Spotlight on Seattle Series: Part 3

Dale Chihuly is a big name in the art world. His glass sculptures have been featured in exhibits around the globe: the Corning Museum of Glass (NYC), the de Young (San Francisco), Franklin Park Conservatory (Columbus, Ohio), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the MCM Grand Casino (Macau), and the Tower of David (Jerusalem) to name a few.

However, being well-known comes with a fair degree of criticism. His works have been noted for walking the line between art and craft. Some, like Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle, claim his glassworks are too showy, that they lack the substance of serious art: “Perhaps dreamy color, glossy surfaces and flamboyant design – the signal qualities of Chihuly’s work – should be enough. But in a culture where only intellectual content still distinguishes art from knickknacks, they are not.”

Another commenter suggested that there is something vital in Chihuly’s work: “I’m not going to make a case that Chihuly is a great artist (how many deserve to be called that?) but I do make the case that it’s of some importance to consider his art seriously. Why? Because Chihuly is a leading proponent of the idea that art is still about beauty — that the search for the pure, the ideal, is still essential to the role of the artist.”


For what my opinion is worth, I think Chihuly’s work is captivating. Is there some deeper meaning behind those vibrant colors, impossible shapes, and glistening glass? Maybe yes, maybe no. Although  Navajo baskets, Italian art deco, and Japanese glass fishing floats have all been sited as inspiration for various series. But his sculptures are appealing like a bright, shiny object, and there is something to be said for art that appeals to your inner raccoon or magpie. There is definitely a place for distraction and the blatantly beautiful in the art world – it’s not earth-shattering, but it’s worth a look.


Love him or hate him, here is a little more information on Dale Chihuly:

  • 1941: Chihuly was born Tacoma, Washington.
  • After beginning his college life at the College of the Puget Sound, Chihuly soon moved on to the University of Washington, the institution from which he received a BA in interior design in 1965. Subsequent degrees followed, including a Master of Science in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.
  • He studied under Studio Glass movement leader Harvey K. Littleton.
  • In 1971, he founded the Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Washington. Legendary Seattle art patrons, John Hauberg and Anne Gould Hauberg (daughter of Seattle Art Museum architect Carl F. Gould), provided the necessary support.
  • A serious car accident in 1976 left the artist blind in his left eye. Three years later, Chihuly found himself unable to blow glass on his own following a bodysurfing incident. Hiring others to do the glass blowing, he described his new role as “more choreographer than dancer.”
  • His various studios include The Boathouse (an old racing shell facility) and buildings in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and Tacoma. These studios serve as meeting places for artists, work spaces, and museums unto themselves.

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