If you ran into me at the Portland Art Museum on GAS conference opening night, you would have seen me sporting a T-shirt admonishing glassists who use the term “warmglass” to describe “kilnforming.” (Incredibly nice-looking T-shirt, BTW, so many thanks to Ted for sending one my way)

The T-shirt went with the really wonderful Klaus Moje retrospective at the museum, one of the best life-journey-of-artist shows I’ve seen in a very long time. But as I watched GAS members interacting with Moje’s work, I really got to thinking about the message on that T-shirt.

At most gallery openings I attend, patrons examine the work, speculate as to the artist’s intent or inspiration, respond to the content or pattern or colors or lighting or whatever, gasp at the prices, talk about how hard it is to make this art, etc., etc. What they don’t generally do is get down-and-dirty about the processes. The artist may volunteer that info, or a smart gallery rep may use a difficult process to justify the price, but I’ve rarely heard non-artist patrons getting all that technical about the mechanics behind the work.

The thousand or so glassists at the Moje opening, however, pretty much talked process exclusively. They peered up close at the work, looking for bubbles. They speculated on whether Moje used a “spherical miracle” to obtain a battuto-like effect. They calculated annealing times, figured out coldworking steps, peeked behind the work to see how it was mounted.

In short, art seemed secondary to process for many of these folks. Only natural, I suppose, since they’re in the same business as Moje, but then I thought about that T-shirt. In the world of glass artists, appropriate terminology is essential, and I’m sure as heck not going to call an artist’s work “warm glass” if he feels it should be called “kilnforming.”

Outside those circles, though, does it matter? Is it better to differentiate glass art by its process, or to shed the process labels entirely and simply call it art? When we talk about painters, do we talk about the techniques they employ (“she’s a sgrafitto artist who uses a liner brush”) or do we talk about WHAT they paint (“she paints landscapes”)? When do glass artists get to become “artists?” Period. No qualification. Off the top of my head I can name at least 20 who ought to be in that category already.

Of course, this ain’t my area of expertise, and I know that in some circles, glass art acceptance is still an uphill battle. Certainly the top prices paid for glass art are still well below top prices paid for modern bronzes or oils. Perhaps we’re still in an educating phase with the art world, and attaching a process explanation to a work of art is critical.

In any case, I like the T-shirt. And even if I call my work “art” to outsiders, I promise to continue using the term “kilnforming” to those with an inside track. 😉