Marketing Mondays: The "Adjective" Artist. How Do You Define Yourself?

A short while back, a reader with the nom de blog of Quilt Works asked, “Have you ever done features on fiber artists?” Man, did she push a button!

Love the Work, Hate the Adjective
Let me start out by saying this: Quilt Works, I mean you no disrespect. I love quilts and textiles. Amish quilts, Gee’s Bend quilts, Faith Ringgold’s quilts, Alighero e Boeti’s embroidered canvases, and the work in fiber of many other artists, well known or lesser so. So it’s not the medium that pushes my button but the use of the adjective as a means of identification.

Allie Pettway quilt. Pettway is one of the Gee's Bend Quilters represented by the New York gallery Ameringer/McEnery/Yohe. (Image from the Internet)

In one of my first posts for this blog, I wrote my personal manifesto, I Am Not an Encaustic Artist. As I said in the post, I work in the medium because it allows me to express myself in the best possible way, but I don't want to be defined by it. Encaustic is something I use (and love using), but it's not who I am.

Polly Apfelbaum's "fallen paintings" made with fabric dye on cut fabric: fiber art or painting? (Image from the Internet)

Avoid the Typecasting
Those of us who work in particular mediums—whether encaustic or fiber, metalpoint or clay, or any one of a number of other at-the-edges-of-mainstream materials—run the risk of being pigeonholed by the particularity of the material. We didn’t go to “fiber art school” or “metalpoint school.” We went to art school where we tried a variety of materials. As artists we express ourselves in the medium that resonates for us.
It’s easy to get typecast, and from there to hear a comment like, “We already showed one fiber artist this year.” Could you imagine a dealer saying that about oil? (Those Sopranos actors are dealing with a similar issue right now, I’ll bet. Lots of opportunities to play thugs, but romantic leads? Not so much.)

I’ll bet that Oliver Herring, when he was crocheting his sculptures a decade ago, called himself a sculptor, not a fiber artist (he was just on the cover of the September Art News, by the way). I'll bet Shinique Smith, who works with baled forms, and Peter Weber, who works with folded felt, do not call themselves fiber artists.

Shinique Smith: work from a recent solo exhibition at Yvon Labert Gallery
Peter Weber: from a show at Thatcher Projects in 2008

Maybe you think I’m being petty
Who has the more visible careers—“fiber artists” or non-adjectival artists like Apfelbaum, Smith, and Weber? "Fiber artists" or Tracy Emin, whose recent work consisted of stitched blankets? “Encaustic artists” or a painter like Jasper Johns, who employs encaustic in his work?
To answer Quilt Works’s question, I have written about artists who work with fiber or fiber constructions. My report from the 2009 Armory week in New York, for instance, included a post called Sew Me the Money, which included Emin’s blankets, El Anatsui’s wall-size bottle-cap constructions (you could easily call them tapestries), Mary Heilmann’s woven chairs, and other work.

Interestingly, any of the aforementioned artists who work with fiber could easily be the subject of a feature in a textile magazine, but the reverse does not hold true. How many self-identified weavers, for instance, have you see in in Art in America? There is plenty of work in fiber in those publications, but it's under the conventional art categories of painting, sculpture, work on paper, maybe installation. Indeed, when I was looking at some of the textile-influenced work at shows during Armory week in New York, I couldn't help thinking that I've seen so much better by artists who might define themselves as "fiber artists"--but much of the rest of the art world hasn't seen this work because it's sequestered in "fiber" and "textile" shows.

(The quilts are an interesting issue on their own. Those that spring out of a particular culture--Amish or Gee's Bend, or Navajo weaving for that matter, may be included in museum and gallery shows, but typically under the cultural rubric; individual artists often remain anonymous.)

Jasper Johns: "encaustic artist" or painter? Installation from Focus: Jasper Johns at MoMA in early 2009
"Fiber art" or art? Tracey Emin stitched blanket at White Cube Gallery's booth at the Armory Fair, March 2009

Acknowledging our Commonalities, Limiting our Limitations
I love materiality, and I understand the powerful need for artists to align themselves with others. I have done it myself--and still do when the occasion seems appropriate to me. But as a general means of identification, no. I currently run an annual conference for painters who work in encaustic, and some years ago I edited a magazine called Fiberarts, which is still published. I think the specific focus of a publication or event provides a place for artists who work in a particular medium to show their work to that particular audience, to share information and network. This is true of other "adjectives" as well: women artists, black artists, gay artists, and artists of any ethnicity or culture. It can be emotionally fulfilling, to say nothing of professionally helpful, to align ourselves with others who are who we are, who do what we do. But not all the time; that's a ghetto.

Besides, we have many adjectives to describe us; where would it end? Without denying any part of how I identify myself in the world, for instance, it would nevertheless be ridiculous to ghettoize myself artistically as a mid-career Italian-American lesbian feminist encaustic artist.

I've come to this point of view over time: The more narrowly we define ourselves, the narrower our opportunities will be.

So you can count on me to write about art made with all of all kinds of materials--and to discuss the materials--but without defining the artist by the medium, as much as it is possible do so.

Over to You
Do/did you define your art (or your artist self) with an adjective? Do you you struggle with the "adjective" issue? How do you deal with it? Do you feel you've ever been eliminated, overlooked, or dismissed because of the adjective rather than the work? Do you think you may have limited your own opportunities for grants or exhibitions because of the way you define your art? Or, has it helped you?



Pamela Farrell said...

Joanne: Thanks for this post. I love these conversations about identity. I don't struggle so much with my "medium" identity since like many artists, I have worked in a variety of media over the years: clay, printmaking, photography, sculpture, encaustic, oil, and most recently, digital media. One adjective simply won't do. I use the tools and materials that allow me to do what I want in the best possible way.

In terms of being affected by my use of adjectives, I guess I'll never really know, aside from the occasional comment from a gallerist here or there. But I do take opportunities in conversation when I am introduced as "encaustic artist" to amend that with a more accurate "I work in several mediums besides wax" and then go on to talk about whatever it is I'm doing at the moment, rather than limiting my presentation of myself by use of a single modifier. I consider it a chance to educate folks who may not have any real reason to be considering these issues for themselves.

A bigger concern for me, and perhaps best discussed in a separate post, is the question of defining ourselves as artists by using modifiers such as "emerging", "established", "mid-career" when looking at galleries, grants, or residencies. I find these categories subjective and confusing, and I'll bet I'm not the only one.

Rebecca said...

Excellent post, Joanne. I do work in fiber, have my MFA and shy away from any reference to my medium. Somehow, though, galleries seem to want to know my medium and I often get the wrinkled nose look - I don't know, perhaps as a way to say "No"? I don't worry about it too much, if I don't fit with the gallery the adjective isn't going to be a plus or a minus. But I do hate being pigeon-holed by certain galleries.

CMC said...

Great post, Joanne. I remember the post on "I'm not an encaustic artist" since I was new to wax. I totally agree.

I am an artist/painter whatever medium I am using and try never to put an adjective in front of the word artist.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, all. Pam, your comment about "Emerging," "midcareer" and other identities is another good post idea. I'll get to it after the new year (i.e. after the upcoming annual Miami art fair reporting extravaganza).

And to think: I wondered if I'd have enough ideas to sustain the MM series. Now I know that's not a problem. But will I have the time?

Philip Koch said...

Joanne, your point is well taken. normally it's better just to describe oneself as an artist. You want to place as big a frame around yourself as possible.

There are some occasions when adding the adjective is a benefit- it depends on who's the audience. I'm in a show right now devoted to "Southern Landscape Painters." That's not how I usually think of myself, but it fits the needs of the gallery that is trying to reach collectors in its central Virginia location. So 'southern landscape painter"- you bet!

Dalen said...

Interesting post. When I think of the usefulness of categories and adjectives, my mind goes to marketing materials (business cards, artist statements, exhibition announcements, etc). When an artist gets big enough, their name is their "brand" and adjectives are not really necessary.

What I'm currently struggling with, as a pre-emerging(?) artist (I feel that classification is helpful as a point of reference to my particular problem) is putting together/making a cohesive body of work. My interest and skills align with figurative drawing & painting, abstract painting, as well as conceptual art. I feel pressure to define myself in one subject category. But I want to neither limit myself nor be self-defeating in my efforts by switching back and forth.

Daniel Sroka said...

Photographers (sorry, "artists who use cameras") run into this problem all the time. Far too often, I encounter galleries or shows that blandly announce "no photographers allowed", thereby ignoring a whole set of artists merely because of their tools.

Even though I am a photographer, I find that don't relate to most photographers. Instead, I find that most of my "art friends" are painters and sculptors: I relate much more closely to how they think and work.

Kirsty Hall said...

I absolutely agree. People often describe me as 'a textile artist' because I've used things like fabric and pins in the last couple of years. However, it's not a label I choose for myself for exactly the reasons you stated. Also, it's just not accurate - where does 'textile artist' leave my drawing, my performance and my installation work? I describe myself as a contemporary sculptor.

Stephanie Clayton said...

Petty? Not at all. I remember reading "I Am Not an Encaustic Artist" and it struck a cord, as does this post.

For my work, I resist assigning media labels and sometimes even ones of genre, such as "monochrome painter", particularly as I do more than paint in monochrome. To that end, I completely agree with Joanne. I've experienced first hand how limiting such labels are. Much better to say, for example, "I use fabric in my work", IMO.

Thanks for this post. Interesting topic!

I'd also be interested in a post, as Pam Farrell suggested, on labels which i.d. where one is in one's career...once the Miami fairs are finished.

Unknown said...

I use an adjective that does not limit my work - interdisciplinary artist. This label doesn't pigeon-hole me into either the technique (painting, drawing, sculpting, photographing) or the medium (fiber, glass, found object, encaustic, plaster, clay), but instead serves as a great springboard both for my practice and for great discussions.

Kathleen said...

Thanks for another great post, Joanne. I agree completely with your sentiments. My identity as an artist is a constant; How I'm working in terms of medium and ideas can be variable. I find it helpful to keep that separation in mind.

To paraphrase Toni Morrison: The medium is the vehicle, not the point.

Caleb Taylor said...

The baggage of our vocabulary can influence our perceptions of certain terms/titles. In graduate school, I was defiant against being called a "process artist." I had made the assumption that this title referred to Eva Hesse-esque artists with a neutral palette, delicate materials, and meditative working methods and that WAS NOT me (insert fist pounding). How ridiculous, right? The more I worked, the more my process defined the concepts, so I changed my mind.

So are we responsible for these adjectives because we formed memberships and conferences that are media specific? I realize how we make these assumptions when in large groups such as conferences and residencies. I love going to these events to focus, but do they categorize us? Maybe these adjectives are coming from an urge to place ourselves historically. I've done this to myself before and need to remember not to ("I make paintings like..."). All of these comments are what create the mental images that are usually misrepresenting.

I believe these questions should be considered when developing your "elevator pitch." Otherwise, make your work and don't worry about it.

Catherine Carter said...

Interesting post, Joanne.

Yes, media as adjective is limiting, to others' perceptions of you and perhaps eventually your own sense of identity.

A personal anecdote from a "get the work out there" standpoint: Whenever I'm working on a painting and have decided it's bombed beyond repair, I press a piece of paper onto it and roll a brayer over it.

I've never thought of myself as a printmaker, but I asked a friend who teaches printmaking and he said, sure, just because you don't use a press, doesn't mean it isn't a print.

Last spring, I showed my "prints" in 3 printmaking exhibits. So if I had continued to think of myself as "just a painter," I wouldn't have had those opportunities.

Donna Dodson said...

I market myself as an artist but I describe my work according to each series. I struggle with the term 'wood carving' versus sculpting in wood or wood sculpture. I use them interchangeably but try to let the work speak for itself. If other people have eliminated, overlooked, or dismissed me because of the adjective rather than the work I can't control that. I'm very careful about the way I describe my work and I think it's kind of cool for people to think about a woman running a chain saw and using power tools all day long.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Excellent post on a topic I deal with all the time. I work with fabric and I use quilt making techniques but I do not make quilts. Because of this use of technique, I have used the term "quiltmaker" a few times to other artists and have seen them instantly lose interest in what I had to share. I "tried on" a number of titles: Art Quilter, Studio Quilter, Quilt Artists etc. Finally I claimed the title I felt most descriptive: Artist. The process I use to develop ideas and the experience I have in my studio, is the same as when I worked with metal, wood or other mixed media and not to claim the title is to deny what I do and who I am.

Tina Mammoser said...

Such a good post - thank you! I've always introduced myself just as a painter but even then find the question "oil or acrylic?" swiftly follows, when I don't think it's relevent other than as the medium suits my image-making. People want to define art - find its correct shelf, a category that makes it understandable to a non-art mind. However, artists and galleries should not fall into this trap, we should be the ones using that starting point to broaden people's understanding.

The next level of adjective is of course the subject matter one. Nothing irks me more than being introduced as an abstract painter, to which I swiftly respond with "landscapes and seascapes" which opens up the conversation.

M said...

What's left of say? The responses elaborate your theme very well.

I always define myself as a visual artist first and foremost then I qualify that depending on my purpose and audience. e.g. I am a visual artist whose mixed media work or encaustic work etc...

You know you've written a great post when you get such thoughtful responses. Thanks for instigating this discussion.

Marjorie Glick said...

I just discovered this blog and I love it! Thank you Joanne. Regarding this post, I think I mostly agree, but the reality is: The art world, galleries and museums seem obsessed with labels.If your work /medium is easily stereotyped, than I think a label of your own making can help. My work is difficult to label, I'm a painter who makes large scale realism watercolor landscapes (there's a label right there!) that are unique to me and not at all typical of what many people label as watercolor. There is a pre-conceived notion in peoples heads that the medium I work in is not as significant as oils or acrylics. For me, It helps me if label myself in a way that somehow conveys the seriousness of what I do.For many of us who work in mediums that are often stereo typed,I thnk it is important to at least be able to have a quick sentence about what sets your work apart from the stereo type. This is agreat discussion. Thanks again.
Marjorie Glick

Annie B said...

I'm a new printmaker, been making prints for the past 5 years. It's been good for me to describe myself as a printmaker during this time, as I've networked with other printmakers, shared technique, and made the rounds of print shows and fairs. I'm just now feeling the limitations of this self-definition and seeing the potential for getting trapped in a sort of printmaking "ghetto" so this post is timely for me.

kim matthews said...

One of my friends says that if your description is "(insert medium here) artist," it probably means you're not an artist at all. It's harsh but I have to agree with him--if your medium is more important than your ideas, you're likely to be a craftsperson, not an artist. One of the reasons I left my last gallery is because the owner kept calling me a "paper artist," not a sculptor and I couldn't accept the misrepresentation of my work.

Anonymous said...

Marginalized or not, I don't necessarily have a problem with the term "fiber art". If an artist wants to exclude themselves from a broader audience and deal only in media specific concerns, then so be it. If the artist cared enough to be thought of as something more, they would define it in their own words.

That said, I think there are some great and amazing "fiber artists", but until they begin to define themselves in a broader context people outside of the realm of that media probably aren't going to care. Fair or not, that's what these artists are up against.

On the other hand, "Installation Art" is all the rage, so if you want to engage in that dialogue I'm sure someone will pay just have to know how to play the game.

Unknown said...

For me the problem lies with how the work is perceived, not only by a general audience, but by critics. When it's so narrowly characterized, it seems to limit the spectrum of ideas that people are able to consider in the work. I decided no more of these types of shows a few years ago when I was in something called "Uncommon Threads" with a group of my wire sculptures. It was in a small museum. One of my pieces was featured in an article and color photo on the front of the Boston Globe arts section --yay--under the caption "Women Stitch Quilt from Past and Present"--kinda dumb and not so cool (none of the dozen or so artists in that show were "stitching quilts").
Because for me the ideas are the most important part of the work, I only show as a plain old artist now, no matter how prestigious the venue might be.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, all for your great comments. Is there anyone out there who diagrees? We won't jump on you. Right now we're all preaching to the choir (though a great choir it is).

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your points. There's just one sticking point -- it seems so damn NAKED to put the one word, artist, on your business card and resume!!

But then as I think more on the subject, I realize it's natural for people to want to be given a definition of other people in the very earliest stages of a relationship. Perhaps it's dumb and counterproductive for us to want quick definition rather than take the time to learn to know people in a more deliberate way, but in today's fast-paced world that's the situation.

So do you shoot yourself in the foot by refusing to provide even the most minimal definition for others to seize upon? Do other people (some of whom may be in a position to do you good -- buy your work, give you a show, etc.) get turned off when you provide no clues?

Or to put it another way, is the refusal to provide definition an insult to other people? Are we saying "if you want to know more about me, you're just going to have to take the time to do research, or wait till I reveal myself to you on my own schedule"? And if we're saying that, perhaps other people are justified in thinking "to hell with her -- I have better ways to spend my time than doing research on somebody I don't know from Adam."

Kathleen Loomis

Joanne Mattera said...


This is a good question. I'll tell you what's on my business card: My name. The background is a detail of a painting, so I don't feel I need to describe myself. But even if there were a plain white background, it would still have just my name. (The back contains a mailing address and URLs for my website and blog.)

But I'm not defiantly closemouthed about medium. When someone asks, "What do you do?" Or "What kind of art do you make?" I say that I'm a painter, that I work in a manner I describe as 'lush minimalism,' which means a reductive image achieved with saturated color in sumptuous medium: wax. I describe my work as color fields--or "color plots," because I often work small.

If the conversation drifts toward the visual content, I talk about getting to the essence of my thinking, which involves color with an underpinning of grids or a repeated geometric element.If it veers toward material, I talk about luminosity and materiality. I steer clear, as much as possible, about technique.

I try not to have an "elevator" description but rather a stream of conversational elements whose content depends on what I'm thinking and doing at the time, as well as the interest of the person I'm speaking with.

So the point is not to refuse to provide information or definition, but to keep the door open--"I am an artist"--rather than defining it by medium or material, because then the conversation, and the opportunites, will be based on what you use, not what you make.

Anonymous said...

Joanne -- I agree with you entirely in terms of how to have conversations on the subject. In person my first remark is "I'm an artist." If the person wants to know more, I might say that I make art about politics. If they're still interested, the conversation can go two ways: more about politics, or over to medium. This latter turn is the most likely, because people usually want to get some more definition, and they will ask what medium I work in, or sometimes they will phrase it as "are you a painter?"

At this point I will tell them that I work in fibers, and then noting the note of confusion on the faces, I usually can't avoid the Q word, which I try so hard to put later and later in the conversation, lest everything get derailed with the "oh yes, my grandmother made quilts" kissoff.

But this works only when you are there with the person, having a two-way conversation and able to gauge the listener's response. You can't do this in writing.

Kathleen Loomis

Joanne Mattera said...

Yes, but in writing, YOU control what you want the viewer to know about your work.

Joyce Owens said...

I hate it when I come in late to the discussion...but first of all, great points by all...

The main problem, in my opinion, is general ignorance about artists, art forms and materials. Let's get the arts in public schools in a significant way.

And the second problem is the word "artist". In current parlance "artist" often doesn't refer to visual artists, but everyone else in the arts: musicians, actors, film makers, authors...

And, of course, they ARE artists, artistic, creative, etc. but the word actor is much more descriptive of a person who is a thespian, than artist. You might as well just say artists are people.

So how do we get the press to write, and the "artists" to self identify in a way that does not confuse us all? Singers are artists. Fine. But why can't a singer be a singer? Why does a singer have to be an artist?

The Gees Bend women thought they were quilters and turned out to be modern artists. Faith Ringgold is a painter who simply found a way to make large scale work that shipped in tubes. So the quilting came into play to finish off her paintings...knowledge will help us all.

Thanks, Joanne.
See what I mean?

Joanne Mattera said...

Joyce asks: "So how do we get the press to write, and the "artists" to self identify in a way that does not confuse us all?" Good question.

A few dedicated critics aside, the press typically refers to a press release when writing about work.

The writer of the press release, typically someone at the gallery, refers to the artist statement or other information provided by the artist.

So we go back to the issue of how we identify ourselves and our work. (The statement is a topic for another post, though it's relevant here in terms of where a gallery might find its initial information for the press.) I think the artists who want a broader career will opt for the less restrictive descriptions--artist, painter, sculptor, for example--while the ones who are comfortable in a smaller world (and there's nothing wrong with that if they're happy with that smaller world) will retain an adjective. I'm not saying that someone who wishes to define herself or himself as a "fiber artist" shouldn't do so, but just be aware of the consequences of the definition.

(I do think the Gees Bend phenomenon is an anomaly. Wonderful, but an anomaly nonetheless. Most of the time the individual artists disappear into the identity of the group, which I think was initially promoted by Ted Turner or Jane Fonda or some other high-powered figure.)

Julie Caves said...

Hi Joanne! Lots of great responses.
As a painter and maker of artists' books I stick with artist until I can give a clearer, fuller explanation. I tried business cards that said artist, but it felt odd, so for years now they have had my name only. The image says enough. Also "artist" is a charged word in itself, especially among non-artists. (Another discussion, perhaps.)

I think my biggest issue is trying to “steer clear of technique” in discussing the work. Viewers who wish to speak to me will say that they are drawn to the colour, surface and layers, the “lushness” and they ALL want to know how I did it. My last open studio: in 3 days I gave dozens of mini tutorials on how to make a Julie Caves painting. I didn’t mind. But my friends thought I was “giving away my secrets” and giving away everything I learned the hard way. I still didn’t mind, because to me the technique is interesting but not the most important part of the work. The idea and what it makes the viewer see or think about and that people keep coming back to look again are why I make work. So now that I have thought about it, spending all my time explaining techniques bugs me exactly because it is not the important part of the work, not the part that needs talking about. So: any tips on steering the conversation when the direct question is How did you do that?

Joanne Mattera said...

Julie asks: How do you steer the conversation away from technique?

I get this when I do an artist talk, usually in conjunction with a show. I'll spend a chunk of time talking about my work--the reductive geometry of it, the light, the color--and then the first question is invariably, "How did you make it?" or "What k ind of ventilation do you use?"

I usually say, "I'll answer this one technical question, but I'd like to refocus the discussion on the way and the why of my work, not how I made it. Tech talk is for a workshop."

Natalya Khorover Aikens said...

thank you for these wise words!

Joanie Gagnon San Chirico said...

All I can say is THANK YOU! I've been telling fiber artists this same thing for years.

Many fiber artists wear blinders and only enter all fiber shows.. and for what? To get recognition from other artists of the same genre?

They never look at the broader art world, never visit art museums, never pick up an art magazine. It's all about education, and I don't mean just learning another technique.

Sherri Woodard Coffey said...

I have been told that I should call myself an artist, but have a hard time not calling myself a weaver. I'm working on it. This post clarifies the whole concept for me. Thanks.

Lainie said...

I agree with much of this but also with the commenter who pointed out that artist is itself a loaded word. Not every person who makes things is an artist, but it shouldn't be a hierarchy where one pursuit is better than another. This whole issue seems especially troubling with fiber because of the gender imbalance and all the resulting issues of ghettoizing and trivializing.

Deb Lacativa said...

Thanks for covering this topic from all the angles I have been merely grumbling to myself over for some time now. I've long felt that pulling on that "quiltart" blankie has been more of a liability than benefit.

I'm just about finished with fiber venues and have started applying to
(and getting into one or two) mixed media opportunities and it feels new and strange. Time to rewrite and rethink my car(?)eer

A few years ago I dropped any mention of complex fiber techniques
from the web gallery of my work. The next time I'm asked to supply
an artist statement "Because I wanted to and the stuff was there"
will be summing it up.

Deb Lacativa

Anonymous said...

figures ~ I just had my Moo cards printed with fiber artist:)

lisette said...

thank you so much for this - i have been struggling to describe what i do - if i say 'art quilts' people think something pieced and appliqued, if i say textile artist they think rugs and nothing captures the playing i do with all sorts of media from paper to silk, canvas, paint, feathers, copper wire and ink. maybe i'll be brave enough now to just say 'artist' and leave it at that - we don't need reductionist tags.

and i found your book in the library the other day and got so absorbed in reading it i was late back to the office! it's on my christmas wish list

Rachel Biel said...

Hmmm.... I'm raising my hand, "Teacher, teacher!!! I disagree..." (You promised not to bite, right? A friend pointed me to this post because some of these issues have come up among my peers. I just started a new project, yes, a ghetto of textiles, fiber art and related crafts and businesses. It's called TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List. Ooooo!!!!! Major faux pas in this group, I fear.

Language is a tool and it is constantly in flux and can be awfully confusing. I'm a self-taught person who just has this itch to make stuff. Sometimes it falls into the "craft" categories, sometimes I can be called "art". I personally don't care because I recognize for myself that the muse operates differently in whatever mode I am in. If I am doing a production run of a dozen crazy hats, my brain works in a very different way than if I am experimenting with a piece that may take months to make. And, within that piece, there are different emotive responses that I feel towards the medium. Some of it is boring and repetitive and I can do it while I watch a movie, some of it is technical and my brain hurts, some of it the closest to prayer that I can get.

To me, this need to pare down to the word "artist" would be like using only the word "clothing" to describe all the stuff we wear. If I need some shoes, it's nice to be able to know that I can go to a shoe store, although some stores may carry more than shoes. The big department stores have their name brand and then everybody knows that within that brand there are a bunch of smaller options.

Some of you work with many different mediums and that is great. But, to say that being called a "weaver" is somehow derogatory smells to me like one more snobbish way of separating one's self from a craft medium that historically has not had the acknowledgment it deserves. And, isn't that what is at the core here? That we want to be able to command the financial rewards our work should get and be admitted into the shows we want to be in?

Instead of getting rid of the adjectives, wouldn't it be better to honor those traditions? I think that that is why some of these words came into being in the first place. An art quilt is differentiated from a traditional one because it deviates from the historical patterns. Both should have an honorable place in the fabric of our collective history, but if we are looking for a certain look, it just makes it easier to narrow down the options so we can find what we are looking for.

I have been looking through hundreds of websites in the last three weeks with the intention of inviting people to join TAFA and I nixx most of them. Not because of the product, but because of the presentation. Presentation is really the key in achieving recognition, especially if it is for a web audience. It doesn't matter how wonderful a piece is, if the photo is a tiny, grey thumbnail that you can barely see, I am out of there like lightening. I also don't have the time or patience for sites that are loaded with heavy java, where the music comes on and products slowly rotate around...

I love all of it: wood, clay, glass, wax, metal, yarn, fabric, and so on. But, for my purposes, my ghetto is limited right now to all things fiber, INCLUDING "ethnic" or cultural textiles. That is where my beef is, that we who are fortunate enough to engage ourselves in layers of meaning and worth separate ourselves from masters of knowledge and tradition in an exclusive manner.

Well, I don't know if I made a lick of sense here. I can claim ignorance, but just had to let some of my thoughts surface...

I like your blog and became a fan. I'm sure you will make my brain boil many more times along the way. Oh, it hurts to grow!!!! (heh, heh)

Jeff Engel said...

I've always thought this way. I do mostly photography now but photography has been so pigeonholed that if you ask most photographers if they call what they do art, they will say "I am not an artist!" It's the exact opposite mentality. It's like "artist" is a dirty word. If you come to my studio, you will mostly photos. But if you walk in the back, you'll see lots of other things. Drawings, sketches, some monotypes, etc. To me, it's all art. I simply choose the camera as one of my main tools.

From a commercial standpoint though, I do call myself a "photographer". I wouldn't get any product gigs if I called myself an "artist". :)