Context and Debate

My ATV feedback, suggested that I ‘Broaden my awareness of contexts and debates’ so I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about what concerns and interests me. I found this surprisingly difficult. I have been using exercises in Jane Dunnewold’s book ‘Creative Strength Training’ to help find my identity. Much of the book is concerned with enabling people to devote time to their art work, to developing a regular work ethic and to learning how to generate ideas. None of this was really relevant to me but I have found that regular journaling has helped.

The funny thing about my ‘journal’ is that it is probably exactly the same thing as a Learning Log, as prescribed by OCA. I did used to keep a paper log as well as my online blog but then the waters became muddied between it and my sketchbook, so I stopped doing it. I have been writing about what interests me and how my work could fit into a wider context, the great thing about it not being part of my blog or by submission is that I can edit and censor what I am not ready to say.

I have begun to identify three areas that I find really interesting, I am putting these forward in the hope that by discussing them I will begin to find a stronger personal voice:

  • the hierarchy and division between disciplines in ‘Art’
  • the preservation of traditional skill and techniques
  • where ideas come from


This is important to me, I have always felt that my work doesn’t really fit into any one category. At Art College in my late teens, my experience was that my work was too graphic for art (not in the explicit sense!). Too arty for graphics. Too crafty for sculpture. etc. I still wonder why no-one ever thought of offering me textiles back then? I think probably because I was enrolled on a Fine Art Course and a certain snobbery existed. Things have changed a lot over last twenty years, many more artists have successfully worked across the divisions but these hierarchical subcultures still exist.

It was really refreshing to read about Contemporary Basket Making and the moves being made by contemporary practitioners to raise the profile of this ancient technique. (Selvedge Magazine #75, P74). Yet the article begins:

“Not long ago, basketmaking was considered by many makers to be the ‘poor cousin’ of craft -not always taken seriously by those involved in neighbouring practises.”

I find the division between Art and Craft fascinating enough without adding yet another layer of snobbery! I had always assumed ‘Craft’ to be the injured party in this equation, looked down upon by those making Art. I now feel sad that poor old Basketmaking feels rejected, really ‘Craft’ should know better!

In Crafts Council Magazine (#265, P103), I found more evidence of ‘Craft’ being it’s own worst enemy. Rosy Greenlees (Crafts Council director and OBE) explains how, over the last 18 months, she has been collecting opinions of “people working and active in the field- including makers, curators, educators and gallerists” She reports some suggested the rising popularity of ‘Craft’ was a ‘double edged sword’:

“Though it is wonderful that the public is becoming increasingly engaged, sometimes it isn’t necessarily discerning, and that the proliferation of online platforms selling craft muddies the waters between amateur and professional.”

Hmm, sounds like more snobbery to me! In this same publication, the organisation are advertising and sponsoring HEY CLAY, a FREE opportunity to “Unleash the Inner Potter”. Perhaps those members fore mentioned might feel that there should have been a test at the door to exclude any “amateurs”!


This is not a well formed explanation, it is an idea in it’s infancy but I think the meaning behind it is: Take advantage of who you are and be yourself?

Another issue that I have discovered that interests me is the preservation of traditional skills in an increasingly mechanised and technical world. I love low tech, handmade, time-consuming, meticulous repetition. I love it when I see an artist using a traditional technique with a new twist, like Beccaria’s woven jewellery or Vasconcelos’ crochet skins.

It is a bit like the revival of interest in knitting, yarn bombing and Stitch n Bitch (are we past that yet?) or the reinvention of 1970’s macramé to something we see in the modern home or on the catwalk. I want to stay in touch with and promote skills I see as invaluable: the ability to produce legible handwriting (rather that type or text), dressmaking (can’t even sew on a button).

When I come across the work of a contemporary artist I am often struck by their interesting ideas and ‘exotic’ inspiration from their childhood home or travels. I suddenly began to realise that though I may think ‘exotic’, to them it is normal, it is their life. Therefore, my story might seem boring to me, but interesting to somebody else?

This idea was validated by an article in Selvedge Magazine about Agricultural Smocks. In the past I used smocks to inform my studies, I felt this was a traditional technique that could be given a new lease of life. I was almost a bit embarrassed by how rural and common smocks were, but seeing them in the magazine made me realise while they are ‘common’ to me, they are rare to somebody else. I felt they provided me with a sense of heritage, nostalgia and identity. Why not celebrate that?  I come from an area with a rich history in farming, processing and spinning, its time I learned more about it.


Lately I have started to notice the different state of mind I enter into when I really become involved in my art work. Experiments with working intuitively with my hands and not my brain caused me to think about the role of the subconscious mind in the generation of ideas.

Researching Judith Scott and ‘Outsider Art’ has led me to consider my motivation to produce art work. What strikes me is the drive to create and the prolific output, I spend way too much time thinking and not making!


One thought on “Context and Debate”

  1. Good start – I also feel that the need to find a personal context is beginning to emerge. I assume and hope this is one of the benefits of our continued efforts – that we each of us will be able to build our own platform.


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