Oct 31, 2011

REVIEW | CONTEMPORARY TEXTILES | BLACK DOG PUBLISHING | 2008

Contemporary Textiles, Book Cover

Contemporary Textiles is a diverse assortment of over fifty profiles for some of the most innovative fiber artists working in contemporary art.  The book begins with a foreword by Jann Haworth, a note from the editor, Nadine Monem, a section titled, Textiles at the Cutting Edge by Bradley Quinn, another section titled, The Art of Fabric by Janis Jefferies, followed by artist profiles categorized under drawings, paintings, sculptures, and space. The book is perfect for prospective contemporary artists looking for inspiration, or those seeking more knowledge on the subject and history.

“Everything is the stuff of art.”  A strong quote by Tony Caro in Jann Haworth’s foreword.   Haworth, who has been working in the arts for nearly fifty years, (and is also featured in the book as a renown sculpture artist) writes about some of the issues she faced working as a female artist with what was considered a traditional feminine medium in a male dominated art world.  
The nature of the truly creative is rebellion—against what has been, against habit, the norm, our stamina and the limitation of the ‘known'.  Art is a quest... It is a path into the unknown.  You are about to embark. 
In Textiles at the Cutting Edge, by Bradley Quinn, Quinn writes about fiber artists reclaiming contemporary art as their own.  The artworks became edgier as they merge old techniques and contemporary ideals to form the message that fiber art can be a powerful medium.  Quinn continues this first section by writing a little more about fiber artists that aren’t featured as well as the some of the featured artists that are later shown in the book.  (One of these artists, both featured in Bradley Quinn’s section and in the featured artist profiles is Janet Echelman, an internationally renowned artist, who was invited by the former fibers professor, Jean Laman, to give an artist lecture at Texas State in 2010.)
Following Bradley Quinn, is Janis Jefferies's section titled, Contemporary Textiles: The Art Fabric.  Jefferies begins with a history of a few modern artists that made way for contemporary arts today, followed by the ever-popular subject of what makes a fiber artist, and why fiber art is not exclusively a woman’s craft.  I found Jefferies to be a little chaotic in her writing.  There are important terms and histories about modern fiber art that she discusses, but Jefferies seems to insert her opinion sporadically when touching on a controversial subject.  For example, Jefferies writes a page about Clement Greenberg’s strict definitions of what is kitsch and avant-garde; specifically his outlook on decorative art being tied to mass culture, or wallpaper.  What makes her a chaotic writer, is the random quotes that she pulls from Clement Greenberg to prove her point.  Unfortunately, her point was unclear in a few areas because of the one-word quotes taken from Greenberg.  In the final part of Jefferies's section, she sends a positive message to artists as she writes about contemporary art being the art of technology.  
...we live in exciting times, full of new material possibilities and technological innovation.  Textiles are at the very vanguard of contemporary art practices and social change today.  They are now seen as the material culture of the future, with the potential to transform the way we think, live and behave in an ever-increasing networked culture..
The final portion of the book is artist profiles that are organized thematically such as, drawings, paintings, sculpture and space.  This section makes a point to highlight reputable artists of both sexes from across the world. 
I enjoyed reading this book immensely.  The attitude of the book as a whole seems to take on a defensive one, but with good reason.  Contemporary fiber art books are still filed under the “crafts and hobbies” section at book stores.  The attitude of the book mirrors many fiber artists who have dealt with derogatory remarks about the art being a "woman’s craft".
Contemporary Textiles primarily targets contemporary artists, which is both a positive and negative aspect.  The two sections before the artist profiles written by Quinn and Jefferies require comprehension of the arts and art history.  While this might intrigue an artist or art student, it might drive away someone who has an interest in the subject, but doesn’t have a comprehensive understanding of the arts.  

-Emily Lewis

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