Are you a glass artist? I’m not.

>>>Are you a glass artist? I’m not.

I’m an artist. Period.

Is it just me being Ms. OversensitiveWordist, or is there something a tad demeaning in the term “glass artist?” I mean, when we talk about a sculptor, do we say he is a “bronze artist?” When we talk about a painter, is he an “oil artist?”

Nope. They’re artists. Sculptors. Painters. Period. Santiago Sierra, for example, creates works using excrement. If you call him a crappy artist you are NOT referring to his choice of media.

Yet when we talk about people who work with cloth, they’re “fiber artists.” People who work with glass are “glass artists.” It’s as if working in certain media gives you a license to practice art but only in limited fashion, kinda like a learner’s permit or the little sticker on your driver’s license that says “must wear corrective lenses at all times.”

Or in other words, it’s as if you’re not really an artist.

I bring this up after a discussion with a noted non-glass artist who really liked my work (blush) but felt strongly that someone should clue me in: If I didn’t work in a fine arts medium such as bronze or stone, I would never be taken seriously. I’d forever be a glass artist.


You know, this “how come you work in glass” stuff is getting repetitious enough to be disturbing. So (getting up on my soapbox) here’s my rebuttal: My art is not limited by my medium. I am the same artist whether I work in bronze, glass or yard clippings. I choose the medium that best expresses my work and I will not be constrained to “appropriate” materials if something else works better. Dammit.

For what I’m doing right now, no other medium expresses my voice as well as glass. Glass (well, pate de verre) offers avenues of communication I can’t get in any other material. More specifically, it lets me control light and color to an amazing degree, in three dimensions.

If using glass means that nobody but me (and my mother) take my stuff seriously, fine. Well, not fine, but I’ll live with it. When I’ve been dead for 200 years and marine archaeologists have recovered my art from the ocean floor (Portland having dropped into the sea), it’ll probably hang in the Louvre.

So there.



  1. bronzeartist December 10, 2008 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    just curious–what is it about glass that works better for you? i work in bronze and steel but i’m curious about the glass. i think your imagery would be stronger in bronze even though you would lose the colors. and i agree with your mentor because in this econmoy it is tough to sell anything (of course) but i am finding that the timeless and traditional certainly sells much better. i really never had a market for figurative work before but at the moment that is the only thing that is selling.

    so i guess my question is what does the glass give you that metal would not? your work does not appear to be transparent. consider at least trying a different medium becaues in this market flexibility is better.


  2. cynthia November 22, 2008 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Hmmm. Millie, that’s an interesting point: When non-glassists try glass instead of their normal media, it’s not only fine with the art world but the glass world does this kinda missionary thing, i.e., “We brought them into the fold!” I never really thought about it as fine artists merely slumming with the peasants but heavens knows the art world could see it that way.

    But your point is also dangerously close to what my latest advisor did in fact suggest, that I could quietly continue to do the glass stuff on the sly but primarily work in bronze for the next few years and establish a presence as a real sculptor (hmmmm…somehow I don’t think it’s all that simple). Then, when people understand that I can do good art, they’ll accept the fact that I sometimes do it in glass.


  3. Milly Frances November 22, 2008 at 10:31 am - Reply

    Hi there,

    Interesting discussion…

    You’d think that thirty years of postmodernism would’ve moved us on from the facile and totally fabricated status division between fine art and craft…

    …but no. It’s still the boring reality that fine artists who sometimes (and often, gasp! – more than once!) work with glass are never labelled ‘glass artists’. No. They’re FINE, don’t you know, and as such to be taken SERIOUSLY as artistes of a higher realm.

    Does a painter even have to answer the ‘why do you use paint all the time’ question? I’ve never heard a painter saying (either apologetically or defensively) that ‘no other medium expresses my voice as well as paint’.

    Somehow we need to rise above this ridiculous and limiting art world snobbery. It’s not in the spirit of artistic creativity, and it exposes those who continue to hold these views as unquestioning followers of outmoded thought.

    Maybe the next thirty years will teach us all to be proud of our creative work and to shun such divisive rubbish. Here’s hoping…

  4. glassmatters November 19, 2008 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Cynthia, I think you make a good point: We all are artists under our skins. However, I desire that gallery-goers understand they are viewing glass when they see my work. I will proudly tell everyone I am working in glass as it is a difficult medium for which one must needs develop special skills and quite a lot of experience.

    You are correct in that I wish my work to be viewed first as art and only then as glass, and that this can be difficult to accomplish when modern galleries prefer more traditional media. I may have an easier time of it here in London than fusers across the pond, particularly as I blow and cast my glass instead of fusing it. Yet I will never allow my work to be labeled generically as “art.” It must be “glass art,” even if that prevents me from showing in certain galleries (as it has).

    I do understand your frustration, however. If the image sequence on your front page shows your latest work, I both congratulate and commiserate.

  5. cynthia November 18, 2008 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Kathleen. I reread what I wrote and kinda thought, “Boy I WAS in a mood, wasn’t I?” But the fact that it ticks me off doesn’t mean it’s not valid (at least for us). Tis the season to fight labels, I suppose.

    Margaret, I feel for you; my favorite professor in college was an art professor who was very well-known for her quilts and hand-painted fabrics, which were both striking and thought-provoking. At one point she told me that going into fibre was probably the most courageous thing she’d done in her entire life, “because I knew I’d be watching my friends who painted and sculpted get all the recognition while I just sat there doing what I loved best.” What a horrible and wonderful way to spend your life, I suppose.

  6. gyrfrog November 18, 2008 at 11:37 am - Reply

    As a fiber artist who needlesculpts in felt, I have the same problem. I have trouble getting into regular galleries and exhibits that show fine arts instead of crafts. I get really tired of being labeled as a crafter the same as a little ol lady making pot holders or something. And the the crafts shows dont’ like my work because its not pretty and it makes them uncomfortable.

    If I made the same thing in clay it would be art but because its wool its like I’m third class or maybe fifth. and dont’ even talk about the difference in price. Ihave an MFA and my professor told me that I should reconsider my medium.Guess I’m too stubborn to change tho.


  7. Kathleen November 18, 2008 at 9:51 am - Reply


    I never thought of it the way you put it, but you are right. As ‘glass artists’ we shouldn’t limit our creativity to the medium we use.

    Point taken and very well put!

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