James Hunting considers the question - Is stitch art?
His answer - If we want it to be.....
‘It is art’
This is one of those statements that engenders so much discussion and debate, most frequently started by, and involving ‘fine artists’ or practitioners who have followed a ‘fine art’ qualification or pathway. Personally, I think the debate is more what is art and how can something be judged as art or not?
I think this depends on the motivation and intention of the maker/artist/practitioner. Many practitioners within textiles do not want to be called ‘artists’ as it holds too much baggage- a presupposition that it is badly made, it is going to be abstract, it needs to come with a long, over-written and needlessly complex statement, and a rejection of traditional skill and making knowledge.
I do feel that, strangely, we can be our own worst enemies in this debate, there is a tendency of reverse snobbery evidenced in the use of language we use to talk about our work and the way we talk about our practice, a tendency to self deprecation. If we continue to use phrases like ‘just playing’ or ‘I find it so relaxing’ as well as ‘quirky’ and ‘fun‘ we must think of the consequences. All of these phrases give permission to the viewer and reviewer to dismiss the work. if we ourselves do not present it as serious why should anybody else? MORE
The illustrative painter uses his brush and oils, acrylics, pastel and other mediums to create his ‘work of art’.
Similarly, the needle is the textile artist’s brush or pencil and the wealth of threads are their paints. When applied and intertwined with a fabric it becomes a unique ‘work of art’.
Textile art, often confused with industrial textile design, is a true art form – for visual pleasure, either representational or abstract. It is a genre often confused and denigrated as a ‘craft’.
Today’s textile artists, having mastered considerable traditional skills, are now pushing the boundaries of these skills using differing mediums, materials and construction.
Recognised works, such as Grayson Perry’s ‘Walthamstow Tapestry’ and Tracy Emin’s ‘Confessional Quilt’, have furthered the recognition of creative textile as an art form.
Art is surely a visual display to please, disturb or excite the eye and I feel that constructed/deconstructed textiles are part of this flourishing and exciting movement.
Freehand machine embroidery on hand painted silk
Embroidery is art…of course it is.
Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. I am an artist, a textile artist. That describes who I am and what I do: an artist who chooses to work with threads, fabric and dye.
Freehand machine embroidery gives me everything that paint and canvas does with the glorious addition of texture. I draw with stitches using them like brushstrokes applying colour and texture at the same time. I work on a base of hand painted silk which gives depth and definition to my work. I use thread because it gives me a vibrancy, clarity and fineness of line that cannot be achieved in paint on this scale.
I cannot imagine working so enthusiastically in any other medium. My work is all about colour and texture in the natural world and embroidery is the perfect way to express myself.
'Embroidery is art'
I wonder if it really matters if embroidery is art or not? What seems more important is a questioning of material, an understanding of process and an opening up of ideas. Creativity captures experience and imagination which becomes manifest through making. An idea is turned into form through good design, through interpretation, through revision and acute application. All art carries with it cultural baggage. If art/craft seeks to transcend the expected, the certain and the safe, if it is well made, well executed and ‘beautiful’, it can offer new possibilities and new absolutes.
Those of us who work with thread know that it has its own life and its own potential. It is the enquiry into its infinite qualities that enliven us and capture us in dialogue with a material world.
Stitch as Art..why are we still debating this issue?
In the 1980's whilst studying for my Fine Arts degree I presented a research essay titled The Sex of the Artist Matters' and where this was tied in women's connection to stitch the domestic and issues of re-use there were endless discourses on the subject. Exhibitions such as the 'Subversive Stitch' (titled after that wonderful book by Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock) and 'Womens Work in Fibre and Textiles' presented at the Battersea Arts Centre in 1983 countered the arguments which margininlised embroidery and stitch as 'just a craft'. I was fortunate to be taken up by and guided by Janis Jefferies and found may way through this debate and participated in some of the more significant exhibitions of the time (Subversive Stitch and Women's Work amongst them) .Thirty years later it has been confirmed (it is the BBC after all) by a judge on a BBC2 programme Show Me the Monet that an embroidered landscape scene is ruled out as art, because, in her words, embroidery cannot compare to the artistry achievable with a paintbrush.
I chose to use textiles and stitch as a fine artist precisely because of the narrative it carries with the domestic, the connection to people and to place and the value I place on the mark I can achieve with stitch to convey meaning and content to my work. Surely, what is important is the artist's motivation behind their work. On debating on the title for my first book, 'The Found Object in Textile Art' I had discussed several titles. Robert Pulley, at the time Principal of West Dean College gave me the best argument for the title. 'The Found Object' is a known artistic term, it relates to your practice' and will do well in searches' . He clearly saw my work as an art form and adding to the discussions on this page, in the context of textiles, I use the specific narratives of found cloth and stitch as it suits the way I choose to express my ideas as an artist. If its good enough for Rauschenburg, Emin and countless other artists, it is good enough for me.