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Knitting As Art, the Ordinary as Art

Schooner, Copyright Annie Modesitt 2002I followed a link from Annie Modesitt’s blog (well, her list of links) and found a project called Knitwork by Germaine Koh. (Warning: it’s a Geocities site so you may get pop-up windows.)

Koh unravels used garments and reknits into a 2-meter-wide knit piece that is amazingly long (it shows the piece going up the very long stairway to the gallery in one photo). The piece continues to grow, as she sometimes goes to the gallery and works on the piece during gallery hours. She says it will be done when her life is done, so the project is finite in that way.

How fine that this gallery (which is very forward thinking and has been for decades) would sponsor a piece of this magnitude which is “merely” ordinary knitting from used yarn. The piece is in the permanent collection. This says a lot for the piece and for the gallery. The photos documenting it are quite striking.

I love the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s in Toronto, my first real city. And it was my first real Gallery/Museum, or at least the first that changed me, the first that reached me. I went there and I woke up. One day I walked into a passageway and there was a large canvas which was white with matte black paint sort of roughly applied in the middle. On that black area, was a brand new, shiny white bathroom sink (the type you might see in a public restroom, in groups of several on the wall). At first I didn’t get it, but I was entranced anyway, that someone would do that. It turned out to be work by Jim Dine, who is someone I later learned about when viewing a retrospective of some of his work at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. But I digress.

This was the first piece of really modern art (by a living artist) that really grabbed me. I bought a postcard of the piece and then forgot I’d bought it. perhaps three decades later, I was moving and found that postcard… and realized the piece was by Jim Dine. I can’t find a pic of that sink piece on the web tonight. But what it taught me was that an ordinary object could be beautiful, could indeed be art, yet we typically don’t see it as art unless it is taken out of context.

I guess that is a little bit what I am trying to do here on this weblog. I am trying to say that art is many things, art is everywhere, art is both ordinary and extra-ordinary. Many things we don’t consider to be art, be they the design of a shiny and lovely porcelain sink, a huge “blanket” made of unraveled used sweaters, or a well-made soup, go unnoticed.

On the other hand, people who can draw are practically worshipped. People go on and on about how they “are not creative.” Maybe they are not, or maybe they only recognize creativity when it involves a drawing tool.

It took me a long time to realize that I was an artist, because I do not work in two dimensions. I could go into a long story of why I don’t choose to draw or paint, but the fact is that I am very good with my hands creating things in three dimensions, items that do not fit on a wall easily. And many of the items are practical, useful objects in normal living… items not considered art in many circles these days. For that reason, I took a long time to realize that I was truly an artist… just one who chose not to draw.

Worshiping artists is a way of distancing ourselves from the magic of artful living. Those same people who worship a painter or someone who makes some sort of art that can be framed and hung on a gallery wall, may be incredible gardeners, seamstresses, cooks, listeners, hostesses. They may write excellent letters to their families. They may create a space in their home for relationships to bloom, either inside their own families or by inviting friends in. We all know at least one person who takes dressing/costuming themselves to the level of an artform. Painting a house is not considered art, but I have friends who have painted with the colors that they adore, inside and out, and have made an artful statement that way.

I guess I owe a lot to Jim Dine, and his choice to pull an ordinary object out of a restroom and onto a canvas at the Art Gallery of Ontario, one day in the late 1970s. I’ve never been the same again.

Image is the knitted outdoor installation piece “Schooner” by Annie Modesitt

2 Responses to “Knitting As Art, the Ordinary as Art”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Wow – those are some very wise thoughts about the nature of art. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Kate Says:

    If Jim Dine’s work changed you life I’m sure he’d love to hear it.

    Our guild is considering inviting Merike Saarnit to do a workshop. I’m sure she’s very good, and would like to hear what you think are her stong points. And the same for Anna Zilboorg. I’m thinking ahead to 2005!

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