Thursday, September 16, 2004

Buying Fiber Art

In the most recent issue of Needlearts, the EGA newsletter, Shirley Kay Wolfersperger bemoans the lack of sales for fiber arts. They exhibit it, but we don't buy it. She wants to know why. That, I thought, is a really good question. Her friend the gallery owner said that people don't buy fiber art because they aren't educated about it. This is probably true. But what really caught my attention was this:

From embroiderers I hear many comments, such as, "I don't need to buy that, because I can learn to do it," or "this is just what my Great-aunt Charlotte did, and I have enough of that."

A person can know how to do oils yet still want to buy a Picasso. The modern fiber artists are no Picassos? How do you know? ...My Great-aunt Charlotte never did anything like what I do--never even dreamed of it. (11)

She then goes on to encourage embroiderers like us to buy embroidery since we know good from bad and great from mediocre. This will start the trend and more people will become collectors.

When I finished the article, I thought all sorts of conflicting thoughts. First, I'm not so sure we do know the great from the mediocre. I was once in a museum that displayed cross-stitch pieces that had hoop marks. (It was in conjunction with--althought not part of--The Dinner Party, and these mediocre pieces had been done by recognized artists--not necessarily recognized embroiderers.) I also have a tendency not to like the stuff that
EGA exhibits. So who decides what is great? Now I totally agree the fiber artists don't get their props because they're mostly women and it's mostly men (and the patriarchal system) that decide what's "great" when it comes to Art. But still, I'm not buying the Picasso if I don't like it.

Then I thought, "when's the last time I was in a gallery of any sort?" I think a lot of us have the DIY spirit because we just don't have money to splash around on art, let alone Art. I'm not even talking about spending money on antique needlework pieces.
I thought this as I was standing in my bedroom. I saw a little irony in my thinking--over the bed hangs a weaving from Indonesia (from my sister's trip), next to the bed is a button blanket from the Tlingit Indians in Alaska (honeymoon souvenir), on the other side of the window is a batik from India (our Indian friend brought it back for us) and that hangs near the mola I picked up in the San Blas Islands. So I do buy textiles, but the pieces have particular nostalgic meaning. (And now that I think of it, "art" produced basically for the tourist industry may or may not be art.)

Beyond the obvious monetary reasons for doing it ourselves, we love to touch the fabric, to choose the colors, to feel the threads. It may not be art but it's ours. If I buy something from a Fiber Artist, where do I get my tactile satisfaction? I'm not putting my fingers on something I just paid $500 for.

What about Aunt Charlotte? Aunt Charlotte's copies of patterns drawn by someone else might not be Fine Art, but we're back to the idea of nostalgia. There is something about having her work hanging around the house versus the work of some artist I don't know. There's a spiritual connection to Aunt Charlotte as well as the familial one.

That's what I thought when I read Wolfsperger's "Point of View."

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