It’s wonderful to come across some art criticism that doesn’t pull its punches. Peter Plagens’ recent review of the Whitney Biennial ( the major New York show that tries to “take a look at the art world in general and see what’s happening now” ) in May’s Art in America describes the show as tepid and vanilla and “stunningly unromantic”. His review is anything but tepid and vanilla with tasty little barbs (maybe the change in university art programs is “finally bearing dried fruit”) and spicy acid drops ( art works that exercise “all due artistic license for incompleteness, indeterminacy and superficial effect”). One of his major concerns is that the show is “passionless” and dim. His other main complaint is work that is so much focused on technique alone that it “scratches “ your eyeballs.
And how many shows have we seen in the quilt world that fall exactly into these two difficulties? Many works are quite prosaic and predictable – “ah yes! seen that, seen that”. Sadly, some of the most able amongst us are some of the most guilty of this. Art quilters should not be cola drink manufacturers (find a successful formula and stick to it!). It’s tempting yes, because probably (as Coca Cola found) the profits are higher that way, the public always prefers the familiar even if they don’t know who they’re voting for!
Nor should our work be solely about technique. Too often it is evident that the artist/quiltmaker’s starting point was a technique in which they’d just taken a workshop (or many workshops!). There’s a place for learning technique and showing it – the beginning.
So, I’m excited by the preview images we’ve seen (Terry Jarrard-Dimond’s blog May 19(link in side bar)) of Nancy Crow’s new work to be seen at the Schweinfurth gallery this summer. These quilts do not come in vanilla! Nancy uses supersaturated colour which is concentrated even more by mixing black and white elements boldly. The lines and shapes are formidable: firm and uncompromising. The techniques are quiet and strong, they hold the work without drawing attention to themselves.
Let’s move forward, avoid passionless predictability, and make all art quilt shows shine with a brighter light than the old stalwarts of the fine art world. We want no “usual abundance of mediocre work”, pieces that are “not awful, but disappointing”, nor any “intricately silly and surprisingly joyless” work! I challenge the mid and mature career art quiltmakers to learn from the fine art world, and prove that quilts are a strong gutsy medium (not grandmothers’ feminine flim-flam as so many of them think) that can deliver powerful and abiding art.
And now to see if I can follow my own advice! Do read Plagen’s article – it’s fascinating to see the struggles within the contemporary “fine” art world and to compare them to our art quilt events….and comment! oh yes, please comment! If you have been, thanks for reading. Elizabeth.