The site of Cristina Alvarez Magliano
Fine Art in Marquetry

Marquetry is art? Or it is craft?

The classical concept of marquetry as 'the ancient technique of creating two dimensional
images by laying very thin pieces of different woods on a generally flat surface'
, explains
more or less clearly how the decorative work on a piece has been made. (*) The wood
colors and grains forming visual textures, and the shape of the wood cuts that form the
entire image are visible to the nude eye. It is, in general, thought as a very detailed
decorative cabinet-making method. Though not formally, marquetry is taught also in that
way, to the point that often a lot of work is paid to the back of the piece, which deserves
as much attention as the front, even in two dimensional pictorial works. The use of wood
materials, for contraposition to other mediums (oils, acrylics, wax,  papers, plastics, etc.),
is emphasized in that notion as strongly as it is the technique. Thereby, substance,
material, and method exhaust the whole concept, giving many experts the idea that
'marquetry' is the
'art' of producing images by way of using wood in a specific process
(how is cut, how it's glued,etc).This idea has many supporters - although it is not
universally accepted-  especially in the associations having the objective of preserving,
enhancing the knowledge, distributing or teaching marquetry (**). 'Marquetry pieces' are
valued as far as they are made according to the standards and 'patterns' eventually
provided, in a tendency that conduces to the understanding that even simple copies and
multiple identical pieces can be considered artistic.  
It seems that in the world of art and art dealers, galleries and museums, this is not the
rule. Example gracia, an artistic work is in general defined independently of the substance
utilized to make it (a 'painting' is a painting not matter if it's an oil, acrylic,wax,or any other
material; the same applies to sculpture or installations and other works.) The category of
the 'image' would give a better understanding of the piece (abstract, figurative,
representational, etc.) in the same way that its pertinence to an art school or artistic
movement will improve its valuation. Thus, in the process of classifying a work as 'art', the
medium has little or not value in itself as opposite to other elements like composition,
originality, taste,etc.(Imagine what could be in 'conceptual art'). The use of -what some
people would consider- trash as a medium in contemporary works reveals that beauty
and originality can be achieved by countless forms. As stated in
Modern Edition "Medium
rare: unusual contemporary art and practice",
"the enormous range of mediums and
techniques employed by today's artists is both fascinating and, in many cases, strongly
defines their practice", as "artists constantly strive to widen the envelope of
unconventional creativity through highly individual use of medium or method".

When this line of reasoning is used to verify the accuracy of the common concept of
marquetry as stated above, it is clear that essentially, marquetry is only a
technique, a
method of working with woods that provide the colors (swiss pear=pink, ebony=black and
so on) and textures of the images. The artistic values of the work will be attributed by
factors that are not related to the use of wood. However, the use of that particular medium
could influence the way the artist creates the images, uses other mediums and,
eventually, chooses the subjects of the work.
This statement was discussed during the exhibition "Against the Grain: Wood in
Contemporary Art and Craft" organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, New York,
New York (SEPT 2012-JAN 2013)
"This timely exhibition,  addresses a heavily debated topic in the field: as the boundaries
between art, craft and design increasingly overlap, should these categories be redefined,
and if so, how?  In Against the Grain, the versatile medium of wood is used to address
this issue, exploring postmodern tendencies including mimicry, assemblage, virtuosity,
and whimsy (with a serious purpose), as well as environmental issues associated with
" Nicole Jacobson
For the differences in the meaning of the words  "marquetry", "intarsia", "inlaid","marqueterie" and "applied
marquetry" see the excerpt from Bill Lincoln's book, published in the site of the American Marquetry Society at
(**) Those organizations make a wonderful work gathering enthusiasts and distributing information; they are
an invaluable network for experts and people in general. Many links to marquetry associations could be found
in this site @ the Contacts/
Links tab.
All rights reserved to Cristina Alvarez Magliano Copyright ©2013
Tom Deininger uses
discarded objects to
make wonderful
Ai Weiwei, "Chairs from XVII
 Matthew Bower "10
Contemporary Artists Who Use
Furniture as a Medium"
To History of Marquetry,ancient period
To History, "Renaissance"
To "The Gubbio Studiolo"
A personal experience

Some time ago a was compelled to find out if expressions like 'folk-art', 'native art', 'naive art', 'pop
art','mannerist art’, ‘marquetry art’, or whatever art can be invented,  could have a pejorative sense.  With that
in mind, I started a search about art-terminology; without any  results, I ended looking  for concepts based in
experiences rather than in scholastic definitions. The scope had to be narrowed to describe a personal
understanding of what an artist should reflect in his/her work, not matter what ‘definition’ that art could deserve.
These were my findings.
We know that when we work in an imagining project we want to please ourselves in first place, but also we
want to impress or to please the viewers as well. Can anyone think of a more satisfying experience than the
one produced by magic words like“what a wonderful picture of yours” or “how do you make these marvelous
figures?”. Probably not, but  somehow they are not enough to make us feel like true artists. We are constantly
searching for something more even though we don’t know exactly what  it is. Maybe we want to add our
feelings; maybe our conception about the world, humankind, or our own individual dreams and ideals.
But we know that at least two elements must be present in a work  to show that sense of accomplishment, of
completion that reveals a truly artist.  On one hand, there must be an image –i.e. form, figure, reflection, color,
shape-  that was managed to a technical degree of excellence. On the other hand, there must be something to
say, to transmit –feelings, thoughts, stories, movements, pleasure, comparisons, even philosophy- that should
be present, at conscious or unconscious level, along the elaboration process. Although there is usually a
misconception about it, this requirement is not a thing that the artist can plant later when putting  the work in
the market, like a little story to add mysterious to the author- similar to the one to sell the
ordinary/86/blue/Chevy/ that is in the parking lot-. It is not a valid exercise and less yet an honest approach to
catch the landscape prepared years ago for Aunt’s birthday, re-frame and re-name it and tell ourselves and the
viewers that the environment needs conservationist measures (which is true) and our intention is to reflect that
need in our work (which might be true in the future). When I visit a commercial gallery nothing makes me more
upset than to hear a sales person trying to convince me that  a  painter works 'exclusively for us in Nature
themes’ when that artist has been a figurative one since can be remembered. Probably you have heard many
anecdotes like these. We must learn how to demystify the ‘sale’ language and, most of all, prevent it for sticking
into our minds and hearts –at least for a while-. When the process ‘imagery plus meaning’ has been completed
in an honest, deep and compromising manner the artist  will be ready to go out of the frying pan and run into
the fire of the art world: not easy at all, not smooth at all, but full of surprises, emotions and, eventually, results.
"An authentic work of art is a gift offered to the future” (Albert Camus)
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