Recently in my favourite online knitting/crochet/etc. group, somebody asked a seemingly-simple question: do you see your projects as art, and/or yourself as an artist?
First we got into the kyriarchal implications of the word “art” – how some forms of making are valued more and classified as Art, while others are not – along lines of race, class, and gender. The classic example would be cooking, where (largely) well-to-do white men are revered as chefs, but everybody else – no matter how skilled or inventive – is just getting a necessary (and low-status) job done. Work that is traditionally associated with women – the fiber and textile arts being another major exemplar – tends not to be classified as Art, regardless of the level of skill and scope for self-expression involved.
Nonetheless, I don’t see my endeavors with fabric and yarn (and who knows what all else) as Art, nor myself as an Artist. For one thing, I’m not skilled enough to deserve the title. Plus I absolutely want what I make to be beautiful, but functionality takes precedence over whatever expressive quality it is that makes something a work of art and not “just” a useful item. (As if such a distinction is relevant)
To be honest, I don’t see myself as particularly creative. I don’t think anything I’ve ever made has been particularly original. I’m good at taking bits and pieces of things I’ve seen before, and combining them in ways that accomplish my current purpose. I’m good at tweaking and improving small details of things. And I really enjoy seeing interesting designs and trying to figure out how they work, and borrowing and re-purposing elements. I would say I’m a maker, and occasionally kindof a textile hacker, but certainly not an artist.
I wonder if I’m setting the bar too high for what counts as creativity, though? After all, I certainly do make things! There’s a whole series of functional and aesthetic choices that necessarily has to go into any created object, and it’s entirely possible that my particular combination of choices is original – and even if it isn’t, there is a certain amount of creativity and skill involved in making all those choices.
I think what I have in common with Artists and other creative types, is the ability to see what could be, and the drive and skills to bring it into being. I see the potential to become something else, just throbbing under the surface of every bit of raw material. I love to look for what is necessary to a particular design, and what could be tweaked and how much that would change the result.
I once thought everybody did that, but apparently not. There are people who see a crochet pattern and think they have to make it in the same yarn, in the same colourway, as the pattern picture. There are people who think you have to always, always make a sewing pattern as drawn. There are people who won’t make substitutions in recipes when they cook. There are people who don’t even get that far, who decline to try with a mumbled “I’m just not creative…” Maybe some people really aren’t?
I think what I am, is a person fortunate to have had (and continue to have) the leisure time to develop some skills to a point where I can not only execute many instructions towards the making of textile objects, but also make good judgment calls about which instructions to follow and which to ignore. And somebody who gets pleasure in the process.