Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's an art quilt?

I was asked by a fellow artist the other day, why so many different names for art made from fiber, i.e. art quilt, fiber art, textile art, mixed media, etc. She also made a statement that as she has perused other artists blogs and websites, what she often sees that is referred to as quilt art, has nothing to do with quilts. She was somewhat confused. I attempted to explain how I see the differences and why different people might want to refer to what they do differently. That attempt follows:

What is an art quilt? According to several organizations, the definition of a quilt is, 2 or more layers held together by stitching. Most will have a fabric sleeve on the back for hanging with a rod. An art quilt is intended for the wall, and may or may not have, any number of surface design treatments, using applique' and/or other media, such as paint, ink, photo transfer, beads, yarns, and found objects attached in one way or another to create the image.

Most quilt shows now have a category for art quilts. As a matter of fact the International Quilt Association show in Houston every year is really dedicated to the art quilt as well as "the art of quilting", offering thousands of dollars in awards for the most outstanding work. The American Quilters Society is another large association that has large shows offering awards, and has a quilt museum in Paducah, KY.

Contemporary quilting is very different from the quilts our foremothers made. The majority are no longer only utilitarian pieces made from clothing scraps. The patterns are well thought out, drafted and executed using a sense of color and design to enhance the pattern. The quilting, or stitching, patterns themselves have evolved into being more and more complex. The majority of quilts are quilted by machine rather than hand. Even if a quilt is intended for the bed, coordinating and contrasting colors and fabrics forming the design, present a contemporary way of creating quilts.

I believe there is a bit of politics involved as well when referring to ones art as art quilt, fiber/textile or mixed media art. In my experience, as soon as someone hears the word "quilt", grandma's bed quilt/blanket tend to be the associations. For some, to call themselves fiber or textile artists, or mixed media artists, gets away from that perception, and they feel their work won't be prejudged by the term quilt. These artists may want to become involved in gallery shows as well as, or instead of, quilt shows.

Not all fiber art meets the definition of a quilt. Some artists frame their work, or put it on stretchers to hang. In these cases, the work may not consist of layers held together by stitch, but instead may be any treatment of fabric or use of fibers in a surface design. My own work consists of both art forms, the art quilt, and fiber art that is intended to be framed or stretched as a canvas. Therefore, I refer to myself as a mixed media and/or fiber or textile artist.

For more information on textile art go to: Studio Art Quilters Assocation and/or the Surface Design Association

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