Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Artist/Craftsperson Continuum

Then in June, I went to a weekend Artists Retreat organized by Martin at Arts Marketing. It was designed for artists to learn how to market art (from paintings to woodwork to performances to novels) and to meet other artists.

While working on the previous post, I got used to thinking of myself as an artists whose discipline is textiles; handweaving to be precise. In spite of the superbly organized Retreat, and making new friends, I came home feeling defeated because I felt a chasm between pure art (the kind you can't use) and applied art/craft (things with utility and beauty). I was not sure where I was heading, and I wasn't sure where my textiles fitted in the scheme of things.

The title comes from a chart I made in 2000 which shows pure artist (who may use fiber) at one end, and cottage-industry-production-weaver at the other, and pin-pointing where I wanted to be; it is my visual mission statement.

Drafted June 2006

I was very happy being an artist last week; I want to weave artistic, unique pieces of shawls, scarves and yardage that are wonderful to the touch, beautiful to look at, but are hard wearing serious textiles. But of course the story didn't end there.

For the first forty years of my life, I believed, "of course the glass is half full, and look, if you bend your knees this way, it looks more like 3/4 full!" But of late, I not only see that it's half-empty, but in certain lights, I looks completely empty. This week, it's not just empty, the glass is dirty!

I attended an Artists Retreat at St Arnaud this past weekend; it was well-organized, presentations carefully chosen, and overall it was a superb event and I hope to go every time they hold it. So make no mistake, it wasn't the Retreat itself.

But I came home feeling totally defeated. I didn't meet many who would traditionally be called craftspersons or artisans; there were potters, a fashion designer, and I believe, more than one furniture makers, but most textile people I met were textile artists, many using multi-media, some putting their 3-dimensional work into picture frames. Museum and gallery representatives were overwhelmingly interested in paintings and installations. Almost all the works on display were not utilitarian. In-vogue "craft" magazine are filled with unusable artistic crap. So many galleries declared: "we don't do textiles." And most devastating of all, the message I got from those who buy and curate was: "Don't call us; we'll call you."

So, what happened to craft? What happened to making beautiful things that work; that never-ending appreciation of holding something you use and having a good look once in a while to have your breath taken by its beauty, and the blending of aesthetics and utility? Is there no room for such "tools" in this mass-producing, mass-consuming, over-advertised world except for industrial, stretchable, one-size-fits-all polar fleece junk with the same logo?

I'm really at a loss as to where I am, and I feel the loss for the world. For now.


  1. As I read over your posts of today, I felt I had to respond because so much of what you said rang a bell with my experiences in calling myself a weaver.

    I think that gathering all of the expert advice and pondering it is a good thing. But I also think that we allow ourselves to be convinced that what we do isn't really art because it isn't hanging on a wall or framed.

    I weave the very best cloth I can and, with time and putting it in the public eye, I'm finding that others think my cloth is special too (not just me:-) The only piece of advice that I follow most of the time is to weave cloth that cannot be purchased commercially.

    Keep up the good work with this blog. It is an important step in showing the world what it is to be a weaver.

  2. Hi, Beryl.

    To me the crucial point right now are that I don't see where I am:

    A) where weavers are in the artists spectrum, and where I am within that weavers' cluster, and the latter is especially difficult because I'm all over the place right now; and

    B) where I am in my career, which is something I won't know with any degree of accuracy until I'm done weaving, but every time I learn something, I think, "Well, that was very basic!!" and feel myself sliding back to the starting line.

    I also feel there is less respect for handweavers and handweaving in New Zealand compared to Japan, and perhaps the US, perhaps because it's something everybody's grandmothers did until a few years ago, and people's expectations are still largely home-spun-natural-colors-8DPI.

    And I'm yet to weave something I am 100% satisfied with, in terms of aesthetics and construction.

  3. Thanks Meg - You have written about this in a beautiful way and have 'captured' my feelings about handweaving exactly. I'm Australian and have the same quandary. I'm to be in an exhibition in early 2008 with many weavers who do conceptual work. I feel that I have to weave in this way to be equally accepted but I just can't. I going to weave the beauty that you can hold and wear because this is what I'm drawn to. Although I always approach this functional weaving in an 'artistic' manner. Thanks again

  4. Thank you for your visit, Karen. Your phrase "equally accepted" is a killer - utilitarian textiles is appreciated less than objet d'art made with fibers at the moment, and that's unfortunate for us. I get a bit frustrated because some of the multimedia/fiber-art pieces are much less labor-intensive than what we do, too.


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