The task for this stage is to look into 10 artists to allow me to choose one of them to research in greater detail. I am about half way through in my notebook, and this seems to be a good moment to jot down some of the things that have occurred to me so far.
First, I am interested in the things that connect these artists. Only the last four are what I would call household names (Zandra Rhodes, Judy Chicago, Issy Miyake, and Tracey Emin). There are many more women then you would normally expect in a list of historically important artists. And all but three worked mainly in textiles. Most were early on in particular artistic or fashion movements, (Art Deco, orientalism, British Crafts movement, Bauhaus, ) and have all influenced subsequent designers and artists. Three are rarely mentioned on the internet without referring to their husbands as well (Mackintosh, Albers, Day).
The first four had careers as artist before the second world war, and there are linked themes within all their philosophical backgrounds of reclaiming crafts or applied arts as worthy of the same respect as fine art.
This has aroused some questions for me. Is this still an issue in the contemporary world? Yes, I think so to an extent. And for me personally I wonder if there is a link between Anni Albers (ie a woman) being allowed to study weaving at the Bauhaus School, and the less important cultural value placed on it than the Fine Art she was not allowed to study. Am I studying textile art because I am a woman and therefore not capable of studying fine art? Or because that is serious and professional and this is only a 'hobby' for me (according to some of my friends and family). I suspect that people in my position who do fine art degrees get less of that dismissive attitude. But perhaps not.
I grew up with much of the Arts and Crafts movement philosophy as the air I breathed. I believe in taking pleasure in the using, and in the making. (Just like William Morris said). I like to see the joins in objects and furniture, and have a certain amount of disrespect for the emptiness of factory-made identikit objects, created by people in a culture very different from the one they are sold in. I prefer slow creation, sewing by hand, and useful objects that have cultural resonance and are made to last and to be repaired.
At the same time, I grew up with sliced white and polyester, takeaways and disposable tissues. I often use the convenience and cheapness of these things rather than standing up for what I think is better. I don't quite know how to explain why these things are bad for us as human beings, it just seems self-evident that drowning in cheap mass-produced stuff that is sold to be thrown away dilutes something rich and deep about being human. Not to mention the future of the Earth. I should think about how my life would be different if I followed this philosophy through properly...
Since these artists changed the style, it seems important that I should know a bit better what the style was before they came along. This is especially relevant for people whose style has influenced other people so much since, that they look very familiar, because that makes it difficult to appreciate how original they were.