My front yard

I’m confused about art quilts.  I like many of the quilts called “art quilts” by their makers (and as with any art, I don’t like some of them too), but at the same time, I like “traditional” quilts and I think they are art as well.  The Gee’s Bend women didn’t think they were making art, but now they are deemed to be artists.  If the quilts they create(d) were always art, and did not become so only when the art world decided to hang them on a wall, well then…..

For me, all quilts are potentially art quilts and I’m uncomfortable with the differentiation, as if the domesticity so associated with the history of quilts needs to be lifted to the more valued and respected ‘art world.’  Let them lie down flat on a bed….and still let them be art.  Or wrap them about a person for sculptural and performance effect.  Art.

What am I not getting?  Contemporary versus vintage?  That’s not it. Art versus craft?  Can’t be.  Can it?  Okay, I know a lot of sweet-cute, craft-kit quilts haven’t much soul.  Granted.  But the same can be said, more or less, for many so-called art quilts.  So that isn’t the difference between the two.

The truth is that I love patterns and grids and geometrics as much as I love gestural and improvisational compositions.  I’m an artist, and I’ve worked in a lot of media besides textiles, resisting categorization as much as I could.  I’m hardly the first to say this, but I think art is in most of what we do, and that the creative impulse is inherently human; that is, we all have it.  I’ve long thought that people’s front yards are among the most reassuring signs that creativity cannot be completely obliterated from our hearts and minds, despite the best efforts of our schools to do that.  When people plant rows of tulips lined up like kindergartners along a straight frontwalk, you can see the undeniable urge to make something.  Beauty, order, form, self-expression, identity, symbol, art.  Just drive or walk around a neighborhood and watch it going on.  Lots of little cement creatures. Or a mailbox dripping in vines.  Or manicured to a crisp.  Or carefully constructed miniature hillocks covered all over with every kind of flowering doo-da.  Oh there are the very sophisticated ones too, some of my favorites being in urban neighborhoods.  So concentrated and intense, tiny little patches rising elegantly from brick and concrete. Competitively aesthetic.  But when it comes to the basic impulse to do it, they don’t have anything over the lined-up tulips elsewhere.  (Actually, I have come to think of front yards as being rather like blogs too.  You put it out there and your audience is whoever comes by, but it’s honest, and a way to extend yourself into the world, merging somehow, even when you don’t know if anyone notices.)

Maybe it’s the perceived difference between decorative arts and fine arts, a completely befuddling distinction for me.  As if decoration and ornament have no intrinsic ability to move an audience.  Or, hey, the old quality problem.  Good art vs bad art.  Hmmm.  Well I know what I like when I see it.

I don’t mean to diminish how hard some artists work for recognition – and income, after all.  Or how devoted one can be to art for its own sake, and so on.  Nor do I have an answer for how an artist lives by her work.  I so wish I did, but I’ve never managed to do it, and most people don’t.  Those who do usually work very hard to accomplish it, and in the end it’s usually a meager living.  But that’s just one choice, and art reserved for galleries and museums is just one kind of art.  I love so much of that art, but it’s very often the kind that has moved farthest from the impulse.  No longer gift but commodity (yes, I’m of that generation, and that political stripe).  I want to stay connected to the gift somehow.  Make a beautiful table setting when my husband makes a beautiful meal for us.  Plant a garden the neighbors enjoy.  Wrap a package so it’s the first part of what’s inside.  Create a quilt for a child who turns one embroidered corner into his magic talisman, always sleeping with it against his cheek.


You might like some others’ more rational thinking on this topic:

“America’s Quilting History” by Judy Anne Breneman, 2008

“Contemporary Art Quilts” by Lisa Call, 2005

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