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Friday, October 14, 2011

Photos, Quilting, and Art

Recently, there's been quite a bit of talk on the Art Quilt list about art and quilting.  Several of the people talking about it were commenting that they didn't like "photo realism" in quilts.  They weren't talking about  quilts done in the manner of artist Chuck Close who does what is sometimes called "hyper realism) but they were talking about people who used photographs in their quilts.

Gloria Hansen and Wen Redmond, two artists who use photographs in their quilts, were accepted as artists and their quilts as art.  Others, no names named, were dismissed as making works which were merely "paint by number,"  People who took photographs and then did thread work and quilting with them turning them into art quilts.

The first person who came to mind was Barbara Barrick McKie.  Barbara lives in Lyme, Connecticut and it was her work which I first saw that included photographic images in her quilting...ages ago...in the early 1990s I think.  At the time, digital photography was in its babyhood and Barbara used photo transfers.  She now manipulates photographs through Photoshop and creates works....which are then quilted.

Pamela Allen is quick to point out that she wants to see the "hand of the artist."  To that end, she has her students freely cut out shapes in her classes to make the quilts...with scissors...not rotary cutters.  She feels that the scissors give the artist's imprint in much the same way as an artist's brush strokes are indiviualized.

To take a photograph, perhaps manipulate it in Photoshop and use it in a quilt, adding threads and dimension through quilting  seems to me to still be art.  The photograph is the work of the quilter, only unlike Alfred Stieglitz, we don't stop with the photograph.  The motion of the quilting adds texture, and just as the scissors or paintbrush are unique to each individual, I offer that the quilting is unique to the individual as well.

I think part of the problem may stem from the fact that just as in the world of fine art (paintings) there is good and bad art and even more mediocre art, there are pieces which are produced in this manner which are mediocre as well.  The tenents of design apply here just as much as in painting or in photography and the importance of taking care in our creating....meaning workmanship must be high as well.

I admit, I'm not fond of Chuck Close's early work, and other than using a photograph printed on fabric to practice quilting on before I go to my own piece, I am unlikely to quilt a piece which is a straight photographic print...in the style of Barbara McKie.  I can tell you what I like and WHY I like it or don't like it.  However, I accept that Chuck Close's early work IS art even if it isn't a style I would use or would purchase.

I do find the subject bittersweet....I feel that fiber artists/quilt artists should spend more time honing our work and accepting the work of people who work in a style unlike our own but in the same medium rather than fighting among ourselves saying what is and what isn't art.  I would suggest that perhaps we should spend more time promoting art quilts rather than making and exclusive type of artwork more exclusive (meaning it's hard enough to be accepted in the art world without excluding people who work with fabric/fiber/textiles).

5 comments:

Marilyn Wall said...

Lisa, I wish I had your way with words.

kathy loomis said...

As one who generally doesn't like photorealism in quilts (I don't think fabric is very well-suited to this style) I would agree with you that there are a lot of mediocre pieces out there. I wish we would spend less time arguing about "is this art?" and more time arguing about "is this any good?"

Michigoose said...

Thanks, Marilyn. Kathy, I couldn't agree with you more. I suppose I should have hit it harder, but that's really my point!

I think that quite often pieces by the current "quilt artists" can become formulaic (and I don't mean series quilts) and also..well...they get sloppy and churn out more of the same, but without the "guts" so to speak, not paying attention to elements of design and just making the picture without any soul.

Michigoose said...

Oh yeah...and I don't mean to disparage anyone, it is just that sometimes I am disappointed by piece after piece which could have been produced on a taco press...so maybe "quilt artists" should have just been artist. Maybe the pressure to produce more takes a toll? Maybe the teaching schedule that quilters do (I would hazard that quilters do a lot more long distance teaching than artists in traditional media, but I might be wrong).

Diane Doran said...

You make some wonderful points! As someone who takes thousands of photographs a year, and very selectively uses only some of them in my quilts, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. Integrating a photograph successfully into a quilt can be a difficult and surprisingly time consuming process. Naturally, as you say, some work is more successful than others. Thank you for this thoughtful discussion.