Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quilt art according to Wikipedia

So the issue du jour on the Quiltart list is whether Wikipedia properly represents quilt art.  Since the site is updated continually and continuously, I have no way to go back and read what it said last week, before people started improving it.  But apparently the visitor from Mars would have thought that quilts were bedding, and there was no such thing as art in the form of a quilt.  Some of the Quiltart members thought this was outrageous and set out to revise the entry, giving us art quilters our just deserts. 

After much posting, and apparently a fair amount of Wiki updating, had gone on, I decided to read the entry myself and see if it was as bad as people said.  Were I an art teacher, I think I'd give the writer a C+.  The article didn't say anything wrong, but it seemed to me a curiously spotty discussion of the field, earnest but naive.  

(First a caveat: I dislike the term quilt art, or art quilts.  I think the term is counterproductive, painting us into a corner and trivializing our work.  But for purposes of this discussion I don't see how we can avoid it.)

This has nothing to do with Wikipedia, but a discussion of quilt art deserves a picture of a quilt art.  That's My Q, 2004, 87 x 56

Among other things, there is no discussion in the Wikipedia article of how the development of art quilting parallelled and cross-fertilized the spectacular popularity of mainstream quilting in the 1970s, fueled by the Bicentennial fervor for old-fashioned crafts.  The most influential people in the early days of art quilting are described in strange ways -- kind of like having your one and only sentence about Picasso being about his home on the Cote d'Azur.   For instance:

"Pauline Burbidge, a British artist, first saw old quilts in Portobello Road in London and 30 years later is still working in the medium."

"Nancy Crow, another influential teacher and writer of books, was instrumental in freeing quilting artists from certain preconceptions about rules."
"Beth Gutcheon and Michael James were quilting instructors, beginning a trend which still allows quilting artists to earn income from a pursuit close to their art."

True, but what did they actually do as artists?  You won't find out from Wikipedia. 

On a scale of 1 to 10 I rank my concern about Wikipedia's article on quilt art as maybe a 4.  It's too bad the article is not a comprehensive, insightful, accurate, nuanced description of the field but I can't see where any of us practitioners are going to be hurt by it.  The discussion on the Quiltart list is currently bogging down in what should be the proper definition of quilts, and whether printing computer-generated images onto fabric is cheating, and what's the difference between fiber art and textile art (with people providing dictionary definitions to argue their cases), all non-issues in my book. 

However, I will claim credit for one small step toward truth, justice and the American way.  The article has a section called "Controversies in quilt art in the U.S."  When I checked out the site on Monday, the section began:  "In a field that straddles craft and art, particularly one that is predominantly peopled by females, the controversies can arise rather quickly."

I was moved to register as a Wiki contributor and took out the part between the commas. 


  1. Since we can't pin the subject down ourselves, I doubt that Wikipedia will be able to. But so glad you removed that part between the commas!

  2. Kathleen

    What an excellent commentary, and thanks for deleting the patronising rubbish in Wiki's article. As you say, pity the article couldn't be more illustrative and better written.

  3. Lol. Good work!

    As you may have noted on QA, I hate it when people seem to want to tell me what I make and that isn't a quilt. I don't care what you call what YOU make. In fact I'd prefer that you call your minimally connected to quilting something else and I really don't care what that label is.

    But *I* make quilts. Contemporary quilts because I live today.

  4. Considering the difficulty most people have convincing anyone that textiles can be a fine art, I'd say Wikipedia did a pretty good job.

  5. Hi anonymous! you are reading the new, improved version of the article. After all the hoohah, I think the writers have taken the quality up at least one notch.