madhappycrafter

quilting, mosaicing, painting, and other adventures in making


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If Art Requires Craft, Then Why Isn’t Craft Considered Art?

That’s a question that has been in my mind for many years. I think art and craft are both “Art.” Art making requires Craft, developing one’s skills; just as “crafting” does. Art is Making; plain and simple – whether you make a movie, a cake, a basket, a painting, a dance, or a garden. The one requirement for art that I think has been forgotten in our schools and in our culture is the “process” part of it – the joy of making for making. We teach our kids to be product-oriented. This is a grave injustice and disservice to our kids and to Life. Necessity deems often that we “make do,” and from that comes creativity. Why else would we have the great phrase, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention?” We can still use our Artistry and enjoy this process of Making, to create, say, a finely crafted sweater or a soft blanket. We can make a bowl that is beautiful because human hands touched and shaped it. It can be fine or humble; no matter. It will feel good to touch it. Art involves and engages the senses. Art is sensate. Where did things get convoluted? What makes a mosaic any less “art” than a painting? Why are so-called “crafts” not taken seriously as, say, “wall art” or “fine art?” Here are some definitions from Dictionary.com, the first dictionary I came to when typing in the words “fine art.”  I removed all definitions not pertaining to our subject of Art – specifically, Visual Art, and Craft. I highlighted things in each definition that seem arbitrary, and italicized my questions and responses to those things.

fine art

[fahyn] 

noun

a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness, specifically, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture.  (considered by whom, and by whose criteria? does this mean not designed for function or use? Why can’t both function and aesthetics apply? SO… this leaves out all functional work, now relegated to a “lower,” or “ordinary” category of value and termed “craft?” But when I look at the definition of “craft” it doesn’t mention ordinariness or lesser value or meaning.)

craft

[kraft, krahft] Show IPA

noun, plural crafts or for 5, 8, craft.

1. an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill: the craft of a mason. (Art requires manual skill – even computer art!)
2. skill; dexterity: The silversmith worked with great craft. (Skill and dexterity are also required in visual art and physical arts such as dance, acrobatics, magic tricks)
3. n/a
4. the members of a trade or profession collectively; a guild.
5. a ship or other vessel. (which requires Craft and Artistry to make it.)
——————————————————

Because of some arbitrary ideas by a few people, apparently widely accepted by the many, we have the myth that certain types of art are “better, higher, finer” than others. Even the dictionary alludes to this. We add in our own definers and qualifiers  – imaginative/abstract vs representative/realistic, “painterly”, free, loose, VS “tight,” precise, accurate,  ETC. All of these are descriptors and value judgments on different ways of expressing, but none is “better” than any other. It’s a matter of how one works, which is as individual as our genetic blueprint, and of one’s personal taste, which, sadly, is often swayed by outside (and internalized) opinions on what constitutes “Art.” It’s time to deconstruct the myth that Art and Craft are separate, that one is “better” than the other. What makes a quilt less art than a sculpture? What makes a functional quilt less valuable than an ‘art quilt?” I love the idea of art and artistry infusing everyday useful handmade items. Why shouldn’t it? Why doesn’t it, far more than we allow it to? Why do we hold ourselves to others’ standards, or to the petty Art Police tyrant ruling our own thoughts ? (that question speaks to me because of my own perfectionism and harsh inner critic issues.) Somewhere along the line, someone decided (in the so-called “civilized” cultures) to make this arbitrary distinction between “Real” Art and “mere craft”), and we all got lost and have paid the price. In other places in the world, Life is Art. These cultures make no distinction between life and art. Art is for all the people, not some rarefied thing that depends on gallery representation. Yes, there are masters in all walks of life. But that doesn’t take away the rightful experience of enjoyment of our Craft from the rest of us. The idea that some creativity is “better” than others – is hogwash! All creativity is valid, and IMO, necessary. Animals play ~ we are animals, too. We need play. It’s essential to our beings. We each express ourselves in different ways – some shyly, some boldly, some with finesse, some with wild abandon, some sloppily, some tidily and with great care and attention to detail. How did any one way get deemed lesser or greater than another? It’s all as necessary and individual as we are. It’s time to treat ourselves with compassion and respect for what we have to bring to the collective. What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts and opinions on this.

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Strip Pieced Quilt, Gees Bend Style

Gosh – here it is May already and I was so busy with my own garden and garden jobs that I forgot to post last week! This is a very long post, so consider it two weeks’ worth and then some.

I had an art show at one of our local banks in April. I sold two paintings to a garden client – that was exciting! I’ll write and post more about some of that art in more blog posts – I am so innundated with gardening, I don’t see myself “arting” or crafting in the next several weeks.

The biggest piece in the show was a strip-pieced throw/quilt which turned out very crooked and “arty” – more like a Gees Bend style quilt. That made me happy, because my major quilting inspiration comes from the quilters of Gees Bend (and also modern improvisational quilters.)  But when I hung it I was embarrassed… until I finally just let go and enjoyed its funk and fun. Still, it would be nice to know how to really sew things straight and square up quilts and have the space to do it, although I accept that I may not be the type of person who ever really feels attracted to making those kinds of quilts.

I have to tell you the story of this quilt… I have a couple of grocery bags full of strips that I got in various places. Some looked really “ugly” and I thought I’d never use them because I am not attracted to those duller colors – dusty rose, rusty maroon, mustard gold, olive green, etc.  I usually work with bright, high-key colors. So… I challenged myself to pull out all the “ugly” strips I could find, and then add fabrics that could pull them together into something more beautiful to my sensibilities. That challenge was fun! I ended up loving the result, color-wise.

Rotary cutting still intimidates me – I still love cutting things with scissors. I love the tactile feel of the scissor in my hand cutting into the cloth, and the unpredictability of it all.  I had to safety-pin on a hanging sleeve on hanging day- I know nothing about hanging the danged things on walls. My plan was to use the throw, not hang it. Here are front and back views.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The red on the upper left back is really not that garish; I think my camera card is on the fritz.

I learned some things through the process of making this quilt: not until after I made the mistakes, of course. 🙂

1) If you sew all the strips (strata) together from the same direction, things will become wavy and distorted, as you see here by my pictures. So every couple or several strips, sew together your sections from the other direction.

2) If you are going to sew a curved or widening strip to another strip, you have to cut the next strip in such a way that they will lay flat when sewn together. I kind of remember this concept from sewing sleeves into garments when I graduated from making muu-muus to things with sleeves. I was always amazed that the sleeves would fit into the armholes, because on the pattern it all looked counter-intuitive. So the really wavy “poochy” look comes from not knowing how to fit uneven or curvy strips to each other – yet.

3) The Gees Bend quilters simply took a tuck or dart here and there if things got distorted out toward the edges – which they often do when you do strip borders and medallion quilts – and that straightened things out somewhat. Good to know!

4) When sandwiching the front, batting, and backing, and you’re pinning those together, don’t stretch the backing  so tight that things distort badly and those nice straight lines you envisioned turn into dorky looking diagonals – just crooked enough to look bad, but not diagonal enough to convince anyone that “I meant that!”) LOL . (that happened to my pieced backing.)

5) Thick polyester batting (this came from a garage sale years ago and that’s what I had on hand) is squirrelly, slippery, and a general pain to work with. But – it does have a nice puffy loft, if that’s your thing. Kind of like the Bibendum ‘Michelin Man’ look.

220px-2008TaipeiCycle_Day3_Michelin

6) When machine quilting, increase your stitch size a bit from your piecing type stitch, and don’t grip the thing so tight that you stretch it all out and distort it, thus making a very lumpy back! Oops. Once i relaxed my vice-like grip and just held things firmly flat, things went better. (As an aside, bigger stitches rip out so much more easily than tiny stitches in a fat polyester batting  – and larger stitches won’t cut into your fabric, tearing it and ruining the quilt – like my too-small stitches might).

7)  Love the process – because each time you do something, it gets a little better and easier; more is learned. If I ever do something like this with a rotary cutter, and get all my seams straight and perfect, it wouldn’t have this same funky arty charm – right? (my favorite quilting book for forgiving myself these imperfections is “That Dorky Homemade Look:  Quilting Lessons from a Parallel Universe “ by Lisa Boyer.

So, speaking of dorky homemade looks – have you ever felt that sometimes your first awkward but honest efforts are more charming than the more technically proficient pieces you make later? When someone says to me, “my 5 year old could have done that,” I beam with pleasure. i LIKE those first efforts. In refining and improving technique, something gets gained, but this one aspect gets lost, and I always kind of mourn its loss. I think that is why many artists keep some of their first efforts. To remind themselves of this – because in the beginning it’s the honeymoon phase of loving the process and that root inspiration, and that critical eye is not so harsh. You are just happy that you did something, start to finish. For now, I’m happy with my homemade, kind of dorky quilting efforts.

Time to go out and earn some gardening bucks…. Happy Crafting!