Art, is it Really in the Eye of the Beholder?

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I attended a great lecture this weekend.

It was held at the Art Gallery of Burlington for SAQA members. If you have never heard of SAQA, check out the link, it’s a great resource for fibre arts! Anyway, they had a gathering of about 40 engaged fibre artists and the curator of the gallery talked with us about art; What makes a Work of Fibre, a Work of Art? One of the questions he raised was; what is the difference between a professional artist and a commercial artist. There was more to his presentation, he did relate it back to fibre art but I want to stop here, the question is worth pausing on.

Text: What is Art text

Commerical vs Professional

Why is there a difference between a commercial artist (one who makes money selling their art) and a professional artist? Presumably, a commercial artist is good at what they do, they are successful after all. Robert Bateman was used as a good example. Technically he is spectacular. He has sold hundreds of thousands of prints, he is a household name, clearly, he is successful, but is he a professional artist? It’s a good question, one I’m not sure I have the answer to. I thought I knew; art is subjective, it’s in the eye of the beholder, only they can choose what they think art is right? Well, I’m not so sure anymore.

Here’s the interesting question. Is there a greater obligation to the development of art in culture? To move beyond technically sound and appealing images? Should we as artists be held to a higher cause of championing, evoking emotion, moving people with our work? Maybe there is more to being an artist than just being technically gifted, maybe we need to search out the questions and hope to provide some context for dialogue. I certainly have looked at a Robert Bateman painting and have been astounded at the precision of his brush strokes but now I’m asking the question; is he as significant as one of the Group of Seven or Monet in art history? Will he be a topic of discussion for his artistry? I’m not convinced he will be.

What does it all mean?

This context really got me thinking about my own work and the meaning behind my images. I like what I do, I love a beautiful image. I am now asking myself if that is enough. Am I seeking to be a successful commercial artist? Everyone would like to be able to make a living being creative. Do I need to be breaking boundaries in the fibre art world, can I do both? I don’t think there is a wrong answer here. It is just interesting to challenge myself with the questions. What drives my purpose to create in the first place? I’m looking forward to discovering the answers in the work I produce. I discuss creating a series of work in another post.

The remainder of this discussion was about fine craft vs craft. Again very valid forms, are they art in the greater context? Perhaps not since Quilt-art based on function is a craft, the traditions have been passed down for centuries now. I think there is room to manoeuvre in the medium though, I think it is young in its development, there are opportunities to use the form to speak to art. The art context of fibre work has been developing fast over the last 40 years and accelerating. It’s an exciting time to be a fibre artist!
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the topic, what is art for you? Send me an email with your thoughts!