I belong to a quilters list that has lately been discussing the difference between art and craft. Some of the quilters claim they are not artists, rather they create craft.

A very talented artist I know, Phyllis Cullen, writes, “When I painted the scene on fabric (yup, stretched canvas is fabric) with oil paints, it is clearly, Fine Art. When it’s painted on fabric, and a piece of batting and backing attached to the back of it with thread (enhancing the painting with texture?)- now it’s NOT Fine Art. Now I’m not an artist, I’m “crafty”?”

It raises an interesting point. If I am an artist I command respect that I cannot sustain if I only create crafts? What if you create quilted wall art that resembles a painting? Is that the goal? Do you fall short if your craft only resembles the “real thing”? I contend that what quilters do is art and not craft. Even a quilt that finds its way to a bed is art. In years to come, this heirloom will attain respect and will be known in terms that denote high quality. I don’t see why that is any different than fine art.

Complexity of work also has little to do with the status the piece takes on. I’ve seen modern art in  MOMA that was much less definition than some art quilts. What does that say?

By the way, there is a Facebook page called Art vs Craft. I am not that familiar with it, but it seems a lot of people are delving into this topic.

This leads me to a tangential point. If what we produce is art, how do we convince the public and how do we help them realize the intrinsic value of our work? Is it about connections? Do you win a contest or get accepted to an exhibit because you are known or because you are judged according to the merit and quality of your work? I contend that without a little help (we call that vitamin P here) “unknowns” remain unknown and “knowns” continue to flourish. Is that the essence of competition? I don’t think so, but it is reality.

And what about style? Supposing you take on a style that is based on someone else’s style? Is that plagiarism? Is it copying and therefore unethical? Didn’t art through the ages change and evolve because it took elements from previous generations? Not everyone has that inner spark that leads down a totally new and original path. So if you see a painting or a photo and then render it in another medium, changing it as you go, have you stolen the idea? If you go to the water-lily pond that inspired Monet and make a quilt of the same pond, is it unethical? Monet did it first? Or can we say the Monet inspired us to come up with our own art?

Technique is clearer. You can conceive of and teach a technique to someone. The artist can create an inspiration based on that technique. You can’t own a technique or there would have been only one Impressionist and one Renaissance artist. So, where does influence end and plagiarism begin.

All good food for thought. I’d be glad to hear your opinions, so comment away!

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