious focal point - maybe the yellow near the top left. Nor do I see an obvious path for my eye to follow - maybe starting horizontally with the black and then down to the right. This piece is complex, with its many layers. That's a good thing. But, what about all those elements? Are they all needed? Do they add to the piece? I have my doubts. Everything needs to relate to a cohesive whole and I don't see that in this piece.
Too many elements can be overpowering, just like too many embellishments.

Anonymous said...

Art is subjective and to each his or her own.

Karen said...

It is too busy and lacks a focal point. To me, it is a bunch of colors and design elements thrown together without a common thought. Where is the piece going? What does it say?

martha in ny said...

Hello Rayna,thanks for your post. I actually like this piece alot. It reminds me of a pond, rippling water, reeds lots of activity on the surface and underneath.Ye busy-but so is a pond if you think about all of the different aspects of it. This could be a painting, not a quilt. It is enough . However, since I am a tactile as well as a visual person I can see it quilted with gorgeous thread, beads, metalics and evn some foil or irredescent action. more is more.
And as for what is art... I think there is alot of crossover and I don't really think it matters on an individual basis. It might matter historically but if you are talking about my work when I am dead then the question of whether or not it is art is probalbly one:answered, and two: none of my business anymore. Reading Ted's books. I am enjoying...anyone else?

Gerrie said...

First of all, I agree, Rayna, we need more discussion. I tried toopen up the discussion on QA and felt I got flamed. Oh well - at least the painted and quilted cow posts seem to have dissapated.

Now, I wish you would go to your settings and select pop-up window for your comments so that I can look at your post while I am commenting!! I really love the piece. I think you have left some resting spots for the eyes. I like the linear and ircular motifs contrasting with each other and I love the colors. I think minimal stitching for this.

Terry said...

On a design level I think the piece works very well--nicely balanced, sense of movement--all that. I might like to see it rotated 180 degrees--it might "float" a little higher in the space in that orientation.

The layering of images creates a nice sense of depth and reference to nature, in that it is reminiscent of a garden or a forest or, as Martha noted, a pond.

Focal point? I see it in the opening, just above and slightly left of center, that is the entry point into the deeper levels of the piece.

Mostly, I am enjoying the clean, clarity of the individual elements--nice line, nice confidence in execution. There is nothing mushy or tentative here. And here is where I would say that "embellishments" like beads or embroidery or sparkly stuff would completely crappify (my word--feel free to use it) the piece and destroy the light, airy quality that makes it so appealing.

If it is a textile piece I would think that stitching should be minimal, with a great danger that too much would also tend to flatten the image and weigh down the "lightness" that is such a part of its appeal.

Anonymous said...

I am drawn to the minimalist approach to art though I have done my share of what I consider "too much" also. That being said, I find this piece overloads my senses. I feel confusion. I don't see a strong design element even though I can analytically ferret out balance, some contrast, etc. For me, all elements are fighting for their own place, with none being able to shine. This piece causes chaos within this viewer's eye.

If the INTENT of the artist is to cause such chaos for the viewer, or if the artist is expressing his/her own feelings of chaos, I can appreciate the reason for this expression.

And if the intent is thus, perhaps addition of over-the-top stitching and embellishment would be appropriate.

Personal opinions/preferences/experiences are simply that--personal. What may speak to one may remain completely silent for another.

This is not a piece that would hold my attention were I to view it in a gallery. I'm not sure I would even want to walk up to it and look at techniques involved in its making.

Is anyone interested in taking this discussion to the next level--what would YOU do to change the piece? If you already like the piece, what could improve it even more? If you don't relate to it, how might you add/take away/change??
Sharon Richards

Mary Beth said...

I don't see this as busy or chaotic - my first responses were that it reminded me of something effervescent or waterlilies on a sunny day.

I can't really comment on need or impact of stitching or whatever - this small photo gives no sense of scale or size. Part of that is good - makes the viewer see just the design but it's different that being alongside something large or small.

I appreciate your thoughts re themed shows - it's one thing when a curator selects from a range of completed and available works to make a coherent show and it falls into some nameable something. Something quite again when it's something issued first. I know that this goes on in all media but for me it sometimes feels too forced, too strange. If it is a necessary challenge or fun - fine. But why struggle for the sake of trying to make something within someone else's idea, especially if it's way outside your own art?

Frankly I'm pretty tired of the whole "art quilt" category. So many things are not quilts at all - just paint, or just bead already. Stop trying to be quilters if you don't want to make quilts. Like Yoda says, "Do or do not... there is no try."

Make art or don't. Spend less time worrying about what to call it. Spend more time thinking about how to accomplish what you must do.

cfent said...

i have to say i really like this piece. it does appear busy at first glance, but it seems to be an ordered, purposeful,somewhat restrained busy-ness..... i,too, relate to it as layers of reflection... i'd need to look at it more closely to comment on stitching or embellishing etc. also to know the scale.....without knowing what size it is those woudl be impossible calls. so you tell us what YOU think!

Diane said...


Thanks for opening up this discussion here.

This piece? I immediately think “jumble,” and not in a good way. If I saw this in a gallery, I would keep walking. To my mind, it is over-done.

There is a potentially pleasing repetition of shapes and colors. The juxtaposition of circles and lines and checks is also potentially very effective. The sense of layering is potentially effective. But somehow there is too much of all of that, so that it all gets lost. To me, the elements fight with each other where they could be working with each other if this were handled differently.

As I look at art quilts now, I also ask myself, How is this BETTER for being a quilt or in fabric versus something that is a print or painting or paper collage? I consider whether the choice of medium actually compliments the work – as opposed to adding nothing to it at all (that is, it could just as easily be printed on paper or painted on canvas). For me, a successful art quilt is one in which the materials, techniques, composition and overall concept really do work together. I want to see the fact that it IS on fabric and made with some form of stitching somehow compliment the overall work.

Thanks for exposing this piece to everyone for comment...I will look forward to reading what everyone says.

Terry said...

OK, I'm back with another couple of comments.

I copied the image and did the rotation I discussed in my previous post and find that I do like the composition better when you flip it. It is the old trick of using more "space" at the bottom of a composition than at the top to compensate for the percieved effect of gravity. All movement is assumed to be ultimately downward, so items too close to the bottom edge feel like they are falling out of the picture. (That is why mats for photos are cut wider on the bottom edge)

I am also intrigued that so many people have commented on the image's "busy-ness" or called it jumbled in a way that indicates that as a weakness in the piece. I find it "complex" which may be the same observation, but for me that is a plus and part of the intention of the piece. It is dynamic rather than serene. One could turn it around and say that it is exciting, rather than boring, but I think those are aspects to be observed, not judged. Removing elements would make it a different (and maybe equally good) piece but not necessarily a better piece.

More than my 2 cents worth...

Sue said...

I am always surprised when something seems to click when a piece is rotated. I agree with Terry about rotating this piece, but for a different reason. The whiter area being at the bottom really draws out the other light highlights and gives more depth to the whole. The highest and lowest values don't have such a fight to get along when turned in this direction. It eases up the busy-ness of the elements. I agree that it is a busy piece, but I dont think it can be disqualified on that basis. The viewer's sense of gravity will play an important part here no matter which way it is rotated because of Rayna's use of value. I feel this rotation, with the white focal area at the bottom, allows the design to flow most freely.

Thanks Rayna, you are brave and we are all learning. Everyone wins.

Sue Kaufman

lizzieb said...

I find the design elements to be fascinating...the circles, the rectangles, both moving across the piece. I like the background and also see it as layered...maybe because I am doing more and more of that type of work. I don't care if it is a painting or a quilt, it really looks more like a serigraph to me with multiple layers...I'm finding myself trying to figure out if it is a screen print how it was made unless it is a composite of multiple screens used liked we use thermofax screens. I like the much to look at and a lot to consider when one starts to look at the relationships of the various elements used! I semi-quoted you in my blog, Rayna!

Sandy said...

How can I ever stay out of this one? I really like this piece for the continuity of line and repitition of forms throughout. Color isn't bad either. My only feeling of lack is that of a particular focal point- it is quite scattered over the surface. I am simply ITCHING to get my hands on it and cut it up. Sonya Delauney-ish? C'mon, Rayna, send me just a sliver! Sandy

Rayna said...

Wow! What a lively and intelligent bunch of comments. Too much to respond to here. Check my next post for my comments

Ted Orland said...

Back in the pre-internet days, I always felt that halftone reproduction was the Colt-45 of art, leveling every artwork to the same low-resolution grid of halftone dots. In photography, for instance, any advantage to capturing a myriad of detail with an 8x10 view camera was lost on the printed page, since the printed result looked identical to a low-resolution photo taken from the same vantage point with a 35mm.

I sort of feel the same way in trying to understand what the artist was really trying to show us in the picture you’ve posted. The original piece measures four by five FEET, while the jpeg screen version measures two by three INCHES. All the richness & detail & texture that the artist so laboriously embedded in the piece itself have been lost. And if I zoom in closer, I don’t see more detail, just bigger pixels. No wonder it looks busy or chaotic!!!

The discouraging truth is that the history of art is, in large measure, the history of art that can be reproduced. And in that framework it’s frighteningly easy for the the artist’s message -- the MEANING of their art -- to be skewed or lost entirely in the translation. Perhaps the reproductions we see in books or on monitors are best taken simply as little hints or nudges toward exhibits & shows -- and maybe artists themselves -- that would be worth visiting in person.

Rosemary Claus-Gray said...

This piece certainly grew on me. At first, I turned away because it was so busy, yet the depth of the piece and the motion, seemingly from left to right, captured my interest. This reminds me of the quality of life, mine anyway, with so many things going on, at so many different levels, connected in various ways, interdependant, and yet somehow all moving forward, relentlessly forward. It seems like there are areas of excitement, like electrical sparks in the short yellow lines, and things that just float around, like the small bubble groupings. The circles in circles seem like what happens when one throws a pebble in a pond - one thing expands and influences another. The straight lines are like the rods on steam engines, one rod connecting to another, and powering it forward under the mass energy of the whole thing. Fascinating. I'd like to see the original.

Dianna Callahan said...

It certainly contains the elements of design which are desired in any work of art. The two sets of complimentary colors work well together. I have used those two sets in one of my own works. It has some depth created by skillful use of lights and darks, tension created by diagonals, movement, texture, etc. No, it would not benefit from any embellishments or stitching.

Kay said...

Fascinating comments. I'm not sure what I think. My first reaction was negative, but then I kept looking. I would agree that the color scheme works with the two sets of complementary colors, but the composition seems to me to be trying to do too much. It's horizontal, but then the vertical lines appear, and also the radiating circles. Nothing seems to predominate.

Meg Manderson said...

Actually, the theme thing seems to be a growing fad and I don't like it one bit. Setting aside for the moment that I find working to a set subject paralyzing, I don't think it is a good substitute for astute curating. Setting a nominal theme does not a coherent show make. I mostly exhibit in "fine art" venues and this theme thing seems to be taking over there as well. I've seen some awful mish-mashs offered as "shows" because there was a title on the program!

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