Defining Wearable Art
What exactly is wearable art? I’ve had a problem with this because it seems like everyone who makes something that can be worn calls it wearable art. Is a dyed scarf really wearable art? Or is it a handmade scarf? This is a problem within our whole community where you have seasoned masters creating functional works that get lumped into the same categories as newbies who have a long way to go before their work can be classified as “art”.
To me, wearable art should be set aside as something that you would not normally wear to the office or in everyday life. It should be something that stops you in your tracks, makes you think, and might often actually be uncomfortable to wear. The body becomes the canvas, the support, for the work.
One of my favorite examples is the work of Nicole Dextras. She did a series of garments made from plants, dressed them on to models who went somewhere public, documented how the public reacted, and then propped them up in her back yard and photographed them as they decomposed. Some of her pieces:
If we now call everything wearable that is handmade “art”, what would be a good word to call these things that are truly sensational?
I, for example, have made lots of bags. I consider my dogfood bags to be art:
This one is just a handmade bag:
The difference to me is in the time it took to make them and in the function. The paper bag is not all that functional. You can use it for an art opening or special occasion, but it’s more about the “Wow!” factor than the function. The pink bag is fun, pretty and uber functional.
I know the whole debate about “craft versus art” is tiresome and endless and we have this same problem in almost all of our textile categories. The term “art quilts” has become so watered down that now some of the more acknowledged artists don’t want to be associated with that crowd and call their work “textiles” or something else. But, we need these categories, words and definitions in order to both educate the public and to be able to be found in searches. Language is always evolving as is our perception of art and the world around us.
What do you think? Let’s get some thoughts flowing here…
Note: This is a topic post for the Wearable Art group. Non-members are welcome to respond in this blog post version.
About Rachel Biel
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