Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Donna Druchunas on “Knitting as Art”

Here is a guest post by Donna Druchanas on the issue of how the craft and art of knitting currently is perceived. In my own art school training at the California College of Arts (and Crafts) I was inculcated with the slogan that "There is no art without craft." Donna says:

I like the term artisan, because it implies both art and craft at once.

Donna Druchunas, author "Ethnic Knitting Discovery"

When I was researching Arctic Lace, I stumbled onto the idea that some Native Alaskan art is not considered capital-A Art because it is made for the tourist trade. The knitting of the Oomingmak co-op fits into this category that because the products were developed specifically for the tourist market, and there was no lace knitting tradition among the Yup'ik and Inupiat before the co-op was started.

However, Dorothy Reade, a knitter and spinner who was very influential in developing the original products in the Oomingmak collection, considered herself a fine artist and had her hand-spun hand-knitted pieces in many different museum exhibits throughout her life. And the products of the co-op mirror the artistry and quality of her works.

In my view, art is anything that adds beauty to our lives and to the world around us. To the knitters in rural Nowegian villages in the 19th century, and to the knitters in the Andes today, knitting might be one of the only things that added beauty to an otherwise dark home in the middle of Norwegian winter, or to a neutral landscape in the dry Andean plateaus. I think we should celebrate this beauty as Art, even when it does not generate the financial gains that other media may attract. Remember, Vincent Van Gogh didn't sell one painting before he died. So who can tell what is valuable as Art?

I think that hand-crafts are still dissed in the art community because they are still considered women's work (or granny's work, to be more specific), and because there's often an idea that if something is practical, it can't be "art." There's a new book called KnitKnit that just came out that is all about knitting as art, and last year there was an exhibit in New York City called Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting. I think there's a mixture of craft and art out there, and knitting -- and fiber arts in general -- have been getting much more respect in the art world over the last decade or so. I'd like to take some time in the future to explore knitting as art in my own work. And I will certainly continue to be inspired by traditional arts and crafts from around the world.

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3 Responses »

  1. Hi Janet, thanks for hosting me on my blog tour! It's really a lot of fun. I hope everyone's enjoying the different looks into the process of researching, writing, and publishing!

  2. I'm sorry to be so late for the knitting-party and commentary. When Grandma tried to teach me to crochet, I was all thumbs, but knitting came much easier. My needles have been stilled for a long time. What is wonderful about your work Donna(well, one wonder of many) is how you are preserving culture and art/craft. Another, is that you may inspire the rest of us to take up our yarns and needles again!

  3. Hi Arletta, thanks for the note. I do hope to inspire people to create beauty, whether it's through knitting or writing! The world can never have too much beauty in it. And I do love preserving the culture and art/craft that women created in the past. So often it gets passed over by historians. Although that is getting better, "women's work" is still often disparaged as "craft" instead of being acknowledged as "art". Lots of discussion in the knitting world lately about this topic.

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