Friday, November 03, 2006

Decoration or art?

UntitledAcrylic and oil pastel on 8" x 10" canvas board

Today was a play day with paint. I wasn't feeling any powerful emotions or ideas that I wanted to convey, I just wanted to play around with fun shapes and colors that I love. I guess people could say these works would be considered "decorative" because the point of the paintings is simply to be pleasurable and/or interesting to look at. I feel okay about that. I don't think all art has to "say something" to be considered real art.

When I was in college, I was just a few credits shy of being a Women's Studies double major, and one of the higher level courses I took was about the art of quiltmaking. It was the coolest class - co-taught by a Women's Studies professor, and an English professor. The course could be counted as credits towards English, Art History, or Women's Studies (maybe one more thrown in there too!), so there was an interesting mix of students from multiple disciplines. I was so inspired by that class and all that I learned about the history of quiltmaking, quilt patterns, and contemporary fiber artists. One of the most interesting conversations we had was about how we think about this artform, and how it stacks up against the world of "high art". Those debates about high art vs. more folk artforms made such an impression on me, because as a woman, I could imagine myself being in another lifetime when my creativity would not have been encouraged or supported. No art school, no paintings with my name on them in art exhibits, just the expectation of being a wife, mother and homemaker. I know if I was me then, I would have taken advantage of any creative medium I was allowed.

The woman who wove a beautiful blanket, with the colors of the rainbow, is that not art? The woman who sewed a crazy quilt of scraps, is that not art? The woman who painted native patterns on her pottery vessels, is that not art? For some people, no. For me, absolutely.

That being said, I think my respect and appreciation for ALL creative expressions (not just "high art") leads me to a unique perspective about what art is. I have found that many artists have strict rules and expectations about what makes an artist, and what makes something "real" art. I don't think painting or drawing patterns is frivolous, it connects with patterns and designs our ancestors have used for ages. I visited Newgrange in Ireland, and there are great spirals etched into the rocks that surround the holy spot. Were those designs simply decorative?
Now I'm thinking about Kandinsky (yes, I write like my brain works - jumping all over the place!) and his book on color and shape theory. He wrote that we associate certain colors with certain shapes - for example, cool tones with circles, and warm tones with triangles. He got into how when the artist messes with the expectations we have in these relationships, a more interesting painting is created.... I miss that book, where did it go? I think I loaned/lost it about five years ago. I'd love to read it again....

I guess I just connect to these alternative ways of thinking about creating and purpose in art, because I don't like the feeling like I have to say something specific to create valid art. It's because I'm not a person that has rock solid feelings about anything particular, except the obvious like "war is bad", "love is good". It doesn't mean I don't think about things. I do, ALL THE TIME. I have strong feelings about politics, people, the state of the world, but I don't feel drawn to put all of them on canvas. I do feel drawn to create beauty, and I feel like I'm in a long line of creators with similar pursuits, that come from all over the spectrum. So Kandinsky, grandma, that anonymous quiltmaker, and Newgrange etcher are all there with me. HIGH artists? I say, just ARTISTS.


Anonymous said...

Well said! I actually have a similar post floating around in my head right now, but you said this so much more eloquently. What is art? I'm a democratic person by nature and think that everything qualifies as art if someone calls it such. I see art everyday in nature, in the abstract patterns found when ice freezes or the cast shadow of some object to name a few. I get highly frustrated when elitism rears its head in the art world. I may never make the cover of Art News or any other art periodical, but I'm okay with that.

Check out Lisa Call's blog who is a fiber artist and has a link to another online discussion about fine art vs. craft and gender issues.

Congrats on closing your eBay store! It looks like you're already making sales on Etsy too!

andrea said...

Folk art has an appeal on a gut level that is hard to ignore. I use a traditional 'art' medium (i.e. not quilting or other craft-based mediums) but often use primitive symbols to convey my message. Art that is too cerebral somehow takes something away from the humanity in the process. Sensation is more important to me than thought processes. Art is for so much more than the brain.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree on the "art is everywhere" and "everyone's an artist" themes here. Yet it is kind of paradoxal that someone's work might be considered art although the person did not intend it to be art. Then again many people claim to be artists but no one really recognise them as such.

If everything you make with your human body is art, then world would be just.. art. This "everything is art" works on the details.. single architecturally interesting building could be called art. Yet if there are 50 such buildings one by one forming a concrete jungle, it's not art anymore. Is being totally unique a defining quality of art? If no one is capable of copying what you have done? I don't think I'm making art though when I'm painting although it is unique work. I'm still defining art with these qualities: It is unique and it has a message/meaning. All the things about art being aesthetic or decorative are rather subjective qualities I think. Not that art shouldn't be perceived as a subjective thing of course. Complicated thing this thing we call art! :)

Unknown said...

CYNTHIA "I'm a democratic person by nature and think that everything qualifies as art if someone calls it such." - Yes, Cynthia. I feel the same way. I am eager to go check out that link too - thank you!!!

ANDREA "Sensation is more important to me than thought processes." I agree. I love how you seem to weave so many different cultures and creative elements in your work. They can often take on a patchwork feel that I enjoy. But you know how much I adore your paintings, Andrea ;)

MATTI - "single architecturally interesting building could be called art. Yet if there are 50 such buildings one by one forming a concrete jungle, it's not art anymore." I guess for me, somehow they both are - the individual, the mass, the mess, the beauty, all of it - that is, if it's looked at a certain way. I know I find myself drawn to some things more than others, but I don't let my own taste define my notion of what art is, outside of me, as a whole. It does get into such blurry territory and raises the natural question, so EVERYTHING is art? Even my dog's poo on the lawn? haha But seriously, to that question, I just can't say no! But that's just me. I completely understand the need for distinction.

"I don't think I'm making art though when I'm painting although it is unique work" ...I just have to ask, my friend ... why?

jafabrit said...

cynthia directed me here and I so agree with you and enjoyed reading your perspective. I hate being confined by so called "art rules" and those who need to define what I should do as an artist. so I just plod along doing what I need to do.

Janvangogh said...

I can appreciate alot of things and get bored with traditional work -- not so much that it isnt good work -- but I find art more interesting when it reveals how the artist thinks and sees thing -- as opposed to what the camera sees.

Now try to pass off poop as art to me and quite honestly I will say give me a break. Can there be interest in its form, arrangement and texture? Sure, but sorry, it is still poop.

Lisa Call said...

Cynthia directed us here and I'm glad I followed the link - very interesting post you've written. It echos many of my thoughts.

I would have loved to have taken that class, sound fascinating.

I've added you blog to my rss reader - so I can come back and enjoy your work and writing again. Thanks for sharing.

Heidi Field Alvarez said...

I suppose this comment is coming late in the game as most were posted in November and it is almost Christmas but I just found your site. I am interested in what you have to say about woman and craft. You make the point that in the past these crafts were artistic outlet but maybe not realized as "art". However, now woman are recognized and validated in the art world. I have to say I am recently struggling with this. As a woman, mother and artist I am wondering our lives are not still viewed upon in the same way. If ones main occupation is raising children, I think what ever else you do is seen as the "hobbie". I think there were always others, such as Frida Kahlo, who came close to being a mans' contemporary but???? Did she have children..I dont think so. Maybe a mother always plays a split role?

Thanks for letting me vent adn stimulating my thinking. I like your work and your thoughts.

Heidi Alvarez