Soccer moms can’t make art – can they?

Who decides what’s art and what is not art?

(Hahahahaha that’s a trick question we all know who decides)

Michelle Grabner’s sculpture – a cast of a crocheted blanket – on the Milwaukee River.

What is art?

And who decides what is art?

Well we all know – or if you think about it, we should know – the answer to the second question.


Men decide what is art.

And guess what?

Art is what men do. Craft is what women do. And craft is lesser.

You think I am making this up?

I am not.

I read a book a few years ago – I can’t remember the title but it turns out this conversation is still ongoing – about art and craft. The TLDR is that at the beginning of the 19th century, there was a debate about art. What is it?

And the TLDR on that is that basically, if women do it, it’s craft, but if men do it, it’s art.

Crafts can include weaving, carving, pottery, embroidery, macrame, beading, sewing, quilting, and many other forms. 

Eden Gallery

Quick question: Who usually does the weaving and the embroidery and the sewing and the quilting?

OK, they included carving in the list, but the rest – it’s women.

And, NB, if men do it, it becomes art. When men design and sew clothes, they are tailors or even fashion designers. When men cook, they are chefs. You get the picture.

This entire piece on the debate is really interesting, but this quotation sums it up: If it’s useful and used in the home (that is, if WOMEN make it), it’s not art. Only art that exists for art’s sake is art.

Craftspeople traditionally made items that had a domestic function; even those of a high quality didn’t have the same luxury status as art, which has no practical purpose. This distinction gave the crafts a lower status, and craftspeople were considered working class, while artists often moved in high society circles.

Eden Gallery

Mr T and I went on a sculpture tour last night. We saw a piece – photo above – by Michelle Grabner, a Milwaukee artist who teaches at the Art Institute in Chicago. This piece was clearly part of this series: “Many are sculptural casts of hand-knitted and crocheted blankets that reflect her career-long interest in domestic environments and everyday life.” (Source)

Not to mention challenge the ideology that craft <> art. She is making ART out of a CRAFT.

Grabner has been criticized as being a “soccer mom.” In a 2014 New York Times review of her show, a critic called her a “soccer mom” and said her art was “bland.”

Nothing in all this is more interesting than the unexamined sociological background of the whole. If the show were a satire of the artist as a comfortably middle-class tenured professor and soccer mom, it would be funny and possibly illuminating, but it’s not.

Is being a soccer mom bad?

Can soccer moms not create art?

I am reminded of the debate that Jennifer Weiner has been waging on the behalf of female writers against the patriarchy. She notes that when women write about women’s lives, the books are dismissed as “chick lit,” but when men (like Jonathan Frazen – full disclosure I HATE HIS BOOKS) do it, it’s literature.

Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan “Genius” Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.

Jennifer Weiner

She also notes that the majority of the reviewers at the New York Times and the reviews are by men, for men.

However, I think it’s irrefutable that when it comes to picking favorites – those lucky few writers who get the double reviews AND the fawning magazine profile AND the back-page essay space AND the op-ed, or the Q and A edited and condensed by Deborah Solomon – the Times tends to pick white guys. Usually white guys living in Brooklyn or Manhattan, white guys who either have MFAs or teach at MFA programs…white guys who, I suspect, remind the Times’ powers-that-be of themselves, minus twenty years and plus some hair.

Jennifer Weiner

Mr T and I watched a woman weave a scarf.

She designed the scarf herself. She threaded the loom. She shuttled every single thread through, one by one.

This, my friends, is what the art world considered and still considers to be “craft,” which, by their own admission, is not as worthy as “art.”

What do you think? Is it art?

Two scarves with the same warp – longitudinal threads – but different weft – horizontal threads.
Photo credit, Woods Hall Gallery and Studios, La Pointe, WI

4 thoughts on “Soccer moms can’t make art – can they?

  1. Yes, it’s all completely insane.

    (also, for a long time, I felt pretentious if I wanted to create non-useful or non-temporary art. Making gorgeous flowers or figurines for cakes? Sure, they’ll go away. Ceramics? No! That would imply that I think that my work is worthy of taking up space in the world on a continuing basis!)(I mean, the problem of what to do with “practice” arts in non-recycleable media is a legit problem, but this was several notches much weirder than that, although some of the directions that mental octopus went were not exclusively gender, as I grew up with a concept that “professional” art was mostly a con game with exceptions for the way-beyond-amazing art, and certainly nothing I was creating was on *that* level. And also the feeling that if you don’t put things into the arena, people don’t get jealous and mean, which is partly but not exclusively gendered. Anyway: it’s weird and it’s a mess and if a dude can put a urinal in an art gallery and call it art, then I feel like the doors should be wide open, no?)

    (I’d love it, incidentally, if Banksy turned out to be female. That would be just delightful in so many ways… unless/until people started going “oh, but really, none of that was real art to begin with” in which case I’d just be spluttering incoherently with rage. Not that I look at everything Banksy has done and go “oh, yeah, that is good art!” but if people tried to withdraw their decades of acclamation, I’d be… cranky.)


    1. I love your answer so much, KC. I especially love this: “my work is worthy of taking up space.” That’s the central thing for women, isn’t it? That we are told we are not worthy of taking up space? Not with our art, not with our words, not with our bodies.

      BUT WE ARE. We are worth it! (And yes, if a dude can call a urinal “art,” then the bar is pretty darn low.)

      I wonder how critics reacted upon finding the 19th century novelists were women after all. I bet they totally discounted the work. (Now I want to know – this sounds like a great thesis topic!)


      1. See, I am mixed. I feel like the manspreaders shouldn’t be doing that, *and* that sometimes the best response is to imitate them, but in general we want *no one* to be doing that? So “take more than you need because the jerks take more than they need” (whether that’s money or amenities or space in cases where space is truly limited like on crowded buses) is something that seems to be in tension with itself. For society in general, we need fewer people acting entitled in a bad way. For that to *happen* then maybe some *different* people need to sometimes imitate that entitlement so that the people currently acting entitled have some realizations. (slightly questionable, btw, whether most will have good behavior-changing realizations by any mechanism, but some, maybe)

        And in basically all cases, it would be good to work towards practical equity by the assorted mechanisms available: bathroom redesigns so that the women don’t have to wait half an hour while the men wait 0 min because the men’s bathroom is 10 urinals, 2 stalls, and the women’s bathroom is 4 stalls! publicizing wage gaps and hiring gaps and discriminatory practices and how to fix these things!

        But I feel like the powerful shouldn’t be being greedy entitled hogs, and we shouldn’t imitate them in that regard, and yet them doing that and women refraining is unfair! (sometimes because we’re socialized to prioritize others, sometimes because we’re penalized if we make those steps, sometimes because it simply hasn’t occurred to us that we could, sometimes because many individual women simply are not jerks; gobs of reasons at play but it’s not right)

        But yes. When the bus isn’t full, we can lounge instead of crunching up small and still looking apologetic about being there at all! And when we make good or even passable art, it is worthy of space.

        But doing a lousy job because the guys can get away with doing a lousy job (but shouldn’t): nope. I think. But it’s unfair. But it’s still better if as many people do a good job as can/will?


  2. But taking our FAIR SHARE of space is not entitled or being a jerk. Manspreaders come into my space and take my space. All I want is MY SPACE. But we are taught we are not even entitled to that.

    Take your space. Take what you deserve. It’s not being a jerk.

    And Lord knows plenty of white men have gotten away with being mediocre. We will know we have achieved equality when women (and minorities) can fail at the same rate white men do.


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