Is textiles an art or a craft?
What is a craft? What we should be asking is; what is a person who uses craft to make work?
A Craftsperson is, for me, a practitioner who displays an understanding of their chosen materials, and an understanding of the traditions that have gone before, it is not a term used automatically with terms such as ‘cosy’, ‘technique based’ or ‘quirky’ – all used in association with craft on a regular basis, but to me it implies knowledge and understanding of gestures and mechanics of process and their application in order to make work.It does not mean that the practitioner is judged solely upon the skills displayed in the work, but that without this knowledge the piece would lack the rigour and substantiality that good art requires. There does remain a plurality of motivations within craft, some wish to be noted for their practical skill, some for their adherence to tradition and technical absolutes, but there is also the place for those to whom the very media and processes enable a deeper, conceptual and emotional body of work to emerge. Exhibiting such a wide ranging media such as textiles remains an enigma, if the practitioner ‘resides’ within the textile environment it is difficult to show in mainstream art events. However, if the practitioner is able to identify with the ‘fine art’ milieu, and use the appropriate language and references, (often those that reject the notion of ‘craft’ ) they are accepted and acknowledged as serious challengers to the establishment. Strangely enough we textile artists have access to an environment that is unique to us, and it is one that we often dismiss.
This time of year sees the Knitting and Stitching show season open. This show has been going for seasons and it remains the major showcase for textile artists, especially those who wish to show to peers and enthusiasts. We can be quick to judge the motivations of the attendees and the visitors, but without the legion of aspiring artists and makers we would not even have this forum to show in. Exhibitors are engaged with their audience in an unimagined way for the ‘fine art fraternity’. Opinions are freely given, inspirations are freely ‘borrowed’, questions range from ‘what technique have you used?’, through to ‘tell me about this piece’, with the eternal ‘how long did it take?’. This leads the artists and makers to confront their practice, examine their working methods, share and analyse their emotional reasons and states and be prepared to talk and engage with an audience who generally ‘know their onions’ . Work exhibited in more traditional gallery settings rarely are exposed to such detailed observation and scrutiny, and as a textile artist each time I show at the Knitting and Stitching Show I feel that my own working practice is challenged and therefore grows, it is up to us as artists to use the opportunity presented and grow rather than bemoan our continued exile outside gallery doors.