Assignment Four (Option 1): Research Point 4.1: 2. Research for essay

This research point took me time to mull over the wording, I needed to decipher a few of the sentences within the OCA notes and make sure I had the correct understanding of the essay to be written, so that I didn’t take it from the wrong angle.

The subject matter is huge, thus I will have to pare down my research and findings, only putting the most educational and stimulating matter within my essay.

Looking at the questions posed as regards rules in art and the concepts which underpin it, my mind immediately ventures to The Royal Academy of Art in London and the summer show they put on every year.  Why?  It is known for Fine Art in its Traditional sense.  Yet as the years have gone by, more and more mediums have been incorporated and the rules to my seeing of things, have dropped.  I am sure that I could find some interesting interview comments and research on this to back up my points.

The exhibition mentioned in the notes, the Turner Prize, is one which has a long history of “different” art styles.  We see past winners using a wide variety of materials, including Textiles.  Thus I could look into this too.

Locally, I have near me The Baltic gallery.  Here we find many a variety of art in its most bold and contemporary sense.

Are there any rules in Art?

Personally I don’t think that there are.  However a piece does not arrive in a gallery or even made by an artist without thought.  Weather it is a blank canvas sitting alone, or a piece which has much detail and masses of work – they both may have the same back up of research and thought put into them.

However back up is needed to prove this.

In order to broaden my own learning and thought, which may initiate changes within my own practice, I would like to read around this subject of contemporary textiles and its interpretations.

I have just visited my local library, in order to delve into their collections of not only textiles but fine art, contemporary art and crosses in media.

I have brought one’s home which I feel will help me write this essay with involvement and understanding:

–          Grayson Perry ‘Playing to the Gallery’ (2014)

–          A selection on Tracey Emin

–          Contemporary Textiles, the fabric of fine art

–          Elisabeth Blackadder (purely to keep my learning varied)

–          Turner Prize History

–          A few books on placement and contemporary art reading



I will look at all I have mentioned one at a time:


          Royal Academy Summer Show


I have visited this for a few years now, so can comment with more insight.

Having seen exhibitions here in the past which are purely Fine Art based, we see in this show, a sense of excitement, a freshness which is muted with stillness from the traditional pieces with merge into the show too.

Looking at this from a contemporary art / textiles viewpoint, last year there seemed to be less weight on the textiles than other years, however I enjoyed the juxtaposed “mish mash” that it was, with a focus on draftsmen and robotic devices.   Statues were placed next to fine art etc, making the eye bounce from one to the other:

These statues had a tactile feel and obvious 3D format.  To my perception, they evoke a feeling of the explorer.  Thus in silence they speak.


These handmade clothes were mounted as wall based work.  Personally I felt that they needed to breathe and they were too “Fine Art” framed for my liking.  A glass cases or at least two sided box frame would have let the light in.  What are they trying to say?  The idea of a child’s clothing in a dark colour; are they an artefact or somewhat gloomy in appearance?



Yinka Shonibare. Cake.  2014

At first glance, to my eye this piece looks quite whimsical, almost Alice in Wonderland-esque.  However this Percival changes when we understand the concepts which underpin its body, its depth.  Notice the fabrics which are classically African.  Then we learn in the blurb beside the work, that the process of this was founded in Indonesia.  Thus she brings two places together in an almost political way, yet set out in a mask of colour.

Interestingly her website backs this up and gives us more meat on her history.  Take this quotation:  ‘Shonibare’s work explores issues of race and class through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and film. Shonibare questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions. His trademark material is the brightly coloured ‘African’ batik fabric he buys in London. This type of fabric was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. In the 1960s the material became a new sign of African identity and independence.’

The above is an example of why we should never walk past a piece of art work and simply label it as “nice” without having that investigative spirit, that urge to know more and find out, like an Agatha Christie character.


Eva Gonzales ‘A coat for my daughter’.

To my eye, this way of displaying textiles, letting it breathe, lets us fully comprehend the structure and fabric much better than if it had been encased in a frame.

On first comprehension, we see colourful patched piece and writing.  Yet further reading, shows the writing to be lists of albums and songs.  It seems as if the artist is evoking memory here, sewing her words into her daughter’s future.  It has story and a family tie feel.  One critique said of the work:  ‘traditionally textiles is a woman’s realm. For me, these pieces really tap into that history of women using crafts and using their domain as a way of telling stories to society.’ (Amber Jane Buchart 2014)  This is quite a judgemental comment in some ways, yet her words do have truth.

Going back to the more 3D built work in textiles:


Tim Shaw – The Bistro Kids gone wrong – wire life size models

A complete A – Z contrast from the previous piece, here we see figures in fight?  Or dance?  Devilish, yet beautifully choreographed.  The stitching looks torn apart – does this represent death or harm?  What is the artist trying to evoke…a reaction within us?  Far from the home made, “craft” aura of ‘A cape for my daughter’, this piece makes me think of violence and exploring open stitch lines.

The piece uses traditional textile materials, yet in a modern way which wills us to ask more, it is a talking point, such again is another character of conceptual art.

Although actually not “Textile” in material, this piece was masquerading as such.  Thus this calls into question another thought…..are some pieces made in non-textile material, to still be classed as another technique?  Are there still rules in art, when it comes down to where the art is placed and categorised?

One fellow student said of this piece – ‘Does the fact that this is made from painted canvas which has been woven in a textile related way, make it more or less of a painting?’

It makes us think doesn’t it?

From this quick highlight of the contemporary scene at The Royal Academy, we glean some sense of what it is like to present art at this venue.  An interesting French based essay, reminded us that The RA has not always been so liberal with its choices of exhibitions:


Isabelle Baudino ‘Difficult beginning?  The early years of The Royal Academy of Arts, London.

The main points to pick out of my pasted in paragraph above, are that really collage, needlework (textiles) etc was not allowed.

Thus that’s why it is such a conquest when Textiles and conceptual art get into these venues.

This leads me to the Turner Prize.

I didn’t know much about this history of this, or what “rules” as such it had.

Thus research needed.

Having managed to borrow a few books on the award itself, I understand now its leading influence in the world of Conceptual / Modern art.

The word “controversial” comes into context here.  Meaning debate; in other words we are talking about it long after we have seen it.

I found a few of the speeches from the award ceremony over the years insightful:


It provokes debate, as I mentioned.  This is so good for our minds, we need it to strengthen and create solid opinions, yet not be close minded.  We need it to stretch us, our ability to see things in only a certain way, can we change this? Etc etc.

A few images from past winners:


Tracey Emin – My Bed (1999)


Grayson Perry at the opening night as winner. (2003)

Another bullet point to take on board, is that this award moves its visual location each year, so that as many as possible get to see it.  This is one way art is being made accessible to all.

I think the art world had more trouble coming to terms with me being a potter than my choice of frocks’.  – Grayson Perry’s Prize acceptance speech for the Turner Prize in 2003.

Maybe I could look into this more within my essay, choosing a textile artist who has won this prize in the past?

Grayson Perry is one to note and look into further, as I know he has written on the subject of contemporary art; he has that radical look – he makes us debate and think, which is a key mark to this essay subject matter which I am researching.

Before I move on, here is what I am learning:

          Textiles as a medium can be actually the “brave” choice, but when it works, it gets more conversations and provocation, as depending on the site, it can be breaking the rules that are sometimes assumed and never said.

          Careful viewing has to be the norm, we can’t label something as “nice”, it has to be more than that, we need to know why it’s there, its history, what it means, or at least what we think it means.  First glances can be wasteful, as we may make a wrong judgement.

          There are no spoken “rules” in the wide art genre; however depending on the museum, art gallery or other setting, there may be site specific rules, for example one gallery may be entitled “Fine Art” and not accept textiles, yet that would not be the case of every art gallery.

          What anchors the piece, why did the artist pursue it?


Grayson Perry’s book ‘Playing the Gallery’ has some comments worthy of picking:


This illustration goes along with his views surrounding the public and its acceptance of certain art at certain venues.

This paragraph underpins the observer’s point of view:


In other words, we must seek to investigate the concept behind the art, the meaning, the message.  It will not always be obvious.

Let’s take for example two paintings.
Mark Rothko


JW Turner


At first glance, we may look at these and say that there is “not much work” gone into Rothko’s, maybe even going so far as to say that he is fooling us that this is art “anyone could do that”.

Let’s take a second look with a little knowledge.  Each painting had psychological and to him, a spiritual meaning, as it were.  He refused to be defined by a category or art and we learn from a discussion on the Tate website in 2014 that he was obsessed with permanence and longativity in his paintings.  Thus this paint and technique is not a normal one, but an investigation and a discovery.

Chemical and paint processes have been carefully sampled in achieve this permanence.  Take this chart, as discussed in a Tate Paper:


Many glazes etc used.

Thus from a very small investigation, we discover how much there is behind this one piece.  There is craft t this piece, technical understanding, planning and implementation; so much more than painted squares on canvas.  We could also go on to talk about the colour choice, why this was done etc etc.  Thus some may say that it becomes more of a talking point than a painting which showcases its detail up front, such as a Turner.  However they all make us think.

Looking at Turners painting, we can already acknowledge the materials used, the process, the detail; it comes easier to us.  But this doesn’t mean that we should compare the two artists.  They are individual works and thus should be treated in this manner.  This all comes under the category of finding what “underpins” the work itself.

Looking at the publication ‘Conceptual Art’ (Daniel Marzona, 2005) one comment highlights how to look at art and textiles:  ‘To avoid the search for a new form at any price means avoiding the history of art as we know it’ – Daniel Buren.  This would seem to indicate once again, the need to look for new or search more into the concept.

This book helped me to further understand the meaning of conceptual art and thus in turn textiles.  There seems to be an explicit emphasis on the “thought” component of art / textiles and its perception.

From the 1960s, it seems that the idea of art being something we observe on a wall or buy in an art gallery was played with and pushed, so that art became objectless, undefinable.

I found this exert particularly educational:  ‘Conceptual Art has often been described as a theoretically top heavy, over-intellectual art form.  And it is certainly true that many artists, in the development and underpinning of their work, do indeed use theoretical models which have been developed in other principles’.  Thus the aesthetic of a piece, or even at times the mathematical calculation of how it is made, may have a heavy weight of meaning on the actual piece.

Now really questions are raised:  What is art and what can art be?

The answer has changed and developed over the years to this point; now we see say the work of Cildo Meireles ‘Coca-cola bottles (1970)


By the variety we see around today, it would seem that most things can be categorised as Art.  There is of course more to this piece than bottles, but I will not venture into this at this moment.

Whether they are site specific or allowed by a gallery to enter, is another matter, it all depends on the category of place or if the art work fits the “aesthetic”.

Moving on from this, I turn my focus to Contemporary Art in the Textiles field.  In the words of Tony Caro – ‘Everything is the stuff of art’ (found in Contemporary Textiles, the fabric of fine art)

Within a paragraph in this same publication, Jann Haworth tells us :  ‘I failed to see the barriers between correct materials and incorrect ones – between ‘high art’ and ‘the crafts’.  He goes on to declare that we all should have ‘intellectual freedom’ to create what we want and call it what we like.

The last paragraph of the introduction for this book is one for me to personally take to heart:  ‘We embraced experiment and our mistakes…the limitation of the ‘Known’.  Art is a quest’.

Those words I must sound down to my own heart, my own practice.

Laura Ford

This artist was first seen by myself at Blackwell House in The Lake District.  Her garden and house installations, mix Textiles and Sculpture.

A few of my own images, which I may be able to use in my essay:


Blackwell had this to say about the exhibition:

‘Laura Ford is one of Britain’s most original sculptors and is well-known for her portrayals of animals through which she explores aspects of the human condition – although Ford describes her own work as sculptures dressed as people who are dressed as animals. Deploying a nightmarish imagination she uses humour and acute observation to engage with social and political issues. Her works are personal and particular but also draw inspiration from popular culture as well as painting and sculpture from throughout the history of art.’

However I want to learn more about the pieces themselves; they tell a story just in their form and stature; i.e. the ones seen above outside on the green, seem to be dancing or fighting as a group?  It looks almost choreographed.  However is this the case?

What is behind her work?


Her figures often centre around childlike themes and those depicting animals.  However when we look deeper, there is a darkness in them.  For example, some of her ballerinas in a recent exhibition, seemed too contorted, positioning of their bodies not right.  Another example is where she has placed donkey’s heads on little boy’s shoulders. 


 Her website answers some questions:  ‘Her sculptures are faithful representations of fantasy with sometimes bitter sweet and menacing qualities mixed with tenderness. She uses humour and an acute observation of the human condition to engage with wider social and political issues. Her work is intensely crafted but playful, and she has used a range of media to realise her work including, drawing, painting, performance, set design and has increasingly taken on the challenge of public art alongside museum and gallery shows.

‘Ford provides us with acutely graphic renditions of human emotion, mental and physical. Her imagery is all about remembering and giving memory clarity.’
Dr. Penelope Curtis

Thus there is much more to her work than what we at first perceive.

The tactile element is there, yet it a sculpted form.

Tracy Emin

Going back to Tracey Emin, looking further into her work, what makes me use her here, is her frankness and the way she produces a “marmite” reaction.  Her work is personal and we find out about her personally through her work.

A few pieces of her work seen below.  We see mixed messages sent out here, politics seen in the flags of the bottom piece, along with the concept of identity.  She challenges subjects a few of us would find it emotional or difficult to discuss, such as Abortion and parenthood.

This piece left above in particular evokes strong meaning:

The Tate online explains this:

‘This is a textile-based work which hangs on the wall. Emin used an old pink wool blanket, cut in two and intersected with a cotton extension in the same shade of pink, as the basis for a landscape of text. The work is dominated by the words, ‘PERMISSION TO FIRE/ ENZINE’ in large black capitals. An English flag incorporating the Union Jack in one corner bisects these words on the upper half of the blanket and trails a section of rope terminating in a metal clip. Individual flowers cut out from floral print fabrics are appliquéd across the flag and the blanket behind. On the left side of the blanket are the words ‘YOU CRUEL HEARTLESS BITCH/ YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF FAITH’ in blue and red felt on sections of pink and blue floral fabric. These are balanced on the right by the words ‘I HATE WOMEN LIKE YOU/ ONE DAY YOU WILL ASK YOURSELF WHAT HAVE I DONE TO [sic] LATE’ in turquoise, mustard and pale pink felt on blue green and orange floral fabrics. Below the flag and the word ‘enzine’, a misspelling of ‘ensign’, are the words ‘GUESS WHAT/ THE WORSE I COULD DO IS BETRAYE [sic]/ ROT IN HELL’ in salmon, fluorescent pink, black and red felt. A small white felt dove accompanies them. These words are all composed of individual letters cut out and individually stitched to the blanket or another fabric appliquéd onto the blanket. Two small sections of plain white fabric contain texts hand-written onto them in the artist’s signature handwriting in pink biro. One poetically describes ‘800 men and boys/ their bodies floating/ like flotsam and /jetsam on the surf/ ice cold black/ waters, an eary [sic] grave,/ of which you invented’. The other accuses a woman of ‘Crimes against Humanity’, addressing her as ‘you, supposed mother – A mother who Reiked [sic] of Power CRAZY Hate and Fear, of all the terrible things that you did, in the name of political conquest’. The text elaborates ‘In 1982, A year so many conscripts did not got home – Because you, you killed them all.’ Along the bottom of the work, run the words ‘THERE’S NO ONE IN THIS ROOM WHO HAS NOT THOUGHT OF KILLING’ in four shades of blue. A small yellow satin label on the bottom right hand corner of the blanket bears the work’s title and date and the artist’s signature in black biro.’

We see above, how she plays with soft furnishings as well as wall hung textile work.  It is the chatter around viewing an exhibition such as hers, where you truly realise what her art creates:  A divide yes, but even more of a talking point.  The Guardian online noted:

‘Self-exposure is her method and her metier.’ This is what seems to create foundation to her work.  The methods she uses are varied, however certain elements of her textiles work are interesting to note, for example misspelled words, which divulge inner feelings most of us would shy away from.

Obviously just a short look at her work here, but this is a little insight into her working methods which substantiate her work.

I have at hand now a few other books to educate me to give a valuable essay.

–          The turner Prize (Viginia Button)

–          Artist Studios (Eammon McCabe)

Many others too which I have already mentioned, to build my essay points upon.



Looking back at the questions within this section, I decided to research a little more into the question:

Are there no longer any rules in art?

One article, published on The Guardian online in May 2014 had some opinions on this; based on evidence…..

The head of the Serpentine Gallery made the statement that: ‘It is no longer necessary to be technically skilled to be a great artist’.

Julia Peyton-Jones, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, said one “does not have to be a great painter to be a great artist”, with the modern world meaning “other things are possible”.  Speaking at the Hay Festival as part of a debate about contemporary art, she argued she did not believe the “ability to do something is really an appropriate test now of whether you’re an artist”, with technical skill not essential.

She was joined on a panel by art critic William Packer, philosopher Roger Scruton and artist Shani Rhys James for a discussion of whether modern art was actually “concept without skill”. “Once size doesn’t fit all,” she told the Hay audience. “Just because you’re not a great painter, doesn’t mean you’re not a great artist.

“It seems to be only in the fine art work, particularly in painting, that having something of technique is somehow seen as inhibiting,” he said.

On Tate online; an article was created for the Rauschenberg exhibition under the theme of ‘rules in art’.  Looking retrospectively at his work, the following were detailed:

  1. Learn from everything and everyone.
  2. Collaborate, share and be generous.
  3. Use your body and see where things take you
  4. Use what inspires you
  5. Make a difference in your world
  6. Break the rules

He is an artist I could also use, as his work looks at cross disciplines and textiles; even using his own guilt as a canvas to paint upon.

Bed.  1955


Doesn’t the above class as an example, that anything can be classed as art or used to become art?

This is a subject that to be honest, we could research endlessly.  However I think that as it is only part of a research point, there has to be a point where I feel that I have read enough to be able to answer the question at hand.

I want to focus on a few artists, while illustrating their work.  I will build my essay around my focused research findings above, my own library of book and internet resources and other experience I have of gallery visits.

Artists I may include?

Grayson Perry

For his work within the Turner Prize and success at bringing Textiles into the Art sphere. 

Tracey Emin

For her rebellion in the contemporary arts and textiles fields and ability to weave messages through art.

Laura Ford

For the placement and silence which protrudes through her work, using textiles and sculpture as a medium.

Comments and other artists within the book ‘Contemporary Textiles:  The Fabric of Fine Art’ really stand out too, thus comments and ideas may come from this too.

Robert Rauschenburg

For his cross examination of a wide range of practices, using textiles as one medium, in fearless ways.  i.e.  His own quilt being used as part of his work.

I can of course add to the above, yet only so much can be written in 500 words.

One last point.  The essay is defined as an illustrated critique.  Thus there is a need to look at what that entails. In simple definition, this type of essay is:  ‘an essay which looks critically at a particular subject, area or topic. It means evaluating information, comparing and contrasting theories and analysing situations’.

I will keep the above in mind when writing my essay.




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