Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Craft or Sullen Art

Posted by: Kate

The first person to correctly guess Cold Comfort Farm was Barbara Tschantre.  For those of you who have not read the book, the "something nasty" is what crazy old Ada Doom saw in the woodshed when she was a little girl.  I think we can all safely assume it involved a farm hand, a cow, and activities that are illegal in most states.

Enough about Something Nasty, aka, Shadow of my Hand.  It's done with and waiting for a good photo, and then I'd like to talk your ear off about the meaning of it, but for now let's talk about another painting I did earlier this summer.  And by talk about it, I mean here are some in progress pics.

I actually did most of it during the Whidbey Island workshop.  My easel was set up in the antechamber where there is a fresh spread of cookies and cake every morning (and Cary is an excellent cook).  I was feeling kind of up and down about my painting so I probably put on about five pounds that week.  It's funny because the art center's motto is "Feeding Your Artistic Soul."

It's not the most interesting project to look at in progress.  It flew out really quickly and subsequent stages don't look that different from early ones.  However, it was an important painting for me because it required a lot of invention.  Normally I say that painting out of your head is a great way to prove that there's nothing worth painting in your head, but more and more these days I'm challenging myself to paint my interior impression of the scene and not just what's in front of me.  I'm not always successful, and when I'm not, I have Dave to let me know.  And it's not like he has any filters or anything.

The subject is Dorrie.  Dorrie is the grandmother of one of my cousins, and the reason I wanted to paint her is because she is pretty much the only other artist in my vast family connection.  Some people like to get all supercilious up in my grill and say that quilting and other textile arts are crafts, not fine art, and of course I can see that there are plenty of unartistic people knitting and weaving and quilting.  But Dorrie exalts textile media and she approaches her crafts like true art forms.  I think there was a good long period of time when most women couldn't be artists, but instead found an outlet in the crafts that were available to women and women only.  Sometimes I wonder how many Artemisias were stuck with thimble and thread, and that was the end all of their artistic expression.

I think if I could show you pictures of Dorrie's studio, everyone would immediately agree that she is an Artiste and practically has a beret built into her head.

The title of this painting, "Craft or Sullen Art," comes from a poem by Dylan Thomas.  I lurve Dylan Thomas.  You can google the poem if you feel like it (I'm not going to force you to peer into his esoteric verbage here), but if you don't I'll just give you a brief synopsis.  Thomas writes his poetry not for "ambition or bread," for the proud men or the dead, but for the "lovers [who] lie abed."  When I visited Dorry in her studio this spring to take photos, she told me that she made a quilt for each of her children and grandchildren when they were married.  It immediately reminded me of Dylan Thomas's poem about laboring at his art for the sake of the lovers in the world.  And of course I totally dug the juxtaposition of "craft" and "art" in one line.  Because art will always have a relationship, sometimes contemptuous of and sometimes dependent upon, craft.

UPDATE: Someone asked for a link to the poem.  


  1. Love how you wrote this and love what you wrote. Yup, back in the day before we became liberated, women could hide their creativity in plain sight in the "crafts" they made. They were unimportant enough where we had free reign.

    Also, as to the craft vs. art dichotomy…I don't think the line should be drawn based on what medium you use.
    To me, craft is being able to do something really really well, over and over again with consistent quality.

    Art is being able to invent and create new and personal perspectives and let your soul and heart and brain guide your hand.

    The best art combines the two.

    You can be a craftsman who uses oil paint if you've developed a style that you can consistently reproduce to make clouds and trees, and you do it over and over because it sells.

    You can be an artist who sews quilts if there is a creative freshness and uniqueness to them and they make the viewer think beyond the warmth they provide.

    Anyway, I ramble. Must paint now! Thanks for the morning "think"!

  2. Thanks for posting this, Kate. Nice to see the progression from a careful drawing through to the end (assuming that last image is the finish). My sis was a textile designer with a passion for her art. I agree whole-heartedly that quilting and other textile arts require a high level of commitment and creativity, and deserve our high regard.

  3. That hand
    Is simply breathtaking

  4. could we have a link to the poem?.

    1. I've added the link to the bottom of the post.

  5. I'm a little confused about the transition that I see around objects at times in your work... like around the hand... what are you doing that creates that? It goes from a dark rich area to a more grey color...it looks more wet, deep or rich. Is that just an area that you are working on and it's still wet?

    1. The area has been oiled out using Oleogel. Usually we only use medium at the very final layers.

    2. What Dave said. Those transitions disappear when the painting is varnished.