Looking back, moving forwards

I was listening to a textile artist talk about how and where they were educated in their early days. It was a podcast, which makes me sound rather hip and trendy but honestly, I think it was the first one I’ve ever listened to. I love people’s stories though, so I might make this more of a habit. I was listening on stitcherystories.com

Well it got me thinking that I can’t say I went to this college or that one, did this degree or that (not for art anyway), or that I developed my practice under a particular influence. So where would that leave me if I was to be asked about such things?

I believe that if a podcast was done in another 20 years, many of the artists of the day might be describing a very different type of learning history behind their work because of the digital learning platforms we now have and because of education policy, leisure time and social media etc. The way we are educated is becoming radically different and access to knowledge is vast. This in turn is driving the kind of art that we do and what is appreciated.

I do, however, recognise what an in-depth academic grounding gives an artist because you can usually feel it in the way something has been considered – be it design, or abstraction etc. It’s hard to describe, but it’s there in the work.

I’m sure many of you will be like me, growing up in a family where my grandmother and mother sewed because they needed to. They were taught the skills of dressmaking, knitting, darning and crotchet to name a few. They were highly skilled and developed their own love of making through linen tablecloths, crochet dollies, embroidered handkerchief pouches and knitted jumpers etc. All lovingly made and given. Their making spilt over into other areas such as painting and music.

Mum’s and Grandma’s work. My daughter was christened in these tiny shoes with handmade lace, to go with a silk and handmade lace gown.

Mum and Dad spent many years making this together. Absolutely everything inside is handmade by them, and I mean everything.

Details of the dining room. Handmade furniture, tableware and food made out of wood by my dad, tiny needlepoint and lace, wall decorations… I am in total awe of what they achieved and I hope they enjoy the fact that others around the world are seeing it, too!

As I grew up, I had a go at various skills and copied and learnt and started to want to make my own things. Despite wanting to find my own ‘thing’ because dollies were not going to be it, I had been taught all the basic skills which allowed that exploration to flourish later in life. More than that, I had been taught the dispositions and attitudes such as persistence, curiosity and patience etc. For both these aspects, I am eternally grateful as they have bought me so much pleasure in my art life now.

So I grew up knowing how to stitch, and dissolved my elderly grandma into hysterical tears trying to teach a left-handed grandchild how knit. We didn’t visit the arena of crochet! No one was allowed to be left-handed in her lifetime so I’m sure the whole thing was a mystery to her. As a child, I grew to love painting and making things for my small world characters. The agony and ecstasy of time spent at the kitchen table between boredom and creation or getting the paints and paper out slightly afraid to make the first mark never really changes does it?

One thing I always knew was that I wanted to be a Primary school teacher. Long story short, I became one, but my education path was set accordingly and at GCSE choices didn’t involve art. I didn’t mind because I don’t even remember what school art lessons were, they made that much impression. And sewing classes….hated them with a passion. I never want to see a gingham apron ever again, and it took me until my first child to be friends with any sort of sewing machine as they were of the Devil as far as I was concerned.

So I did a bit of this and that, and employed my creativity in my teaching and learnt to machine sew properly when I had my children. I went to adult education evening classes for watercolour landscape painting and to do some ceramics before funding was pulled and read books on everything. I did some mean salt dough and dried flower wall baskets during that period I can tell you. 😀

Fast forward and I discovered the arena of art journaling and mixed media where I could engage in what I found to be my love: bringing lots of things together and working with ideas. Up until then, much of my activity had been around crafts, whereas now I was starting to pursue more open-ended possibilities. For the last few years, I have sucked up learning through books, ebooks, workshops and courses, You Tube, Pinterest and in conversations with others. And this is how I think a lot of us learn now. The time I have spent looking, thinking, honing skills and ideas this way must be immense. Best not count hours on Pinterest, hey?

I do believe Socrates had it right when he said ‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.

Speaking of vessels, here is a ceramic basket I made when I decided to make clay twigs. I do like it but I learned a lot, I’m still repairing the bits that break off because I forgot that clay would shrink when it’s fired.

I think it’s about the core ingredients of how to be creative – of learning some theory, time spent, skills and dispositions honed in order to carry you through the process whatever that may be, and in 20 years the stories behind our more well-known artists and their work will recognise a wide variety of learning pathways. We’ve had community or family generational learning, masters and pupils, the crafts guilds ‘journeymen’, academia and now we are learning globally and digitally. It’s exciting! It’s also shaping and expanding our view of art through its visual accessibility and its very platform as an art medium. Here is an interesting read about How David Hockney felt about using the iPad. It raises a couple of questions for me; see what you think.

Whether we learnt from our family, You Tube or college, there seems to be a resurgence within the general public of making things: different and exciting things because we can see how hundreds of others have taken their ideas in different directions and because we don’t need to make, do or mend as much – it’s often cheaper to buy. Whatever your thoughts about that, I think it means we are engaging more in learning art or craft because we recognise it’s good for our souls. And in this way, many of the traditional skills are being honoured and transformed. Some of the hankie pouches and dollies are kept because they have precious memories and because they show such love and skill I can’t fathom. But artists are also valuing those items in their transformation of them into new textile art that we could not have imagined even 20 years ago.

This is a small part of a piece I did about my mum, which used her spare silk and threads from when she made the dolls and lace etc. The pieces of crochet edges were not taken from my family’s cloths but one I bought second-hand. Still, I hope the person who made it might appreciate why and how the work was made if they could have seen it.

My brother, friends and I in our matching outfits. We were all very pleased with ourselves. I’m the tallest one, what a giggle looking back at this!

So bring on the art bombings, slow stitching, eco dying, painting, weaving, heating, burying, rusting….I’m off to kindle my flame and probably actually burn something!

Although come to think of it, I seem to remember that was my brother’s forte…

4 thoughts on “Looking back, moving forwards

  1. My Granny tried to teach me to knit, I am also left handed, to my lasting regret she didn’t manage to before her early death, I can knit now and crochet, they sell left handed crochet books now. My Mum taught me to sew. I also learnt ceramics, painting, macrame and lots more. Now I do mixed media, hand stitch and mainly weaving. I didn’t go to college and I don’t have a degree, which people I meet mainly do so I just keep quiet. I think growing up in a creative household helps, though I don’t think that either my Mum or Dad would think they were creative but they both were/are.
    The dolls house is exquisite.

  2. My training was the same as yours Rachel: I was steeped in making from the start and coincidentally I became a teacher as well. I did toy with the idea of gaining some formal art education but decided it would be too frustrating and I’m not good at being told what to do and when.
    As for teaching left-handlers, I’m a right handed and have taught several to tie shoes, knit and crochet. The secret is to sit opposite and ‘make like a mirror.’

    1. I did crochet a baby blanket years ago but I’ve forgotton how now! I realise just how much making went on in my house, we are very fortunate.
      I just absolutely love your latest pieces on your blog, been catching up on my reader. They pretty much sum up all that I love, no wonder they sold so quickly.

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