Q&A: Jane Milosch

The Craft Forms juror gives her take on great art.

Jane Milosch is a pretty busy woman these days. The Iowa transplant is the former curator of the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where she’s now overseeing various programs, interdisciplinary initiatives and strategic efforts as senior program officer for the arts. Here on the Main Line, she’s juror of the Wayne Art Center’s Craft Forms 2010, the 16th annual international contemporary craft show running Dec. 3-Jan. 11. And as you might expect, she’s got an opinion or two about what constitutes great art.

MLT: How did you come by your love of museums?
I was an exchange student in Germany in the 1980s, and I went back on a Fulbright Scholarship to study art in Munich. In Munich, we actually had our courses in an art museum. That’s where my interest really came alive, whether we were working directly with the items, organizing exhibitions, selecting art or building collections.

MLT: Do you have any specific research interests?
I love 20th-century and contemporary art—and not one specific medium. There is one type of art I love more than others, and that’s handmade paper. I love how it intersects with other mediums.

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MLT: At the Smithsonian, you work in the office of the Undersecretary of History, Art and Culture. What do you do there?
We work on interdisciplinary projects that involve the arts and sciences. It’s the mission of the Smithsonian Institute to increase the diffusion of knowledge so we can provide access to our collections, especially for artists. Bringing artists into different disciplines is a wonderful way for subject-matter experts to share ideas. It also proves that science is much more creative and intuitive, and that art is empirical and analytical. The intersection of these things is not so far apart.

MLT: How did you get involved in Craft Forms?
I’ve heard wonderful things about the show from artists and jurors, so I was so thrilled when I was asked to be a juror. It’s one of the premier craft expos in the United States.

MLT: How does one truly judge art?
I always look for a synthesis of a few things. One is originality of expression—that the item’s subject matter is something universal and individual, especially in craft. I also look for things to be well crafted. If it’s not, it’s usually for an expressive purpose, and it must be a very successful use of materials.

MLT: Is there such a thing as bad art?
I wouldn’t say there’s bad art. But there is what I call “one-liner art.” It’s something quirky that eventually passes over, rather than something that digs at something deeper. I just encourage artists to be very thoughtful and to look to the past as they’re making something in the future.

MLT: Are you an artist?
Not anymore—except for the hyperbolic crochet project [at the Smithsonian]. I was at one time, though, and I’m aware of the processes involved in putting paint on canvas, how you blow glass, and how you work in metals and fibers. I gained the understanding that, even with all those technologies, virtuosity is never enough. You have to make it special.

To learn more about Craft Forms 2010, visit wayneart.org.

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