Charlie Brown: Don’t think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchudnezzar.
Pig-Pen: Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn’t it?
Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection
I’ve been a fan of fabric for a long time, of course. Hard to be a quiltmaker without falling in love with the concept of fabric in general. But only since beginning my sabbatical study into textiles have I come to an understanding of how deeply embedded textiles are in our self-understanding. (You should be thankful I resisted the rather obvious “how much textiles are woven into the fabric of our self-understanding” analogy.)
I’m still reading Quilt of Belonging–now renewed from my local library. I should probably just buy it. There’s a lot to absorb in this book–I could be reading it well past the next several renewal dates and, frankly, the library probably wants it back.
Today I had the one-two-punch of watching a couple of Great Courses lectures on DVD about art in the Louvre followed by a return to the introduction of Quilt of Belonging, and have once again been pondering the role of art in our cultures. The Louvre, once a palace, was turned into a public museum with collections from all over the European world both for public edification but also as an in-your-face proclamation of conquest and superiority. “Look at us, we have your art, we own you,” it screamed at the time. And yet, if it weren’t for the Louvre and other public displays that quickly followed, many works of art would have remained only in private collections and the rest of us would never have been able to experience or learn from them.
(Yes, I’m guilty of a grave simplification of centuries of process. But blogs are short. Forgive me.)
Then, I turn to Quilt of Belonging and am immersed in a world in which collecting art from many cultures and peoples is not an act of conquest but, rather, an act of community. Here we are, all of us together, no one better than another. It’s not ownership, but embrace.
When we choose to own art, what is driving us? For some, an expression of wealth (look at what I can afford to own). For others, an expression of being part of the “in crowd,” (aren’t I smart and hip, I know who the art world has proclaimed as up-and-coming). But I think those folks are in the minority. Most of us choose to own art–be it painting, photographic, textile, sculpted, or otherwise, or “purchased time with art” through attending plays and concerts*–because something in that work of art appeals to us. It symbolizes something to us, or brings back a memory, or whatever. Perhaps we also own art that says something about us to the outside world–this is who I am, this is what I like, this says something about me. Art has both an inductive and deductive response, in that respect–inductive: what do I see in this work; deductive: what does this work say about me to others?
Fabric is most often seen as a mundane means to an end. We might enjoy a pattern or the feel of a particular fabric, but fabric itself has largely lost its representation. We focus more on what that fabric has been made into–the fashionable dress or the meticulously-pieced quilt. And yet, my study has led me to a greater understanding and appreciation for the fabric itself–the very act of spinning something (cotton, wool, linen, etc.) into thread, thread into warp and weft, dying threads or printing fabric, to ultimately become something greater than the component parts. For centuries, fabric was imbued with meaning and symbolism–the way it was woven and the colors it was dyed in symbolized social standing, often religious meaning; the way it was passed from one family to the next symbolized politics and (again) social standing. Actually, fabric and social standing are a major theme in everything I’m reading. I’m sure that will be popping up again in this blog at some point.
I feel like I’m wandering a bit today through a lot of unconnected thoughts–but that’s how learning works. Put a lot in there, swim it around for awhile, and eventually sift out what it might mean. You’re witnessing the first two parts of that process today. Basically, the question for my pondering today is about art from the consumer aspect–not necessarily “consumer” as in purchaser, although ownership is a part of my thoughts, clearly; but “consumer” as the one who is receiving, viewing, experiencing art, not the creator. Most of the rest of my sabbatical study is from the creation aspect, so this is an interesting flip for me to the other side of the equation.
What does it mean to want to purchase a piece of art? What are we connecting with? What does that particular piece of art represent or mean to us? And what do we think displaying it says about us to others? What messages do we see in the art, and what messages are we sending to others about that piece of art on display in our homes?
*You may wonder about my lack of reference to writing as art here. Writing is clearly art to me–and one I am most connected to by nature. But it’s often more difficult to include writing in these same categories as it is visual arts. I’ve not run across the same references to books being traded as representation of families coming together in marriage, for example, or books being confiscated and displayed as symbols of conquest. But there are certainly parallels–what we choose to read is due to having a personal connection with the story or, conversely, because everyone else is reading it and we want to be part of that “in crowd” as well; sometimes we display certain books on our shelves because of what it seems to say about us to visitors, whereas on the flipside, the rise of e-readers has also given rise to sales in certain genres of fiction because now people can read these in public without others knowing what is being read. This is probably the topic for another kind of blog.