FOLLOWING THE THREAD
REVISITING “THE THREADS PROJECT”~
detail “River, Stones”2003-2004
Silk, tulle, cotton, acrylic 35 x 68 inches from The Threads Project
Once an artist reaches the point that a body of work is considered finished, there is the opportunity to stop and reflect on the work accomplished and the ideas which inspired it and to perhaps try to fit the work into a larger context. For an artist, being consumed by the process of creative thinking and making is a very narrow focus. Energy goes to the Idea, to the resolution of it, the possibilities of its expression, and the potential for new offshoots from it.
This may mean one or a few works will come from these efforts, perhaps the development of a series exploring permutations of the “seed” idea. Sometimes this idea is meant for a far more intense investigation, which of course may only become apparent as the work gets under way.
This is what happened with The Threads Project. The “seed” idea was my recognition that I had compartmentalized my “fine art”, art which fell into the approved area of creativity and which was primarily drawing, in my case. The other “compartment” was my great love and interest in textiles and surface design which seemed rather less important though no less creative and pleasurable.
A short description of what took place is one that I wrote for the first exhibition of the fruits of this investigation into my “creative imbalance”. “Cloth and Paper” was a solo exhibition in Westerly, Rhode Island in January, 2004. I had by then moved back to California after living in Manhattan for nearly a year followed by another year in far eastern Connecticut. For these two years I was able to work for the most part, on the ideas that began in about 2000 as a series of pieces, continuing and developing for more than six years into a huge body of work that became The Threads Project.
From the statement for “CLOTH AND PAPER~Works From The Threads Project 2000-2003″ ~
The Threads Project was begun in an attempt to reconcile my sense of imbalance in my creative life. I needed a “bridge” to validate my interest and experience in textiles and the materials and processes connected with them, to the “fine art” aspect of my work. It seemed to me that in spite of the progress made in integrating the use of fiber, cloth, and related materials into contemporary art, such works still have not completely achieved the value and recognition that other works categorized as strictly “fine art” would.”
WHAT THE SURFACE REVEALS~THE THREADS PROJECT 2001-2007 is the book written in 2009 in which I documented this work. It is really only an overview, even at ninety pages. As I reviewed images and notes for the book, I also looked back at events and work that preceded this project and wondered how they had influenced or led to the new ideas. As I tried to place things in a larger context I also began thinking about what part being a member of my particular generation has played in all of this.
My generation of artists first saw women challenging much of the “art establishment”. The late Sixties and Seventies were heady times indeed. Questions were being asked about our absence in art history, in books documenting it, in museums, and in galleries. And so the ferment was intense and exciting. We challenged the definitions of art, what materials and processes might be acceptable in the making of it, what role our gender played in it, and what values were bestowed on our work, and by whom.
And so as we chose to challenge the status quo, the women artists of those times chose to elevate the domestic, the feminine, in material and process. Among those materials and processes, those which have long existed, cloth and fiber, have served the needs of humans since our beginnings.
In choosing to use cloth in its many forms, artists called upon memory and association, validated the use of humble and domestic materials as acceptable means to make a creative statement. One could now create art by crocheting, knitting, or even by sewing. The ubiquitous material of cloth offered endless possibility to be the carrier of meaning.
We could make art from anything at all, investing our intention to transform and shape, to have the material serve the Idea.
All these ideas and events were taking place at a time and place of many changes in our societies of course. And our ideas and work as artists fit the context of the times perfectly as men and women were discovering that old definitions, traditions, and conventions were no longer serving in the world of art as well as the culture as a whole.
As I consider my own efforts as an artist and try to find my place in the art of my own times it is clear that whatever propelled me to create a division in the first place, between my “fine art” and my “craft”, is still an issue of sorts today. The promise of those early days has most certainly been fulfilled in many ways, but for some reason the old issue of “art vs. craft” still finds resonance, still draws responses and comments and is the continuing subject for many books and discussions.
In trying to find my own place in this ongoing story of defining and re-defining what we mean by art and by craft, I see the work and events that helped make possible what we are doing today.
As I look over the notes made during The Threads Project, I see that it was actually a process of questioning as I searched for the means and methods, the elements which would express these new ideas. These questions began to help give form to my search for a bridge between “fine art” and “craft”.
“How do material and process affect the meaning of a work? Do these influence the value we assign to it? When does fabric or cloth leave the realm of “craft” and become “art”? What about the influence of museums and institutions that confer value? Does the distance from the time of creation give more importance to textile works? Who decides what is art and what is craft?
By the end of 2001 it was clear that these questions were leading to far more than a series of pieces addressing them. And I had begun to find my means for exploring these ideas.
What The Surface Reveals-The Threads Project 2001-2007 is available at the Blurb.com Bookstore.
- WHAT THE SURFACE REVEALS | NANCY ENGSTAD | Arts & Photography
- THE THREADS PROJECT 2001-2007, WHAT THE SURFACE REVEALS~THE THREADS PROJECT 2001-1007 documents in photos and text a six-year project which attempts to blur the divisions and perceptions between “fine art” and “craft”. The bo…, October 27, 2009