Linda Armstrong

An early childhood memory has stayed with me for many years. That memory has helped to form my understanding in answering the question, “is Fibre Arts a fine  Art? “

I’ve come to realize why. Imagine being given an empty classroom, several rolls of masking tape, string, yarn and told to go and have FUN! Do as you like ! Be creative, create a work of art! I remember it like it was yesterday. I was twelve years old! 

Given fifty plus years of life experiences, earning a degree in Fine Arts and teaching Visual Arts for thirty-one years, I confidently answer YES!, in my mind, Fibre Arts is a recognized fine art.

Fibre Arts not to be confused with textiles, refers to fine art whose material consists of natural or synthetic fibre and other components, such as fabric or yarn. It focuses on the materials and on the manual labour on the part of the artist as part of the work’s significance, and prioritizes aesthetic value over utility. (1)

Coincidentally, while doing some research on this topic I came across the work entitled “Womb Room” by Faith Wilding exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1971. Did this work in any way, influence my grade seven teacher? As illustrated in the image below, a rooms’ walls are painted black and the space was filled with a dome-shaped spider web of white yarn, rope and various dangling protuberances.

It’s part shelter, part trap. The version shown here was recreated in 1995 and is now known as  “Crocheted Environment”. Numerous critics first dismissed the fibre artwork in the 70’s as craftsmanship, not elevated to a fine art such as painting, drawing or sculpture. Feminist artists continue to embrace techniques like crocheting in defiant opposition to this bigotry. (2) Unfortunately, there are those who still have the notion that the fibre arts are a ‘craft’ which is not as good , not as serious, and not as important as fine art. 

Yet if you consider the established definition of fine art as a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness. The  word ‘fine’ does not so much denote the quality of the artwork in question, but the purity of the discipline according to traditional Western European canons. (3)

In contemporary practice these distinctions and restrictions have become essentially meaningless, as the concept or intention of the artist is given primacy, regardless of the means through which this is expressed. Every first year art student is presented with the question- what is art? After many years as a practising artist and art educator, the answer eludes me. It is my belief that good art, no matter what medium requires a sound understanding of composition and an aesthetic with intellectual purpose beyond any label of craft, fine or applied arts. The work needs to be judged for its beauty and meaningfulness.

That classroom of yarn, string and tape I helped create with great intent in 1972 obviously had meaning for it has stayed with me all these years. It is though, debatable  as to whether or not there was any great level of aesthetic! 

(1,2,3) Wikipedia , The Free Encyclopedia , April 2017 

Linda Armstrong’s work can be seen at Illumine until April 29.


April 18, 2017

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