There often is a distinction drawn between “decorative art” and “fine art.” Decorative art, such as ceramics, furniture, jewelry and textiles, is meant to be beautiful as well as useful, whereas fine art — including paintings, sculpture, drawings, watercolor, graphics, and architecture — is considered to be created for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum of your definition, my opinion is that fine art is in the eye of the beholder. Artwork that engages and excites the viewer — that entertains an “emotional touch point,” that “speaks to me,” is my fine art. We’re all entitled to our opinions.
I also believe art — notice I didn’t specify “fine” or “decorative” — hinges definitively on the creative process. If the artist or artisan grows, refines and fuels their passion for their art and craft, then that’s their expression of art. And even more importantly, I’m sure it’s not bestowed upon me to answer the age-old question about what’s fine art and what isn’t. I’ve studied art history in the past and it appears difficult to historically ascertain what is going to be great on a historic scale and what isn’t. Heated battles ensued, for example, over whether the Impressionists were creating fine art …
The good news is no matter what is being created there are those who believe artists and artisans work is fine art. So, along those lines, here is a group of artisans who probably fall into the “decorative art” definition, but who’s, in my opinion, creativity and final expression of their work falls into “fine art.” You decide.
A handful of artisans whose studios and homes are in Northern New England are featured below. The variety of work produced is endless. The subject might be canvas cloths for floor or wall coverings, fused glass, finely carved corbels, wrought iron metalwork, ceramic tile, woodworking furniture pieces, mosaics and stained glass windows and the list goes on.
Artisan Annette Kearney, based in Portland, Maine, was well-known for her colorful Matisse-inspired majolica tiles and mosaics. Her business thrived as she worked with designers, architects and homeowners across the country creating custom shower tiles and backsplashes.
But after the 2008 recession hit, her work took a different direction. Her longtime fascination with fused glass and the convenience of a kiln in her studio took her excitement of making glass into painterly, abstract, free-standing panels and her craft in a new direction. The coalescence of life circumstances and creative opportunities served as the incentive for Kearney to study the science of fused glass. The magical experience of working in three layers, cutting and collaging the glass, firing it and then 18 hours hence unveiling a brilliant shimmering glass panel emerging from the fire has since fueled her creative juices for many years.