KnitKnit & Ideas of Identity

Identity: dress, denim, heels and twigs on concrete.

Thing 1: My dear friend Marcie works at Imagiknit and gave me the heads up that Sabrina Gschwandtner, creator of the KnitKnit zines, would be coming to the yarn shop in the Castro to give a reading. So, thank you dear Marcie for the heads-up and off I went to a yarn shop reading. I wasn't sure what to expect. I've been to readings in bars and galleries and living rooms and kitchens and warehouses and theaters and colleges and classrooms and courtyards and studios and parks and gardens but I've never been to a reading in a yarn shop. Not until this one! It was mostly questions and answers and telling behind-the-published-book stories about the process of editing the book, and then a little part reading.

KnitKnit is a very pretty book w/ slick glossy pages and gorgeous photos of 27 profiles and projects from "knitting's new wave". I was most interested in the evening's conversation about self-identity of the 27 people featured. The choice to use "artist" or "crafter" or "knitter" as one's title. Sabrina said that one man featured, who appears to work mostly as a spinner, does not identify as a spinner or a knitter but instead as a conceptual artist. Another woman who shows her work mostly in galleries identifies as a crafter because of the expectation of the work according to her title: If you call yourself an artist people expect (fill in the blank) and if you call yourself a crafter people expect (fill in the blank).

Obviously there are 117 different definitions for "artist" and "crafter" and at least 117 different arguments for why they are or are not distinct groups. However, it seems to me that 2 things that are also distinguishing both movements are education and context for the "final" showing of the work. There seems to be an embracing of the self-taught, homespun, "I've been knitting w/ my mother since I was a schoolkid", DIY, indie spirit of a crafter who didn't go to art school to learn to sew, knit, build, create, make, etc. This does not imply that the so-called crafter is not well-educated, just that he/ she did not necessarily formally study crafting. This crafter seems to shows his/ her finished work at a craft fair, on a personal blog, at a small social gathering, in a retail boutique, at a trunk show, etc. The rebellion or modernization of this creator seems to be about subverting the idea of a pre-WWII woman hobbyist making domestic goods by hand mostly for her friends or family. (Grandma, if you're reading this, don't worry! I absolutely treasure your hand-stitched aprons and towels and pillowcases too!)

The modern artist, obviously with some exceptions, seems to be expected to have a fine arts degree and have studied formally at an art institute at some time or another in his/ her career. This artist might also have worked as an artist's assistant or gallery assistant or fine arts teacher where he/she furthered honed techniques and concepts and skills. The artist is expected to be making work that is at least part "conceptual" even if refusing to be called "conceptual" there is still often some expectation of innovation or experimentation in the work or in the process of making the work. This work will ultimately be shown in a gallery, an open studio, an alternative arts space, or a museum. (Feel free to critique my narrow definitions in the comment section-- this is hard work! I encourage you to help me out!)

Of course, both of these stereotypes are defied every day but this does seem to be the general trend. True? But the fascinating thing about this reading/ conversation at Imagiknit was that the people profiled for the book (and, if I may be so presumptuous, seemingly the 30 or so people in the room) seemed to be deliberately blurring that division or at least interested or in the case of myself, let's say "fascinated", with this blurry definition: Fine arts students purposefully learning how to knit for their next installation and life-long crafters considering non-functional knits instead of wearables. I'M FASCINATED!

And happy weekend bloggers...

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Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.