There is no such thing as art; there is just making. The moment we start talking about art we are immediately immersed into a conversation of privilege and authority; just who is privileged to make art and who has the authority to discern whether something is art or not.
I’ve never liked the term “art,” even when I was in art school. Art is held in greater esteem than other forms of making, which has derived from a history of racism, misogyny, and classism. For centuries art was the purview of white men with leisure time. There were sporadic exceptions, but this is a truth that is only now being dismantled.
Terms like “outsider art” pretended to let others into the game, but there was always a patronizing element to it, the collecting of the art of the other carried its own accrual of status for the collector, a certain beneficence.
I am more interested in people’s practices as makers and the objects they create, whether they get called art or not. Interesting, challenging, fascinating objects will always draw my attention and get my time. Art doesn’t get a free pass just because it is called art; it needs to earn my attention.
And then of course there is the school of thought in which the will of the maker confers art status upon an object. In short, “I dub this art and so be it.” Honestly I think that is a load of hogwash; I can’t just start removing spleens and declare myself a surgeon. If all it takes to be an artist is to call oneself in artist, that is a trick bought cheap. But whenever I try to formulate an answer to just what makes art into art I get caught up in the old issues of privilege and authority.
All this inevitably brings me to art quilts, which has always felt like an uncomfortable term. I get that something was needed to speak generally about non-practical quilts, but I’m not sure art is the correct distinguisher from practical. First of all it implies that practical quilts are not art, hence somehow lesser due to the hierarchy of value we attribute to art. Secondly, most art quilts have little in common, in dialogue with contemporary art making. Of course impractical quits is a horrible term, but something that makes a distinction without resorting to art.
Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of bed quilts and wall quilts. That feels like a more natural point of inflection. Which brings me back to yesterday’s post and my recent turn toward making wall quilts, which feel very different from my bed quilts even though they will be utilizing the same techniques.
I don’t know. Maybe I think about this too much, but I don’t think so. I think this stuff matters. It is by carefully navigating all this terminology that we shed the racist, sexist, classist, heritage of art. It is only by getting this right (or closer to right) that we turn over the hegemony of power surrounding the art world, and quite frankly the quilt world. Maybe someday. I have a feeling I going to be stuck with the same mistakes of the art world here in the quilting world. Alas…