Are quilts art?

What a loaded question?  I have followed the debate on whether quilts are art or craft for as long as I’ve been involved in quilting and there have been several excellent commentaries on this topic.  I think the answer is clear – yes and no!!  Some quilts ARE art and some ARE NOT.  

The “intent” of the quiltmaker is important, i.e. some quiltmakers are attempting to create art (i.e. “art quilters”, “textile artists”; “fiberartists” and other “names”) and some are attempting only to make something functional and attractive, but not necessarily a work of art.  However, “intent” isn’t the entire story.  Beautiful amish quilts were displayed at the Whitney Museum in NYC in the early 1970’s as works of art, yet were created, I’m pretty sure, to be personal functional items and not artistic statements.  This tells me that in some cases even what are considered “traditional” quilts as opposed to “art” quilts can sometimes be considered art.  Since I am more of a traditional quilt maker, I like to think that an original design rooted in tradition and created with the highest quality craftsmanship has a chance to be considered a work of art.

In particular, I like the way the Japanese think on this topic.  A few years ago in a lovely antiquarian bookstore in Wiscasset, Maine (the name of the shop escapes me at this time) I picked up this book filled with great pictures of Japanese art objects.  The book also has interesting essays on Japanese art and sense of beauty.


The preface opens with the following statement:  “The history of art is not secondarily but absolutely primarily a history of decoration.”  Later on, the following is stated:  “An outstanding aspect of the Japanese sense of beauty is the integration of art works with daily life.  The lavishly painted sliding doors and screens are at once art objects and furniture.  Hanging scrolls in the alcove are changed frequently, appropriate to the season and the occasion, creating an aesthetic space in ordinary life.  In Japan, where no true distincion is made between fine and decorative arts, artists have often been craftsmen, and the same motifs have recurred in paintings as well as craft works.”

Here is a beatifully decorated work of art that was used to perfume hair!  It is a “pillow” upon which women laid their heads. Incense was put inside and wafted up through the holes, perfuming the hair.


Here is a “picnic basket” with drawers for food and silver decanters for drink.  It is gorgeously decorated with motifs from nature.


And, of course, kimonos were highly functional in the past and so gorgeously designed and embellished as to be certainly considered works of art:


The Japanese view that “art” can be found in the functional and the “everyday” seems closest to my own opinion at this point in time.  I would love to hear from you on your opinion about whether traditional style quilts can be “art.”   Thanks for stopping by!


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