Tuesday, August 21, 2012

fiber and art

Generally I try to keep things beautiful and upbeat here. But lately I have found myself increasingly disgruntled about the art world and the role fiber art plays in it.

While on vacation, I visited my favorite modern art museum Louisiana, beautifully situated on the waters edge north of Copenhagen in Denmark. It is a large museum, with a vast collection of contemporary art. When we were there in July, there were no fiber art on display, with the exception of a piece by Pia Arke that was included in the main theme exhibit about Scandinavian architecture.

Pia Arke's work Soil for Scorebysund, consists of a collection of coffee filter bags from her native Greenland. One of the few fiber art pieces at Louisina museum of modern art.

Recently the amazing exhibit Disintegration and Repair, at Warm Springs Gallery, which included several nationally and internationally renown fiber artists, was received warmly by the public, but generated few sales and little attention or reviews from local press and art establishments.

Work by Barbara Wisnoski and Kathryn Clark at Warm Springs Gallery.

I am just using these examples to illustrate how fiber art is met with hesitation, if it is included at all, in more traditional art venues. I think there is an ingrained suspicion towards fiber among art curators, art critics, and art audiences in general. Somehow textile art is considered fragile, fleeting, and flimsy. Then there is the debate whether it is really art, or fine craft. Where do you draw the line? Do you have to draw a line?

Work by Karen Henderson at Warm Springs Gallery.

My wish is to garner a greater respect for the medium itself. Fiber art is no more precious, or insubstantial, or folksy, than any other medium. It is what the artist does with the medium that gives it meaning. Textile art can be good and bad, just as any other art form. I think great fiber art deserve a place alongside great paintings, prints, and video art.

In general (of curse there are exceptions) fiber art is most successful in venues where buyers, curators, collectors, and gallery owners have an interest because of the medium. Most of us probably fall in this category. Our love of fiber, makes us seek out good fiber art via specialty galleries, online venues, and exclusive fiber shows.

But my passion for the art form wants me to promote it in a wider sense. Not just to advance my own work, but because I truly think that fiber art belongs on the big stage. I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Do you have ideas about how to make this happen? How to further the understanding about fiber art and its qualities? I suggest that you visit these amazing artists, who all deserve a place in the most prestigious galleries and museums; Barbara Wisnoski, Karen Henderson, India Flint, Judy Martin, Roz Hawker, Dorothy Caldwell, and Beverly Ayling-Smith. The list could go on...


  1. Oh, Lotta......this is not new as you know. I received my degree in Fiber in 1981....we as students, nor our professor was ever taken seriously. I was always courted by competing department heads to change my major to photography or painting.....I really don't know what to say...but I will think about this. Also, it seems, not much is selling anyway. I recall Carol Burnett giving advice to folks going into show business...."never do it for the money." I have always thought the same for visual art.....or anything in the fine arts really. I will re read your post....to perhaps offer something positive for the discussion.

  2. in art school we discussed this. even our degree program showed a prejudice: no bfa or ba, i earned a bs design, textiles in the 70s. there were more (but not exclusively) women in textiles. we called ourselves fiberartists. there it stands for me. i try NOT to think about it since it gets me only frustrated.

  3. Thank you M! You are so right, this is an age old problem, and re-reading my own post I realize that it sounds a bit winy regarding the money issue. Sales are not my main motivation and is not a measurement for something being good or bad. But it is still one of the many ways artists value their work. XO.

  4. And an amazing fiber artist at that, Velma. No need to stir things up.

  5. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that when I view your art, my heart skips a beat and then calms, my brow unfurrows, my jaw relaxes and all is right with this beautiful world. Keep doing what you are doing, Lotta. "Beauty saves the world."--Dostoyevsky

  6. It's great to hear someone discussing some bigger issues. It is certainly an age-old issue and not simply confined to textile/fiber art, but also a feminist issue. Have you read The Subversive Stitch by Rozika Parker? I do wonder if sometimes we are our own worst enemies - the comfort of the textile 'world' can prevent us from striving to become a part of the wider contemporary art scene. This is just my personal view of course.

  7. i work with cloth, stitch and plant dyes because it's a passion and i can't imagine doing anything else [except possibly being a full-time gardener with an unlimited garden budget]. the truth is i am unemployable because i was born with the "don't fence me in gene" and so it's fortunate that people like me to come and tell stories and light fires under dyepots. i don't sell much in terms of product but i don't really mind - when i work at making something it takes time and then i need more time to make friends with the end result.

    more often than not i have given work away because i wanted it to go to a good home. which isn't very businesslike at all. it would be nice to have a little more income but having enough is plenty, really. none of which is very helpful to the problem you've outlined...

  8. hi Lotta , i have thought about this inequality with perception of textile work often, and i think in part it comes down to the old saying
    'familiarity breeds contempt'.
    we all have textiles in our lives. we sleep on it.dry our bodies with it, and wear it.tho not everyone uses a needle these days , it is the stuff of mothers and grandmothers who sew on buttons and take up hems.and make quilts for our beds
    canvas and oils, printing presses and ceramic kilns are much more foreign and specialised items and processes far removed from the average life.materials that can speak without the other associations.
    the kicker of course is that those who work with textiles often do BECAUSE of its relevance to our worlds and to our life stories , its familiarity and reminders.

  9. Thank you all for your insights. Peggy - your encouragement is heartwarming, India - your approach to the art form is what we all should strive for, Hannah and Roz, you both nailed it. The tradition and the familiarity of the medium may be its worst enemy.

  10. I think we have lived in and accepted a male-dominated-world-view about everything for so long that it's going to take another generation before anything perceived as "female" will be valued.
    Knitting, weaving, crotchet, embroidery, sewing, quilting...
    I think if Tracy Emin can do it - we ALL can!
    It's so painfully true - but we (women) have to value ourselves and our work more.
    I think your work is stunning Lotta. Keep your faith in your work and yourself strong.

  11. I agree with Roz. Years ago I used to make what could be called 'quilts' from Japanese paper. I printed each piece of the quilt parts individually, using solvent transfer methods (ick)...and sometimes intaglio printed each piece from plates I had made from a personal collagraph technique. Each piece was beautifully mounted on museum board laminated with japanese paper and the quilt was attached painstakingly with bits of linen twine and natural beads made from ostrich egg and coconut shells...they were nicely framed with natural wood frames...the size was about 40" square....and the price was hefty, I must admit...... to my surprise during that time I made them, I sold several. One year at the St. Louis Art Fair in Clayton, a man entered my booth...obviously sloshing a bit from the sponsor's beer....and declared my work 's---'....and the price 'ridiculous'....for you see....his grandmother made many many quilts like that......and gave them away. Case closed.

  12. the death of fiberaerts magazine has left a void regarding this conversation, but i think roz mentions something profound around what cloth is, what fiber is. what fiberarts did was present it all from, for example, amish quilts to magdalena abakanowicz.

  13. Your work is beautiful. Thank you also for the list of contacts. I have visited (and loved the work) of some of them before, but not all of them. I love textile art.


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