Wednesday, November 17, 2010

putting the "fine" back in fine craft

Today I must confess I got my dander up. Now that is truly a wonderful opening sentence which I never thought I could use in my blog. I don't even know what dander is--can it go up?--maybe like the hair on my cat's tail. Do I get my dander up or does my dander just go up? You tell me.

Anyhow, my latest issue of American Craft Magazine came. Now I don't know about you, but I associate American Craft Magazine with work that is so finely made that it seems impossible that a person could actually do it. As was noted in this issue about Paul Stankard--known for his intricate recreations of botanical scenes in paperweights--he truly "minds the details." I think of the brilliant ceramics of Cliff Lee--he can spend years perfecting the right ancient Chinese glaze--and then render perfect dragons arching around vases with necks so fine and thin it doesn't seem humanely possible. As is explained on his home page, he is taking time honored techniques and making them his--saying something new with them.

I think of my friend Kari Lonning with her exquisitely made baskets of dyed reed--hairy baskets, double walled baskets. They tell stories of distant landscapes, different events all clearly identifiable as made by Kari. The amazing wrapped and woven glass sculptures of Jeanne Heifetz--not a single hole in the piece. Gorgeous dreamy work that again you can't believe a person actually made. You get the idea.


So when I turned to the article about the quilt maker Malka Dubrowsky in the magazine I was more than a bit taken aback. The picture of her with a quilt draped over her shoulders outside. The many designs she created of hand dyed fabric--perhaps a little too reminiscent at first glance of the quilts of Gee's Bend not only in their designs but also in their lack of sewing technique--and don't get me wrong, I love those quilts--great article about how they used fractals as a design element in the SDA Journal--but some of them are sure not square. Big hand quilting stitches-(as you may remember my grandmother took out stitches that were too big.) Machine quilting that displayed its own problems. Here is my blog post about my grandmother's oak leaf quilt.








Now I must admit that in looking at Malka's work a second time, I did find intrigue in some of her designs. Her colors were nice and bright. Clearly from the home page of her web site she is going for a "down home" quilts on the front porch look. Check it out at http://www.stitchindye.com/ Her blog had some interesting points as she discusses a bit her thought process but... http://stitchindye.blogspot.com/ And I will be the first to admit that I liked how "hand-made" her work looks. Very cozy. To some extent similar to the concept that I am trying to achieve in my work. I also have the feeling that she is a great businesswoman and I do always admire that.

But unlike the work of a Cliff Lee or Kari Lonning  I really don't think she is taking a technique and by her attention to detail and skill making it her own. I don't even really think that is her purpose in making the quilts. There has been an interesting discussion both on the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA) forum and in the Surface Design Association magazine about the problems that quilts have getting recognized as "art." Maybe I am wrong--maybe quilts should just be quilts--fun and funky and functional.  But I think they can and should be more. Whether the quilt is meant to be functional or a wall hanging, I think it can also convey that additional artistic something that takes us beyond the realm of cozy and functional to that place of "take your breath away."

And I guess I felt a bit betrayed by American Craft Magazine--aren't they supposed to be promoting the best in American Craft--not just something that they consider to be fresh? Shouldn't they and by implication we be pushing the limits of what we can say with quilts just a bit more? Shouldn't we be trying to respect the craft in fine craft? Or am I wrong--is that so yesterday? What do you think?   Where do you see the place of fine in fine craft?

18 comments:

  1. How about the cover of Fiberarts magazine this month? The one with the sort-of stitched cactus? The one with the article titled "Sloppy Craft" -- my dander was up for a week about that one. That piece was on the cover? REALLY.

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  2. Oh that cactus. Ugh!!! At least some of the sloppy craft--awful term--had a stated political philosophy--but I agree.

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  3. Here's my take on the whole issue. It goes along with the "everybody gets a trophy" mentality. Excellence is not as important as it once was. To be called an "artist" used to mean that you had a base level or ability and/or talent. No more. Everyone's an artist now.

    I am not saying this to be provocative or to start an argument. It is what I and my husband have observed from many years in the arts community. Yes, there are PLENTY of people out there who have talent and ability up the whazoo and deserve that appellation. I am not talking about them.

    A friend of ours has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for years now. He has gone into administration instead of teaching because he had his fill of students who consider manipulation of others' original works to be 'Art'. No one has the guts to tell the young 'artists' that if they really want to make art that will be relevant longer than 20 minutes from now, they should shut off the computer once in a while and learn how to draw.

    I understand that the person who originally coined the phrase 'Sloppy Craft' is a professor at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. I wonder if she influenced our friend's decision.

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  4. Gutsy article Ann. I appreciate your willingness to stand up for your standards.

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  5. I would note this other oddity about the article. The text was about the MD's creation of fabric, especially through dyeing. But none of the photographs gave a close-up view of her dyed fabric, and one couldn't even tell whether it was used in the quilts shown.

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  6. If you know Malka's work at all, then you would instantly recognize the work as distinctively her's. She does amazing and innovative work, which is artistry in it's own right. Put your dander down--no one asked you to be the judge.

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  7. Malka Dubrawsky's talents do not lie in her need for perfection but more her need of expression. I feel that this article is misdirected. Are you complaining about ms. Dubrawsky's work or the person who wrote the article, the photographer or the magazine itself?
    Decide who you're upset with and direct it to the right person please.
    I think the term "fine art" gets broader by the minute. If ms Dubrawsky's art isn't your taste then fine but her work inspires me to create as much as yours does.
    We don't all need to be so perfect or finite. Some of us are happy being who we are and I think that includes Malka Dubrawsky.

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  8. Fine art is not rigid or elevated by denigrating others. Your quilts are lovely but they do not inspire me to create. Maybe that is why so many women love Malka's quilts. I hate art critics.

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  9. Art is in the eye of the beholder. I feel really bad for artists, whether fine art or cozy down home quilts, when others have to tear down their work to legitimize their own. Not everyone has the same taste or desire to create in the same way.

    There is a whole community online who enjoy modern quilting, and I assume American Craft Magazine was trying to be more inclusive to everyone. While your quilting/artwork is not my cup of tea, I can appreciate it none the less. We would all do well to support each others differences.

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  10. Thanks everyone for your comments. I replied with a new blog post. Do check it out--http://annbrauer.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-i-make-quilts.html?spref=gr#close=1

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  11. I must have missed the vote when we made you in charge of others work. When you work is perfect, then you should comment on others lack of it. My last visit to your blog.

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  12. Wow you are taking yourself waaaaaaayyyyyy too seriously ma'am. I know this post is old, but Pam linked me to it because she knew I'd think it's just a much a crock of bull as she did.

    There's a difference between making art and making ART. Ok, so you can sew a straight line in perfect little stitches and have cute perfect corners... but does your quilt have life? Physical perfection is NOT what makes a quilt beautiful to all people and it's silly to derisively say that it is the only thing that matters in the creation of your craft. My god, if you knew anything about beauty you would know that it's the heart and soul of a thing, not its make or material which makes it 'take your breath away' as you say.

    I'd rather have one quilt from someone like Malka, who loved every stitch and enjoyed even the flaws in the making, than a dozen from someone who only cared that it came out with perfect stitching or edges.

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  13. Thanks so much Kedreeva and Cindy for your comments. I did actually post another blog yesterday for those who have not had a chance to read the body of my blog post.I do find the question what is art and what is craft an interesting question and have approached it from a number of different angles. http://annbrauer.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-i-make-quilts.html

    I do totally agree with you Kedreeva that it is not the physical perfection of the piece that necessarily makes the quilt beautiful in my opinion. It is the heart and the soul of the quilt which can "take my breath away" and hold me in awe.

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  14. Malika's designs are fabulous and very expressive..apparently you have never learned the old adage stating if you can't say something nice, then say nothing at all. This is my last visit to your blog too.

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  15. I read your newer blog post and I'm sorry but you are just backpedaling. The November post was critical and snotty. All art is to be admired and enjoyed by those who like it. If it's not your taste or style, move on. How can you judge what should or shouldn't be included in American Craft. A craft made in America...the end.

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  16. There are only two words to describe this critique...........mean spirited.

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  17. As a beginning quilter I won't let any of the comments deter me from doing the best I can and being pleased with my imperfect creations.

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