Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Germaine Greer's Critique of Art Quilts...

First off, you may want to go read this article by Germaine Greer reviewing an exhibition of Edrica Huws' art quilts in The Guardian, a British journal/newspaper. To say that it's a tad biased would be a mild comment. But it IS very interesting and thought provoking, to be sure. The QuiltArt mailing list is certainly having a great time bashing Greer and defending patchwork, whether it's piecing patterns or making pictures or creating art.

Greer makes a point that sewing has always been women's work - often for "frittering away" their time... Here's a quote - and I hope I'm not violating copyright laws by putting it here. If I am, I'm sure someone will inform me quickly!

"What could be the point of such an exercise in futility? The work of art is supposed to defy time but fabric is bound to fade and rot, even when it is kept in between layers of tissue paper and shut away from sight. There's nothing new in this kind of heroic pointlessness; women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand ever since vicarious leisure was invented. Mrs Delaney was spending hours of concentration making effigies of flowers out of bits of coloured paper mounted on black card as long ago as 1771. Why didn't she just paint them? You can see her paper mosaics in the Enlightenment gallery of the British Museum, if you insist, but be warned. You could end up profoundly depressed by yet more evidence that, for centuries, women have been kept busy wasting their time."

I presume Greer's politics is feminist in the extreme, although I may be wrong. For many more centuries than not, sewing was an essential task - not to be compared with "vicarious leisure" time in any way. That sort of time has actually involved so few women over such a small portion of history that it's a wonder to me that Greer is so hostile about it.

Perhaps I will draw the wrath of artists everywhere by saying, in my own personal experience, I often feel that I am frittering my time away for no real cause. I love to create, design, sew, paint, etc. but I make no money at it - much as I'd like to. I don't even manage to pay for all my supplies with any earnings made from my art. I am totally supported by my loving husband and considered by many to be somewhat of a self-centered, unbalanced, and/or lazy woman for not accompanying him in the work force to make our retirement easier on both of us. After all, I have a BA and an MA, yet I am a stay-at-home wife, doing normal housekeeping chores (as seldom as possible), cooking (again, as little as possible), and creating, reading or otherwise "spending time" whatever way I wish.

I am a somewhat unique woman in this narrow window of history where women CAN fritter away time, are independent enough to do what they want if they have the courage to do so, and am treated by my spouse as a true partner. And, to be totally honest, there are times when I feel as though I am among those who "have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand" - has no one else ever felt that niggling sense of guilt? That we should somehow be doing more, better, best at anything except what we are presently choosing to do?

We were talking about the "unexamined life" just the other day - my husband doubts that the examined life is one that many people take part in. I disagree. I think anyone who has time to think eventually examines his/her life to some degree. In psychotherapy, that examination is often into the minutia, which may or may not be helpful. A spiritual person often examines his/her life - that's one of the ways to explore different options from the old patterns that essentially rule one's life. The degree and type of spiritual and/or psychological self-exploration can provide one with totally different experiences from very good to very bad, but such explorations do offer one opportunities for growth and change.

To say I've never questioned the value of my activities would be to say that I have never explored the paradox of life. Oh, I've explored them, alright, but I haven't come to any firm conclusions about whether or not I am wasting my life/time/energy/money on artistic pursuits. As long as I create, I maintain a sense of meaning, purpose, enjoyment, pleasure, and essential value for my life. When I stop creating, I begin to die by process of a slow and painful surrender into depression.

Did Greer's article anger me? She aroused lots of feelings, which included anger, but mostly because her own hostility was so palpable in the article. I felt lots of other things, too. And my conclusions are that I need not defend myself to Greer or others, I only need to be clear with myself what is right for me.


Vicki W said...

Very interesting perspective of Greer's and your own take on it is very thoughtful. I don't think I feel angry over her comments but I do think she's narrow minded. Even those of us who make quilts - as opposed to art quilts - get the frequent comment of "Why make a quilt when you can buy a blanket?". We all have our prejudices - we now know clearly what Greer's are!

Deborah said...

Pat, I don't think you have "frittered" your life away or are in the process of frittering. Certainly, you have taught others in so many ways, including and excluding the classroom experience.

Who judges women? If it is other women, I wonder why are we so pedantic toward each other, considering our history (herstory) and what we had to do to reach the point where we can create with less restraint and less supplication to others. Okay, I am ending my rant before I get really involved--I have taught Introduction to Women's Studies and Introduction to Feminist Theory.

As for Ms. Greer, I read her a long time ago in the heady feminist days when all I had to do was graduate college, write for a newspaper and genuinely be accountable to no one--which remains with me to this day, in many ways.

I can't site the theories of her book, The Female Eunich, so I won't. I would have to check. I just might, if I could find my old Sisterhood is Powerful book, pages long yellowed. (Maybe it is behind Ourselves as We Age.)

Your art is a sensory multi-chakra learning experience. May we all keep learning for a long time!

Beate Knappe said...

The Point is: Who judges women?
I'll read right away what Greer has writen.
And, you are and your art also is important for many woman - this is your story, be proud of.
sorry for my English. I'll try it to better sometimes.

Karoda said...

Hi Pat, thanks for the link...I'm reading Greer as laying open her own ambiguity about quilts as art. The paragraph you quoted seems more to me questions that she has posed which also expose her own biases for public critic which in my mind she has not answered and allows readers to dialogue with her versus making conclusive statements about Huws work. She has even pondered whether Huws way of working is not a mockery of formal art or art as product. So I don't see it as a put down of women's patchwork but moreso, as an opportunity for one woman to dialogue with other women on the what, how, and why of what we do and for that alone adds some merit for feminism.

Lelia said...

This is just annoying.

I say, do what you do - be proud of it - enjoy the creative process - and, in the end - there is always that stunning finished project to be proud of.

I cannot define what is important for other women, just what is good for me.

Wasn't that the whole point of the women's movement? Doing our own thing & not be a cookie cutter press out of some defined role created by ANYBODY else?

I guess I'm just a fossil who happily spends her free time sketching, stitching & reading -- guilt free : )

Margaret S said...

She has certainly stirred up a hornets nests, the woman doesn't know what she is missing and her misplaced intellectual ideology wouldn't allow her to anyway. Go to this link to see the exhibition that started it all off http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNAecCVlhKI must try to go and see it it is only about 2 hours away from where I live
MargaretS http://littleworksofart.blogspot.com

kristin L said...

Pat, I so agree with your realization that you, and all of us for that matter, need not justify what we do to others, only to ourselves. My first reaction when i read Greer's article was "wow, if I'm frittering my time away on textiles which won't last a century, what in teh world am I doing with all teh cooking, cleaning, and general care-taking that doesn't last a day!?" If my entire existence is worthless frittering (because it doesn't earn a paycheck?) then I'll gladly choose to fritter my time away with that which fufills ME.

Kay said...

What an odd idea that art must last. I can't get beyond that to even bother to consider the rest of her article (although I did read it). Certainly fabric lasts as long as pastels for instance. In general though she seems to be rehashing her old ideas about how women must "fritter away" their time because society as constituted doesn't allow them to do otherwise. How sad to be so stuck in one mindset.