Date of this Version
In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000
In many communities the art college is the last formal refuge of active textile-making knowledge and heritage. This location appears to value playful, risky, or challenging material explorations which might result in creative design or meaningful visual expression. This should be the best environment for cultivating adventurous students able to integrate a wide range of experience and resources towards generating new ideas for interesting contemporary textiles. It could be a good place in which to discover how textiles contribute to human experience and history, and how they are meaningful. However, I submit that this art environment is still detrimental to the full realization of these potentials, and that we need to examine the attitudes and educational practices there to improve the status and effectiveness of education for and about textiles.
Both art objects and textiles are products of human acts - human behaviour. They both fulfill human purposes - sometimes practical, sometimes communicative, sometimes to elaborate, evoke, or provoke human experience. So it is reasonable to value and to study such artifacts, not only as artifacts with certain meanings, roles, or aesthetic effects, but also as products of meaningful acts and behaviours. This includes how producing such objects relates to motivating purposes, cultural environments, and acts of judgment and interpretation. This broad liberal arts approach is the study of art and artifacts as humanities study. It does not limit visual arts education or textiles study to the prevailing vocational model of producing professional artists, designers, artisans, historians, or teachers. As liberal arts study, it can be valued as general education, as a means of educating students towards understanding and engaging with the visual artifacts they will encounter, and as a means of understanding their culture. Since the number of students who will ultimately make a living directly producing objects is relatively small, it seems appropriate to ensure that its broader educational benefits are strong and clear. At degree-granting institutions, this strength should imply academic rigour, understanding, and articulation in addition to the development of artistry, talent, or craftsmanship. This approach could pave the way towards developing advanced levels of textiles scholarship as a consolidated field of study in visual arts programmes.