Elizabeth Barton left an interesting comment on my post last week about Quilt National. She wrote, "I thought there were far too many quilts that depended on photographs printed onto the fabric -- even to the point of the company printing the fabric being mentioned in the descriptive labels!"
Her point was different, but I glommed onto her mention of Spoonflower on the labels. I've been noticing similar practices in several art shows I've attended recently, and I find some of them highly annoying.
My top peeve is a list of materials beginning with the words "art quilt," especially in shows where everything there is a quilt. "Art quilt" is not a material; arguably, "art quilt" is not even a valid category (do we see a lot of "art paintings" or "art sculptures" in galleries and shows?). And why you should say it in a list of materials and techniques is beyond me.
My second peeve is a list that includes brand names, including but hardly limited to Spoonflower. I've seen labels talking about Thermofax screens, Cherrywood and Lunn fabrics (why not Gingher scissors, Olfa rotary cutters, or Bernina sewing machines? why not Aurifil thread or Warm & Natural batting? why not Clotilde pins or Homasote design walls?)
Nor am I wild about process descriptions that tell you everything but whether the artist stopped in the middle to take the laundry out of the dryer. Like "words/phrases cut from magazines, glued to paper, scanned, printed onto fabric" or "pastel drawn from life, repeated applications of fabric and paint" or "silk thread on the surface and lingerie thread in the bobbin" or "fabric 'aged' by the artist over a winter in my back yard."
I don't like to see process descriptions like "cut intuitively" or "using my digital photos as inspiration." Isn't practically everything an artist does in some way intuitive? Doesn't every work of art have an inspiration?
If I have to generalize, these over-elaborate descriptions seem to combine the worst elements of narcissism and insecurity. The former, because it implies that viewers yearn for more, more, more information about the artist's every breath. The latter, because it implies that the too-eager artist has to prove that every step she took is indeed legitimate.
Part of the problem is that quilt and fiber shows often conflate lists of materials (the standard element of descriptive labels for every art medium) with lists of techniques (of particular interest to fiber artists and aficionadas, because there are so many techniques out there and it's not always apparent which ones were used). So one kind of list (commercial cottons, bamboo batting, silk thread, etc.) oozes seamlessly into another (arashi shibori, hand embroidery, quilted with a long-arm sewing machine).
This quilt show practice of TMI may serve one purpose -- telling aficionadas everything they want to know about how a piece was made -- but not another -- acting like we're part of the larger art world. And arguably catering to the aficionada's desire for info on technique may just hold said aficionada back from appreciating the art aspects of the work.
When I go to museums I see labels that simply say "oil on linen" or "bronze" or "painted wood" or "matériaux divers," and they seem classy and sophisticated. When I enter quilt or fiber art shows I describe my work as "machine pieced and quilted," or if required to state materials, I'll add "commercial cottons." When I enter all-mediums art shows I just say "fiber." Maybe that's too bare-bones, but I think a bit less information is sometimes more powerful and intriguing than too much.
What do you think?