Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Old Craft vs. Art Question

So is this gracefully spiraling piece by Joseph Walsh, Lillium III, art or craft?

Or what about Poros by Nathan Cravan, which is actually a window (those bits of light you see are actually the trees, lawn, sky outside--and this is not a great photo)?

And then there is arrythmia by Chung Im-Kima piece that suggests a quilt because it uses industrial felt that is made of blocks silk screened (with a pattern based on an electrocardiogram) and hand stitched together.

Those of us who are artists who work in fiber or who call ourselves art quilters have had to deal with the craft vs. art question for a long time, but some museums and art galleries are just now discovering it. My local big name art museum, the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, just opened an exhibit titled "Crafted: Objects in Flux," which seeks to demonstrate that "the distinctions between art, design, and craft are shifting and porous." I, of course, had to see it. And it was well worth braving the Boston traffic jams to spend some time with all of the above works, as well as many more, like the spiralling room created by panels of indigo-dyed fabric sewn together and framed by one wall filled with the indigo plants the artist grew to dye the fabrics.

This exhibit implies that the MFA is answering the question in favor of the label art, but the exhibit also suggests that such labels become meaningless in the large gray area between the two. Many of the items in the exhibit play with your perceptions so that you are forced to see the world just a bit differently and that is always a worthy experience. And several of the works were created using CAD programs and 3D printers, another direction artists are taking and the art world will have to get used to.

And, to be fair, the MFA already places such works as one of El Anatsui's magnificent metal quilts made from found materials in the contemporary art section, but still they maintain a contemporary crafts gallery that houses such gems as this little sculpture made of wood, Familiar Strangers by Betty Scarpino.

Unequivocally art, in my opinion. But that is the point, I guess: The use of the two terms is opinion and only becomes an issue when a particular piece or medium is excluded from a show simply because of the labeling process. 

It's a beautiful, thought-provoking exhibit and, if you're still reading, thanks for the company!

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