On Technique And Toilets

Sometimes it takes a bit of controversy, or reasonable facsimile thereof, to make domestic chores attractive by comparison. So I cleaned the toilet this morning. That gave me time to think about some things I read online this week.

Interesting questions were raised. Thoughtful discussion resulted. I’m not going to rehash it here. I’ll just say this.

As I see it, fluency with techniques and materials may not be a guaranteed route to the artistic expression of ideas. But the struggle to achieve a desired effect when you’re not fluent can be like trying to write poetry in a foreign language. For a lot of fiber artists, technique is the vocabulary with which we achieve expression of the ideas that drive our work. Having a rich and diverse vocabulary allows an artist to choose how best to express themselves.

What bothers me about some of the commentary is this: It gives the impression that, to be taken seriously as an artist, you don’t talk about technique. Let me be clear: I think that’s the impression. The intention of the commenters, I suspect, was closer to expressing a desire for deeper, more critical discussions about concept and design. And I’m all for that.

I’m less engaged by the subtext, intentional or not, that implies a them-or-us divide over the question. It does sort of sound like those who’ve worked hard and paid their dues now want the club to become more exclusive and not just more thoughtful. Perhaps I’ve read it wrong, but I can see how people (of any age) who are still developing their craft and their voice might feel disrespected.

So I want to encourage anyone who’s feeling that way to go clean the toilet. Then get back to making whatever it is you make and reflecting on whatever it is you want it to say. This is not a new conversation, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear it. And that’s a good thing, because you’re going to need to clean that toilet again soon.

As for me, I’m studying some millinery techniques now because I’m interested in how they can be applied to vessel construction. All this serious discussion compels me to leave you with a photograph of Canadian silent film star Marie Dressler.

Marie Dressler in lampshade hat, 1909
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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

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