Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Does its function make the form art?


CAROL MCGRAW
The Gazette

It's quilted. But is it art?

It's a debate that has surfaced as more quilters call themselves "artists" instead of "crafters."

"Some quilt makers like to be called quilters; others, artists," says Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections at the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

What makes a quilted piece art is how it captures the viewer's imagination and whether it elicits a reaction, good or bad, Ducey says.

Bonnie Browning, a quilt judge and executive show director of the American Quilter's Society, says quilters typically begin sewing with traditional patterns and styles then develop individual designs and styles that elevate what they do to art.

The seminal artists of these new creations have called their works "sewn construction" or "stitched collage," says Arturo Lorenzo Sandoval, art professor at University of Kentucky at Lexington.

Quilts can be both art and craft; it depends on the intent, says Sandoval, whose work is in the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art.

If it follows traditional design and is functional - you throw it on the bed - it's craft. If it's hung on the wall and viewed aesthetically in relation to the idea of the artist, it's art.

Quilters in earlier eras sometimes created quilts that had political and social messages in the patterns. Today's quilters sometimes explore controversial and emotional subjects in their work - breast cancer, AIDS, domestic violence - much like artists in other mediums have done, Browning says.

But a quilted piece doesn't have to have a message to be art, Sandoval says. At one time, his works conveyed antiwar messages and other strong sentiments.

Now the message is subtler. He makes beauty out of trash, using recycled materials such as mylar and old 35 millimeter microfilm woven and stitched into "fabric" that is pieced and quilted in various ways. (His art can be seen at http://arturo art.com.)

Whatever the results, Browning sees it this way: "The craft is the doing, and the art is the viewing."

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