Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why ArtCloth
Engaging New Visions
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Why ArtCloth
ArtCloth was a term invented by Jane Dunnewold at the dawn of this century. Since then it has been widely used to embrace a myriad of “Art” that utilizes cloth as its medium. Jessica Hemmings in reviewing – ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions (an international exhibition in which I was the curator) questioned whether the term “ArtCloth” was necessary, since she thought that “…textiles provide a rich medium for sophisticated communication of conceptual ideas. But I don’t think that textile needs yet another name”[1]. My answer to her assertions is that as much as I respect Jessica’s opinion, I disagree with her viewpoint on this matter.

The history of art is one of continual change. Art is dynamic and so serious philosophical questions have been raised as to whether or not it can be logically defined, identified or even classified[2]. There are numerous philosophical treaties exploring these ideas[2].

There are three basic ingredients (as opposed to definitions) that all artworks possess. When “engaged” they are non-functional, and aesthetic. Wearable Art is “Art” when placed in an art context but when it is not placed in an art context, its functionality obscures the act of engagement. To make the latter statement clearer in a concrete operational sense, see DuChamp’s work in which he places a functional object (e.g. urinal) in a non-functional art context. “Engagement” is therefore a very important ingredient (e.g. an unknown buried work is not art).

DuChamp’s Urinal.

Jenny Kee’s Wearable Art.

These three conditions are “necessary” conditions and not the “sufficient and necessary” conditions that all logicians are searching for [2]. Note: I use the word “engaged” in a generic sense and so for example, if all human species were blind we could perhaps “engage” sculpture artworks, although I doubt if watercolor paintings would be considered within our art lexicon.

Albert Namatjira’s water color painting of an Australian Landscape: "Valley Ghost Gums, MacDonnell Ranges".

Historically what is now considered art - by individuals,cognoscenti, populous at large and by art institutions - has dramatically expanded. Furthermore, once a form of art has been accepted, like a biological cell when taken root in a particular form, it can divide and sub-divide itself into smaller sub-units.

Christos' Cloth Wrapping of the Sydney Opera House.
Note: One hundred years ago, no one would have thought of this as art.

Most areas of art are defined by doing nouns: painting, sculpture, and performance art (just to mention a few). Once an area or cell of art has been loosely defined a number of sub-divisions miraculously occur. For example, let us consider the art making area of painting. It sub-divides on process (e.g. oil paintings, watercolor paintings, and fresco etc.), on subject (e.g. landscapes, portraits, and seascapes etc.), on art movements (e.g. Impressionists, Post-Impressionist, and Cubists etc.) Those interested in the art of painting are not confused with such sub-divisions. Rather their mere existence indicates a growing conscious interest, articulation and sophisticated appreciation of this form of art.

Piet Mondrian - De Stijl art movement - painting: "Pier and Ocean" (1914).

Robert Rauschenberg - pop art movement - painting: "Canto XXX1".

Let us define what is a textile. Basically it is defined as “any material that is woven”[3]. Clearly canvas is a textile and so technically speaking paintings on canvas, linen, velvet and silk are all textile art. Alan Sisley (Gallery Director, Orange Regional Art Gallery, NSW, Australia) is bemused that textile artists exclude canvas from their definition of their area of artistic engagement[4].

Jane Dunnewold's ArtCloth piece: "Untitled".

Marie-Therese Wisniowski ArtCloth piece: "Nambian Expressions".

The definition of “cloth” is similarly as broad, namely, “ a fabric formed by weaving, felting etc. from fiber used for garments, upholstery and for many other purposes” [3]. The same arguments could be applied against the use of “ArtCloth” as a generic identifier for artworks on fiber - other than canvas - as those that were used against “Textile Art”. There are nuances that tip me in favor of the use of “ArtCloth” in place of “Textile Art”, “Fiber Art” and “Surface Design” etc. For example, the use of “cloth” to define clothing or garments is now obsolete [3]. However, the use of “textile” always evokes textile design, so important for the Bauhaus school-of-thought that it was plundered by commercial needs to sell fabrics to a large and discerning market for functional use [5] (in defiance of one of the necessary conditions of artwork – its lack of functionality). Whilst its practitioners have spawned future art movements on canvas (especially in the USA) it lost its way as the poppet head of future art movements on fabrics. “ArtCloth” unlike “Textile Art” therefore evokes the three necessary conditions (see above) that all artworks possess.

Anni Albers' Bauhaus textile.

Els van Baarle's ArtCloth piece: "Untitled" - detailed view.

The word “Art” in general, may be considered by some (but not me!) as too broad a descriptor to attach to “Cloth” since it evokes a non-doing noun. If I had been there at the beginning of Jane’s thought bubble I would have suggested that she should consider the descriptor “Fine ArtCloth” since “fine art” now evokes - “an art form categorized as one of the fine arts, namely, those arts which seek expression through beautiful or significant modes”[3]. “ArtCloth” naturally assumes this role, even though “Fine ArtCloth” technically nails it!

Leslie Morgan's ArtCloth piece: "Unknown" - detailed view.

The medium of cloth engages more of our physical and unconscious senses than most media used in art. In theory you can touch it, smell it and see it. The hue it offers is impossible to recreate on canvas. It is no wonder then that Leslie Rice used black velvet to paint his self-portrait to win the 2007 Moran National Portrait Prize [6]. Cloth is like having available to you a Steinway rather than a harpsichord.

Jeanne Raffer Beck's ArtCloth piece: "Voyagers" - full view.

I am not at all fussed that “ArtCloth” is sub-dividing itself. I have often stated that ArtCloth works are exploring a new continent in art[6]. To take this analogy further - like any continent there will be different flora and fauna, landscapes and climates in different regions of the continent – all happening at the same time. The more mature these explorations become, the more sub-divisions appear. Just view (on this blog site) the contributions to – ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions – as well as the ArtCloth pieces in this blog - to appreciate the diversity and complexity of the new continent in art - called ArtCloth.

Claire Benn's ArtCloth piece: "Square Pegs and Round Holes".

Laura Beehler's ArtCloth piece: "Red Golden" - detailed view.

Like the mature art of painting, fine-art cloths can also be sub-divided on process (e.g. shibori, batik, and digital etc.), on subject (e.g. landscapes, post-graffiti, and social comment etc.), and on movement (e.g. post-modernism, abstract expressionism, and De Stijl etc.)[6] Those interested in “ArtCloth” will one day identify new art movements in cloth being born, developed, appreciated and then perhaps discarded. These statements are not predictions, but rather are the artistic cycles witnessed with the exploration of any art medium.

Jane Dunnewold ArtCloth piece: "Untitled".
Note: Some of Jane Dunnewold ArtCloth pieces are influenced by Mondrian's De Stijl paintings.

Joan Shulze ArtCloth piece: "Pewter".
Note: Some of Joan Schulze ArtCloth pieces are influenced by the pop art paintings of Rauschenberg.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski : "Rainforest Memories".
Note: Unlike Albert Namatjira, Marie-Therese Wisniowski uses ArtCloth to artistically explore Australian Landscapes.

We do not want to lose focus on what is important to us – definitions may come and go and undoubtedly, will keep art theorists and publishing houses very busy producing a vast array of tomes[2]. However, what motivates the practitioner is simply to do and to “engage” with fine art! Enjoy, and let those less fortunate and gifted argue about the nuances.

[1] J. Hemmings, Surface Design Journal, Fall 2010, pages 56-57.

[2] N. Carrrol, Philosophy of Art, Routledge, London (1999).

[3] The Macquarie Dictionary, Third Edition, Macquarie University, NSW (1997).

[4] A. Sisley, ‘Audience Cottons onto Exhibition’ Gallery Pages, Central Western Daily, Orange, 15.5.10

[5] The Oxford History of Western Art, Editor M. Kemp, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2000).

[6] M-T Wisniowski, Crafts Arts International, 73 (2008) pages 1-6.


Laura Ann Beehler said...

Thank you for such a thought provoking essay!

Linda Teddlie Minton said...

What a wonderful commentary on ArtCloth and art in general. Fascinating reading, and wonderful visuals.

KMY said...

Nice essay. I learned a lot. I have a question on this topic. I make "silk paper" creations. This is dyeing and using pure silk fibers and binding them together using a medium. I think the term paper is a misnomer. What I'm actually creating is homemade fabric. On an arty website the comments I got were: "this is not fine is more like a crafty thing". If you take a look at some of my silk paper work, please tell me if it is textile art or what? If you don't mind, could you put your take on it on my blog under comments. That way I'll be sure to see it (or email me directly)

Thanks in advance,

Patt Scrivener said...

Thankyou for sharing.I have always been fascinated with textile art and use to paint on silk. You have inspired me to get out all my failed pieces and incorporate them into my mixed media or encaustic work. Really enjoyed the visuals and commentary.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. It is a really interesting site.

woodhavenstudio said...

Very enjoyable. The visuals are terrific!

Mary Ruth Smith said...

You are the first person to define "textile" and "fabric" in the same way I do: a textile is a woven fabric while a fabric is a more general term encompassing all the different ways cloth can be constructed: weaving, felting, knitting, crocheting, knotting, lace-making, etc. It seems that the 2 terms are used interchangeably today.