Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What is an art quilt?

Recently there has been a discussion on the Studio Art Quilt Association forum as to what is an art quilt? Good question. The particular quilt in question appears to have been done with great technique. The design is certainly original. The artist or should I say quilt maker seems a lovely, caring person. There have been a couple of comments assuring this lovely woman--and yes, it is a woman--that the work can be considered an art quilt.

But is it really art? Now I will not be showing you the quilt that is being referred to. I am sure the woman in question had her heart in the piece, but I am not convinced that it is art. Is the fact that the work is a new design sufficient to make it art--I don't think so. Being well done helps--but I am not sure it is sufficient. Shouldn't there be that certain pzazz to the piece? That certain je ne sais quois? (Is that even spelled right--I have forgotten high school French.) I think so.

Now, I don't want to pick on this particular woman--after all, do I consider all my quilts art? Actually no I don't. Some are--some are personal expressions of particular times or places, some are the visions of particular customers that they have relayed to me--but are my potholders art--no. Are my placemats art--no. Indeed I would say that even some of my quilts are not art. I am not even sure that my new piece--the one I wrote about for the last blog post is art--it could be if the quilt manages to fulfill my image. But if it doesn't. Well then it will be lovely and decorative and that may actually be sufficient.

What do you think? Are all quilts art quilts if they are new designs? What about those that are old designs but somewhat different? Isn't there the need for the soul of the maker? How do you define it? Is it even necessary to be an "artist"--isn't being an excellent craftsperson sometimes enough?


  1. I am new to your blog. As an artist ( a painter, and a fiber artist) I have to say for me it is originality that makes it art. I just went to a quilt retreat in my area. I was so excited to go and be around others who share my love to create in fiber...but I had a not so good experience. I am new to fiber art but not new to being an artist and painter. I would never ( never say never really...but) use someone elses "pattern". I felt like a fish out of water. The other women said "There is always one in every crowd." I am not sure if this was meant to be a nice comment or not. I was so utterly bored with what these women were doing. I felt like I was at a craft retreat. They all used patterns and most very country type fabric choices...squares, triangles and rectangles...very traditional. Although, I would have to say their sewing skills outdid mine completely and I had some things I could take away from the retreat as far as that was concerned. I dont know how these women find this very fulfilling? To me...and I hadnt thought this out before, I think I need to clarify that I am an art quilter. What do I mean by this. I do not follow a preset bunch of quilting rules...I do not follow patterns...I step out of the tradional quilting box...and I think you said it in a nutshell...art quilts means you are being original. That still encompasses different styles and still could mean a "country" feel...its not about style choice...its about whether you are original or not. Next time I go on any kind of retreat I will most likely seek one out that is specifically for art quilters... I can appreciate their skill but I did not feel it was artwork and I am not sure that many of them felt it was. They just plain loved to sew...many of them said. They were more than happy to use tried and true patterns and even to almost copy the fabrics and also to use "pre made panels" with machine made designs that you are supposed to just cut out the box and sew together with a border type thing. This is craft...and not artisan crafting...still fun for them ...still fulfilling...still, in their minds, very beautiful(and some I found "not bad") I can appreciate the skill. I can appreciate Amish Made type quilts...some are just gorgeous. As a past fine art gallery owner (we just closed our doors due to the economy this last Aug) I had a lot of fiber art and art quilts. I struggled with customers over this...many of my customers didnt expect to see all the fiber art I had...and in all honesty it did not sell as well as paintings etc...(tradional fine art mediums). For the life of me I will never figure this out! I am also a member, as an artist, of a local artist group in my city. I became a member as a painter and now my focus has changed. I told them I was going to change my medium now to read and to show fiber artist with my art quilts. Many eyebrows were raised. "Oh ..NO...will this be too crafty??" They are thinking! I struggle struggle struggle. Why is it when fiber is concerned that they think crafty sewers instead of fine artists or artisans? I struggle with this so much and feel so passionate about it I feel like being a spokesperson for it and perhaps...just maybe...I may start up my art gallery again when the economy gets a bit better..(in a few years??)and make it strictly a Fine Art Fiber Gallery only! All things fiber! It seems to me that the fiber artists I had in my gallery...were so appreciative that a classy gallery wanted to show and sell their work. Not enough galleries do this!...perhaps because it is a harder sell and there were some issues that that made fiber art harder to hang and keep protected. There is a bit more risk in damage..say with moisture or people touching it..etc...but I always felt it was much worth the effort. Im rambling..sorry . ...You hit a nerve :)

  2. Thanks Laura for your long and thoughtful comments. I think I will have to do a blog post on patterns and their place in quilt making--a very interesting topic. Meanwhile, do you know about the Studio Art Quilt Association--you might feel more "at home" there. Keep making art quilts.