RESEARCH POINT – Rules in Art and conceptual art textiles

Q – Are there no longer rules in art?

Before I can consider my answer to the question I would first ask when were there ever any rules in art? Artists have long created art in their own ways. There are rules in terms of composition, perspective, scale and use of colour etc if the work is intended to be representational and realistic and the very old masters would have used these guidelines, however during the late 19th, 20th and more so in the 21st century it has become acceptable to bend the rules considerably. Andy Warhol being one of the great artists of the Pop Art Movement in the 1960’s was quoted to have said “Art is what you can get away with” and is a view point that Warhol certainly subscribed to. Modern art generally refers to any art that is post 1860 and to art where the traditional approaches have been put to one side in favor of experimentation so I feel the change in attitude has evolved over some time. More recently are the Young British Artists of the 1980’s, a group of artists studying at Goldsmiths producing conceptual individualistic work which was intentionally “shocking” and created to provoke thought and discussion. Damien Hurst ,Tracey Emin and The Chapman Brothers all noted for such works

Q – How important is the relationship between the visual and technical or craft processes of a finished piece to the conceptual rigour underpinning the work?

Conceptual work, fine art, textiles or indeed any other media quite often will focus more on the artists idea rather than the technical skills used the create a piece. However I feel that if a piece of work is to succeed it needs to be created with skill to convey the message fully, or at least as clearly as is possible, to be understood properly rather than the idea to be lost in transition simply because technical skills were poor. The visual aspect, the initial impact and the idea, needs to be solid just as much as the creative skills used to execute the idea need to be. It may be that a viewer may not fully understand the artist idea and they can interpret it in the own way but poor craftsmanship should not be why the viewer thinks differently.

Some conceptual artists utilising textiles as their media are;-

Tracey Emin, a fine artist that we wouldn’t necessarily regard as a textile artist but her blanket series of art works utilises the “craft” of textiles using applique and embroidery in a similar way that she would with any other media. Emin is a conceptual artist using her own experiences in life, usually the unpleasant aspects of it as inspiration and through her creative practice she can explore ways to exorcise her emotions and deepest secrets.  Her work is usually provocative and controversial and the blanket series in particular centralizes around words and text and are a vehicle for her “verbal outbursts” in a visual but lasting way.

In her work “Everyone I ever slept with” she used a tent to carry her art work by appliqueing the names of all the 102 bed partners to that date on the interior. The names were not only her past lovers but also the names of friends, family members and also the name of her two aborted fetuses so bed partners were not all necessarily in the sexual sense. “The tent” as it is more commonly known and also the blanket series of work created in a similar way her applique skills appear to be quite basic but I feel this only enhances the work, so may in fact be intentional, as it adds a feeling of vulnerability but overall her ideas are clearly explained in a good visual way with “suitable” techniques.

TRACEY EMIN - The interior of “Everyone I have ever slept with”

TRACEY EMIN – The interior of “Everyone I have ever slept with”

TRACEY EMIN - “Hate and power can be a terrible thing”

TRACEY EMIN – “Hate and power can be a terrible thing”

Ref- Book “Contemporary textiles” the fabric of fine art – Black Dog Publishing

Sarah Lucas – emerged during the 1990’s as a leading contemporary artist as was yet another of the YBA.  In a similar way to Emin, Sarah Lucas has created provocative pieces of work throughout her career. In 1993, Sarah Lucas rented a space with Tracey Emin  to work and display their artwork.  When “The shop” closed they held an all-night party and created a collaborative wall hanging consisting of green corduroy and “badges” scattered through to mark the occasion. The badges reflecting the artists varying moods from humorous to lewd and violent, common themes of both artists at that time.

TRACEY EMIN and SARAH LUCAS “The Last Night of the Shop 3.7.93” 1993

TRACEY EMIN and SARAH LUCAS “The Last Night of the Shop 3.7.93” 1993

Sarah Lucas has continued to use textile media in some of her work since, for example “Untitled (Tit Chair)” consisting of fibre stuffed tights and has continued with his process for a series of textile sculpture entitled NUDS using stuffed tights manipulated to represent entwined bodies. The concept is simple enough and the method and media she has used has conveyed her ideas well as the stuffed nylon tubes resemble limbs ( if not a little flabby and overweight !) and by using the ends of the tights and making use of the reinforced toe she has suggested nipples for the “Tit Chair” and “Viz, nice Tits”.

Nuds – Textiles sculpture. Stuffed tights and fashioned into bodies entwined

Nuds – Textiles sculpture. Stuffed tights and fashioned into bodies entwined

SARAH LUCAS Untitled (Tit Chair) – 2012

SARAH LUCAS Untitled (Tit Chair) – 2012


SARAH LUCAS  “ Viz. Nice Tits “ -  2011

SARAH LUCAS “ Viz. Nice Tits “ – 2011

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude (artists using their first names only) can be described as conceptual artists as well as environmental artists. Their work spanned 40 years and involved the covering and draping of extensive volumes of fabric over “found items” within the urban environment to create environmental sculptures. The base structures were bridges and buildings among others so their work was considered controversial due to the sheer scale of the projects. By utilizing the flowing nature of fabric for their sculptures, as opposed to something with a more static quality they challenged the traditional definitions of sculpture. As artists they claimed that their work did not convey a message and carried no underlying statement but to my thinking it does but on a more subtle spiritual basis and maybe, only now, can we appreciate it.  Their projects were lengthy to plan, one taking 32 years to come to fruition and they were always intended to be temporary believing this to enhance their value and intensity. They wanted their art to make ‘gentle disturbances’ in human occupied spaces – to make people become more aware of themselves and their surroundings and to create the positive feelings of joy, beauty and tenderness – the soft tactile nature of fabric conveying this perfectly. All their projects were self-funded raising funds through the sale of works and sketches to allow them full creatively without restrictions and they were always created with the notion of recycling all materials at the end – a very sustainable approach to creating art. These are all concepts behind the creation of work but just not concepts that are intentionally antagonistic in the way as conceptual art is usually regarded.

CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE Verhüllte Bäume - Wrapped Trees

CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE Verhüllte Bäume – Wrapped Trees

One stunning creation was the wrapping of 178 winter trees in Berower Park in the north-east of Basel by using 55,000 m2 of silver-grey shiny polyester. A pattern was made for each tree so the natural shape of the branches pushed the fabric outwards perfectly, creating individual shapes and varying moving silhouettes in the wind.  The skeletal framework of branches was made visible when the translucent material was backlit by the sun adding another dimension to the work.

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Ref- Book “Contemporary textiles” the fabric of fine art – Black Dog Publishing

Lara Schnitger’s work has developed over a period of time and expresses conceptual themes of eroticism, politics and feminism using a textiles based medium having now moved away from photography and film work. The themes with her work have remained consistent, playing with gender and pornography but claims she is not ideologically driven and her goal was not to create feminist art. She has been quoted to have said her work roots from “the frustration of being a woman and not liking the way I’m represented” so her concepts have evolved through her own feelings and reactions to the news.

LARA SCHNITGER  “Fun Bags” 2005 - Cotton, Lycra, fur, wood, and pins.

LARA SCHNITGER “Fun Bags” 2005 – Cotton, Lycra, fur, wood, and pins.

LARA SCHNITGER – Untitled -  2005

LARA SCHNITGER – Untitled – 2005


More recently she has been creating fabric figurative forms that are caricatures and a parody of “unsavoury types” like those we hear in the news. The “I want kids” sculpture makes uncomfortable references to paedophilia and addresses our darkest fears and taboos by using Oshkosh B’Gosh plaid (a US brand of children’s clothing) for clothing and jumping hairy pants that swing between the legs.

LARA SCHNITGER “I want kids” 2005 - stencil on plaid, cotton, fake fur, wood, pins

LARA SCHNITGER “I want kids” 2005 – stencil on plaid, cotton, fake fur, wood, pins

For me these works are less successful as I find the technical skills a little rudimentary but I do however still understand the artwork so this poses the question at the start does it actually matter if the techniques used aren’t so sophisticated? Hard to say as I have read the information explaining her concept rather than seeing it for myself and making my own judgement but generally speaking I still believe that good technical skills are the key to conveying an artist’s message fully. I do wonder about another question…does conceptual art fail is it has to be explained?

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Ref – – more explicit images that I chose not to feature but perhaps represent her work better.

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Ref- Book “Contemporary textiles” the fabric of fine art – Black Dog Publishing









This entry was posted in LEVEL 2 - P3 - Working from museums - Project - Message and meanings - Exercise - Making connections - Lawty / Bourgeois, LEVEL 2 - P3 - Working from museums - Project - Messages and meaning - Research point - Rules in art, LEVEL 2 - P3 - Working from museums - Project - Storytelling with imagery and text, LEVEL 2 - TEXTILES 2 : Contemporary Practice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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