Readers, today's topic is challenging, but after re-reading yesterday's comments about the resurrection of dead couturier's fashion houses (specifically, whether Balenciaga was closer to a tractor manufacturer than to an artist like Picasso), I started wondering: is sewing an art?
Just to be clear, I am not an art historian, though I did take a few art history classes many years ago, and I have been involved in various forms of artistic production throughout my life.
It's important to be clear about what one means by the term art, and throughout history the word (in all its various translations) has meant different things to different people at different times.
When I think of art, I think of a highly trained person expressing her- or himself through a particular medium. So a writer of fiction could be considered an artist, but not a journalist. But it gets confusing. Poets are artists. How about the people who write commercial jingles? I think most of us like to think of art as something non-commercial, but this has likely never been the case. Art has always been commissioned by others. The artist has to live, after all.
I took a look at the definition of artist on Wikipedia. One of the modern definitions is "a person who engages in an activity deemed to be art."
So the question of today is: can home sewing -- or any sewing, for that matter -- be considered art, and who gets to decide?
I visited the Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and my hunch is that 95% of the visitors to this exhibit (or more) would consider his creations to be art. Of course, it's rather a self-selecting group! But given the popularity -- and increasing frequency -- of fashion-related museum exhibits and the rise of fashion departments in art museums, there seems no question that today, we (meaning the majority of people who think/care about such things) consider fashion to be an art form.
The same goes for commercial photography. Original fashion photographs are highly collectible and valued today. Who is the artist in the photograph below: couturier Balenciaga, French model Regine Debris, or photographer Irving Penn? Or all three?
And if you go see the revival of Follies on Broadway, who are the artists involved there? Stephen Sondheim, the composer, certainly. Actress Bernadette Peters (below) too -- or not? How about the orchestra players, the set designers, the costume designers? I don't think we often think of costume designers as artists. Should we?
This famous Cindy Sherman photograph, one of her Untitled Film Stills, belongs to the Museum of Modern Art.
Would you consider this Cathy photo to be art? (Oh, my, you flatter me!) If it is art, who's the artist? Cathy, Michael (who took the photo), or me (who set it up and sewed the dress)?
How about the sewing you do? Looking around at sewing blogs as I am wont to do, there are a number of people whose projects look like art to me.
To be able to call it art, however, does it have to be original? Can you stitch up a BurdaStyle Halter Dress and call it art? (What if you draft your own, say, pants pattern?) Doesn't the fact that you chose the fabric, that you had the image of how it should turn out in your head, somehow make it art? Isn't sewing a form of self-expression?
Or are home sewers in particular more wisely considered technicians, or artisans? It's easy to get mired in semantics.
So perhaps it's best to go directly to you, wise reader, and ask:
Do you consider yourself, as a sewer, to be an artist?
I'm a native New Yorker and self-taught sewing fanatic! I've been sewing obsessively since 2009 and today make all my own clothes using mostly vintage patterns and vintage sewing machines. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!