Friday, November 07, 2008

Art or Craft?? Or does it matter?

Last night's art opening was packed and the panel discussion (with audience comments and questions) was lively. Most of the artists didn't seem to care whether they were labeled as art or craft, as long as they were exhibited and/or people bought/responded to their work. But the point was made that those of us who work in clay or fiber and come from the tradition of utilitarian/women's work are less likely to be regarded as making ART (except for the MEN in clay or fiber) Sigh... These pieces, made from rug canvas or some such, and onion bag mesh on one; screen on the other, used materials I would have printed with. Just goes to show you how differently we approach the same materials, depending on where we come from. Click on all of them to get closer looks. This piece is made from telephone wires and cables. The artist is a weaver who started in cloth, discovered this material, and never went back to traditional weaving. A gallery owner bought the first piece the artist had made like this and asked her to bring the rest of her work to the gallery so she could see it. The artist brought her regular woven things and the gallery owner said "Craft! go back and make more of the pieces with wire", which she considered to be art, even though they were made with the same technique as the cotton and wool pieces. I love these. Maria Lupo is a sculptor who works in a variety of materials and does some very cool work. She and I have exhibited together a couple of times. Incredible. Mid-November (well, almost) and in the high 50's - shirtsleeve weather and humid. We're in D.C. and getting ready to go to services and then dinner. Ciao for now.


Russ Little said...

I used to love this debate. Now it just drives me crazy. Do yourself a huge favor by never looking up the word "art" in a dictionary--or craft for this matter. All you find is insulting foolishness that certainly wasn't written by an artist.

Art or craft? For me I guess it comes down to intentionality and connectedness. Did the maker begin with (or grow into) an intentional state of mind? Was the intent to create a thing of beauty or convey a message? And, did the viewer connect with the resulting work? For me, functionality has nothing to do with it. In theory, a potholder could be art, yet still protect your hand from getting burned. To say that a traditional weaving is "craft" and telephone cords are "art" speaks more about the gallery owner and less about the work. Until we remove the element of medium from the operative definition of art, we will continue to degrade the fine, beautiful, and meaningful work of potters, fiber artists, and others working in media traditionally regarded as craft.

I'm horrified by the thought that the gender of the artist plays a role in assessing the quality of art (versus craft). Please don't let me be the male fiber artist. I just want to be an artist and to be judged on the merits of my work.

There now...I just couldn't resist a little time on the old soapbox.

Rayna said...

Beautifully said! I thought the weaving story illustrated the mindset of galleries and museums, as well.

The curator of this show asked me for the names of two famous quilters and I gave her Michael James and Nancy Crow. After she showed a slide of each of their work,people were in shock that there were men who make quilts. GRRRRRRR I told them there were a lot of men fiber artists and that gender had nothing to do with it!

It is a pointless debate.

Karoda said...

thanks rayna for sharing some of the panel discussion and the work of the artists...just this afternoon i was reading about the quilts/life of mary lee bendolph, one of the gees bend quilters and found myself talking out the reasons i'm driven crazy by the arguments over whether they are art or not.

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