Craft vs. Art

Ken Price: “Untitled Two Parts”

For a while now, I’ve been intrigued by a comment by Ken Price, a ceramic sculptor, an artist.  Since he sometimes did representational shapes like cups, saucers and covered jars, the “cultural prejudice against clay as a hobby-craft material unsuitable for major art” reared its head to often typecast him as a craftsman, not an artist  (quotes from an article in the LATimes).  Just like our quilts.  My art professor in college, when I asked him when he’d ever okay a show of quilts, said “Over my dead body.”  He was kidding (well, maybe not) and the answer stung.  I realized that even though there is now more recognition for the quilt as an art form, too often we are put in the craft category.  So I was intrigued by the following quote (also from the LATimes article):

Price did distinguish between craft and art, but it’s important to note that he respected them both.  “A craftsman knows what he’s going to make and an artist doesn’t know what he’s going to make,” he once said, “or what the finished product is going to look like.”

These words did echo in my head as I worked on English Elizabeth.  Like Price, I took my fabrics and my technical skills and knew that somewhere I’d end up with a quilt.  But I didn’t know what I was going to make, or what the finished product was going to look like.  My quilts will never hang in a museum, but the journey for this quilt was so different than my usual, that Price’s words resonated.

There’s an interesting energy that comes from trying something new, or to use a cliché: “stepping out of your comfort zone.”  Usually, for me, a quilt begins at the computer, doodling around in my computer program or imitating something I’d seen before, but this process–to create out of whole cloth, literally, was an experience that I found seductive, scary and immensely satisfying.

5 thoughts on “Craft vs. Art

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this blog post. I have long wondered why masterpiece quilts are not considered works of art by the “main stream” art community. I paint and I quilt. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to plan and execute an art quilt – as much skill as one who paints. I’ve decided that the attitude is driven by a combination of ignorance and snobbery. Thanks for putting this issue out there. I’d love to see a response to this post by an “artist” with that attitude or by your college art professor. Great post!

    Cheery wave!


  2. Using a pattern and following a color pattern, now that may be craft, but what you do is, in my mind, most definitely art. Your work is not just about the skill of the craft; it is about the vision and creativity of the artist.

  3. There is a sense of snobbery that comes with the label “craft” right now. I would love to be considered a craftsman/woman/person but after a (forced and painful) viewing of “Craft Wars”, I realize that the word seems to have been devalued over time. I do, too, love the artist label since it doesn’t require me to limit my medium and I can write, paint, sew, etc with impunity. Not everything I do is art, or even well-crafted (as a recent and very shoddily contructed tool pouch can attest), but I do feel that as much as the word “craft” has been devalued, we have also devalued the idea of quilting as art and ourselves as artists, when we dismiss items we’ve made as “just a quilt” or ourselves as “just a quilter or our passions as “just a hobby.” We also need to be careful not to do the same to other artists, even if we can’t readily identify them as such in our own minds. Thanks for the brain food!

    Also, been meaning to comment on your Four-In-Art works… I love English Elizabeth, and indeed the entire concept of your group! I can’t wait to see the next edition. 🙂

  4. We get a magazine called the Crafts Report. The new issue arrived yesterday and there was a letter to the editor that totally shocked me. “…I don’t care to see some new crafter’s work, no matter how good you think they are. If they’re not an established professional, it doesn’t inspire me…” Wow…

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