Contemporary Studies Essay

This week has been a complete and utter write-off and as I result I've not achieved a whole lot except hiding under my duvet covers. But I'm up, and determined to put this week well and truly behind me. 

Our next Critical & Historical brief is a Contemporary Studies Essay with a choice of three questions. I've decided upon the third of the three:

            "What have been the connections between fine art and design? Choose one specific decade and the design / designers must relate to your own pathway area and link their work/s to relevant post-modern ideas and themes."

Exciting. I'll be looking at Jan Pienkowski's work as I've been heavily influenced by his imagery since I was first introduced to the pop-up book Haunted House, Meg and Mog, and when I first started reading: A Necklace of Raindrops, written by Joan Aiken and which Pienkowski illustrated. 

Last year I frequently looked a lot at Pienkowski's cut-out and inky illustrations for inspiration, because personally, there's only so much Rob Ryan I can take and I find Pienkowski's cut-outs much more interesting and so much more sincere than Rob Ryan's 'crowd pleasers'.

It'll be interesting to explore the concept of Pienkowski's work as fine art and where he lies as a post-modern designer.

Here are a few examples of Jan Pienkowski's work:

This looks hilarious.

Critical Studies Essay...

...Of which I'm rather proud. Even if re-reading it now feels like swimming through custard. I got 77 which is a first (whoop). I think this is the right draft, if not then it looks like I may have deleted the original. 

Catherine Harper’s enthusiastic text: ‘I Need Tracey Emin Like I Need God’ (written in 2004 and commissioned by Selvedge magazine), is undoubtedly appreciative of Emin’s work, not only, it would seem, because of Emin’s  “allusion to negotiations of the feminine in Western Culture” (Harper, 2004, pg 24) but because of her ability to present her work in such a way that it is almost indistinguishable from the style of historical and purely ‘crafty’ quilts.

Harper immediately addresses the concept of a relationship between crafting and whoring, an idea that extends throughout the essay, and leads to the consideration of the differences and similarities between Emin’s work and Feminist issues concerning women and their practice of crafting, specifically the amount of herself a woman would metaphorically pour into her quilt.

Inevitably then, the idea of story-telling and ‘keep-sakes’ is introduced, not only as a historical aspect of quilting but as part of Emin’s system of working and the way she almost documents the female issues which she highlights with her contradictions of the traditional.

While Harper writes mostly on the topic of Emin’s work: its symbolism, meaning and interpretations, it is in this text that we can see her imitating Emin; she too is investing herself in her work, in this very piece of writing, as we can eventually see in her disclosure of her family history and indeed in her declaration of love for Emin’s work. Harper emphatically advocates Emin’s work, to the extent that we too, could suggest that there may well be a link between crafting and whoring here, within Harper’s own essay.

From the very first sentence of  ‘I Need Tracey Emin Like I Need God’ (Harper, 2004) we immediately see that Dr. Catherine Harper’s writing is not in the least bit inhibited, indeed she appears to relish the opportunity to be candid: “Crafting and whoring might be more connected than we think…” (Harper, 2004, p. 22). Essentially addressing one of her main theories within her first sentence, Harper evidently intends to jolt her audience with her suggested topic of comparison, which is successful in adding intrigue to what she has to say.

Though the text is heavily opinionated and undoubtedly descriptive, it is in no way inaccessible. It’s expressive language and Harper’s consistent tone of admiration makes it a lot more digestible than an essay of a more academic nature; Harper’s personal observations of Emin’s piece ‘I do not expect’ (2002) remind us that this essay is based largely on Harper’s own reactions to Emin’s work. “The careful blanket stitching around its upper edges…” (Harper, 2004, p. 23) is a reminder that Harper has examined the textile piece and has had a visceral response, one that has struck on a personal level, enough for Harper to have-written the essay in question.

Despite Harper’s accessible style of writing, she still references the academic, prominent writer and advocate of feminist and conceptual art, Lucy Lippard, though this brief quotation referring to quilts being a “prime visual metaphor for women’s lives, women’s culture” (Lippard, L. The Artist and the Quilt, p.18 cited by Harper, 2004, p.23), seems almost to be thrown in as a formality, considering Harper’s some-what untamed writing style so far. Similarly, when referring to quilting in a historical context: “…for example, in the immigrant homesteads of 18th and 19th century US America…” (Harper, 2004, p. 23) Harper’s language becomes considerably more formal, less expressive and a little more stilted. This does disjoint the text, as does the inclusion of Sarat Maharaj’s argument: “Maharaj argues that the “allusive, narrative force” of the quilt is never quite liberated from just keeping warm in bed, by hearth and at home” (Harper, 2004, p. 24). While these references do support Harper’s intended points, they do rather dramatically change the tone, as does the rather unexpected question: “So, why do I love these works so much?” (Harper, 2004, p. 24) which Harper utilises as a means to conclude her essay. As a result the essay feels as if it has been rounded off haphazardly, as though Harper has realised half-way through, that her essay can’t be made up entirely of her own opinions, and that it ought to include an idea of the context of quilting in order for the essays audience to relate to it.

“Crafting and whoring might be more connected than we think” (Harper, 2004, p. 22): surely it can’t be argued that this is the prominent underpinning theory of this essay. Harper immediately introduces it to us, continuing: “Both are, if not exclusively the employments of women, then at least conventionally ‘women’s work’” (Harper, 2004, p. 22). This theory that crafting and whoring are both considered to be age old ‘employments’ of women is supported and accompanied by the idea that women, both past and present (specifically Tracey Emin in this case) pour their private lives into a quilt, parading their lives and secrets for all to see, even making money out of it. This is compared to the apparently equally old act of whoring of women, where women would similarly display themselves and exert a not entirely different amount of effort as they might while ‘crafting’, for money. Perhaps another theory could revolve around the idea of protection; the idea that a quilt is ‘crafted’ to protect from the cold; to hide; to preserve; to act as a distraction during its creation: “…as if the constant action of stabbing cloth would puncture harm, as if the talismanic use of family fabrics would outshine the ‘evil eye’” (Harper, 2004, p.24).

Towards the end of ‘I Need Tracey Emin Like I Need God’ it becomes clear that, though Harper does present the likeliness between crafting and whoring, she ultimately appreciates Emin’s blankets because of their honesty, normality and reflection of Emin at the time of their creation, rather than for any statement they are, or are not making. Ironically, what Harper likes best about them is the quality that just about every ordinary quilt has, when it isn’t being picked-apart by art critics. It is what it is.

Nevertheless, the text deals with various themes along the way, particularly Emin’s trademark disclosure of what most would consider to be very personal details. The integration of the artist and their art: where is the line drawn between producing art as a career and producing art simply as an extension of yourself? Harper explores this concept while questioning the differences between crafting and whoring, all the while alluding at Emin’s own position as a crafter/whore, selling her secrets, the secrets of her body, with her artwork and her willingness to display ‘herself’ within her art and the art itself. 

It’s possible that a theme runs throughout the essay in the way Harper writes. Her choice of language is immodest, sexual, and provocative, not unlike Emin’s pieces. One might think Harper is even mirroring Emin’s visual style in her writing. She is bold,  un-abashed, even creating motifs in the repetition of certain words. However, as this repetition occurs towards the end of the essay, we could easily assume that, like Harper’s odd opening to her conclusion, this is merely because of a need to wind down the sensual language and explain her-self.

Female pursuits inevitably appear as a theme, indeed the line between this theme and theory is blurred; Harper frequently refers to crafting as ‘women’s work’, which is a persisting point of view even today, and one which may well never cease to linger. Hand in hand with crafting as a female pursuit, is sex. Harper presents the vague idea of sex as: whorish, girly and nostalgic and as a means of procreation…creation in its starkest form.

Selvedge is an independent, bi-monthly publication that places the highest importance on its images and their quality.  While it’s aimed towards all those who love and appreciate crafting, its main focus are those who consider textiles to be their main interest.  Due to the broad range of creative topics that they cover and the concept of creativity as a lifestyle, Selvedge has acquired a wide International audience. Inevitably, with such a specialised theme though, Selvedge’s audience is likely to be comprised of those who consider textile art highly and have more than just a fleeting interesting in the subject, especially considering its price.  Evidently essays and a lot of historical information are included in this publication, indicting its audience must have particular tastes, perhaps frequently leaning toward the academic and so we can only expect to see academics, students specialising in relevant areas and those likely to really gain something from buying Selvedge, as being its main audience. To an extent we might assume that Selvedge is a rather middle-class publication, as it is indeed rather expensive and therefore could be considered only worth buying if it has some context within the consumers life. Evidently the intended audience for Harper’s essay is predominantly female as is her focus of the essay. The fact alone that Selvedge is considered to be aimed more towards women, supports Harper’s theory of a link between women and crafting.

I am a Forest hq from Alex Schulz on Vimeo.

A tad busy at the moment. I will have plenty of time to patch together all the things that have been going on, next week.
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