Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Textile Art vs. Fiber Art -- Which words do you use?

Work by Nancy Crow
I have long defined my work as fiber folk art and it is usually a comfortable way for me to talk about what I do in my studio. Because I communicate with my collectors over the Internet, I have learned that art lovers in different parts of the United States and abroad use other words to describe the kind of objects/art I create. Outside of the conversation about the relative value of art as opposed to craft, which is a subject that often carries a bit of tension, I've been thinking about the choice of calling myself a fiber artist over a similar term, textile artist. Have you ever thought about a geographical or a perceived sophistication difference in the words used?

In common usage today, any type of artwork which uses pliable, organic elements as the major material can be labeled as either fiber art or textile art, and I notice when I do an Internet search that a large variety of examples come up when either term, fiber or textile, is used. However, I am noticing that there seems to be a difference between artworks that are created using traditional needlework techniques like stitching, weaving, spinning, felting, or quilting and those artworks that are made using a more expansive toolkit, like combining fiber with other mixed-media, adhesives, heated tools, or non-organic structural elements. Another clear reference to the word textile can be seen in ancient textiles to those of the 21st century, where a lineage of makers/artists created yardage of fabric, each baring the fingerprint of the artist.

Work by Miriam Schapiro
How does any of this history or word play make a difference in my profession? I believe that the way in which a person thinks about him or herself is a foundational element to whatever it is they do to earn a living. I am a professional artist, meaning my creative process is undertaken in a manner that addresses my economic goals and traditional business practices. When I use certain words to describe my artwork, words that feel apologetic or self-limiting, this has an impact on not only my own self expression but also on the manner in which the public views my work. I do sometimes feel hesitant to tell others I am a fiber artist, as if I am a poor cousin visiting the art world. Does this ever happen to you?

I believe that the art community, and especially the textile art community, has a strong heritage of skills that are passed down through both professional communities as well as domestic circles, and my work as an artist in in keeping with those who came before me. That means I can stand with some of my favorite artists who broke free of traditional and perhaps limiting art world boxes and now represent innovation in the fiber and textile arts--favorite artists like Nancy Crow and Miriam Schapiro come to mind.

Work by Georgianne Holland
When you consider making, buying or talking about fiber art, I hope that you also hold an expansive view about what it can mean within the larger artistic community. Beyond gender, beyond education, beyond cultural boundaries, there is a space for creativity using pliable organic fibers that speaks to humans in a very textural, seductive and accessible way. I have grown to think highly of all of this manner of communicating beauty and ideas, as I'm sure you have as well, and it is my hope that others will also help us sing the praises of creativity, using whichever words and mediums  ring most true.

Thanks for stopping by,

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Dawn of LaTouchables said...

There's a whole world out there addicted to and dedicated to fiber, in and outside the art world. I don't find it limiting at all. I use fiber, and not textile, to describe my work. Textile seems (to me) to be a term to describe a product, while fiber seems to describe a broader range of possibilities--skin can be fiber, glass can be fiber, ditto metal, etc.

Georgianne Holland said...

I love that you do not let words limit you at all Dawn! When I think about pure creativity, I see a space that is free-flowing with both input and output. It sounds like what you are talking about here. Thanks for sharing.