Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fine Art and Fine Craft

Vintage Lady by TushTush on Etsy, $90
Rainy night here in Colorado last night and a bowl of popcorn warmed me up. Switched on PBS' Antiques Road Show for a bit and was flabbergasted by the New York appraiser who said, and I paraphrase
This 19th century woven portrait of a man is amazing in its detail. It is very difficult to get this kind of detail in any medium, and the fact that this is loom-woven is impressive. If this weren't a decorative art, if it were a fine art painting, it would easily be worth ten times the amount I can appraise it for today.

I almost choked on my popcorn! This seemed to be a blatant example of how the needle arts are undervalued, even when those who judge these items understand the painstaking effort that must be combined with artistic talent to create them.

How does this happen? In the 19th century and beyond, when wealthy individuals began supporting artists so that they could have portraits painted of themselves and their families, and in turn collect art and watch their investment and prestige grow, there seems to have been a short list of the artistic mediums that could be considered fine art. I'm no historian, but it seems that items made to decorate the homes of those who were not wealthy, perhaps made by someone not considered a fine artist by the upper class, were never considered quite as valuable. Was it a question of where the item was hung or whose portrait it was? There also seems to be a difference between that which is made by an "artist" and that which is made for oneself, even with guild training or equivalent expertise. The division between fine craft and fine art is still important to some. Fiber arts like weaving, needlework, embroidery, quilting...they appear to be too mundane for appraisers to take seriously, at least based on what I saw last night, regardless of the end result.

Robin's Egg Blue Pillow, $95
When I think of what I create for a living, which is fiber folk art, I don't use the words "decorative art", but I can see how others might. I may not make items that will be collected by those who want to watch their investment grow, but I know my folk art is collected by those who want to have in their home items that have been made with talent and love. I am proud to create charming decorative items, demonstrating fine craftsmanship and cheerful energy. Can an appraiser adequately quantify the cheerful energy of a wool bird perched on a wool cherry tree branch? They seem to be able to do so when it is made of paint and canvas. I submit that the person who made the antique woven portrait in last night's show demonstrated the same skills that a portrait artist would be praised for, and did so thread by thread, creating a completely realistic portrait of a soldier with a determination and perseverance that perhaps only those who know needle art can appreciate. In fact, I am amazed by the value, skill, and lasting contribution to the field of needle art made by this unnamed woman. Do you think the dismissed fiber artist was likely a woman? I cheer for whomever made this woven portrait. The charming portrait I found on Etsy by a shop called TushTush represents for me this unsung needle art heroine!

Thanks for stopping by,

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