Research Point – Part A

How do you think the work of the textile artist differs from that of the designer, the designer-maker or the craftsperson?  Is there any crossover in terms of approach or the way in which each uses ideas or textile processes?

My first thought is, what is the difference between a textile artist, a designer-maker and a craftsperson?  Surely the first two, at the very least, are the same thing.  To be a successful textile artist you need to be able to produce good design work and translate it into a piece of art.  By the very nature of the title ‘designer-maker’ the same process would need to be employed.

The definition of a craftsperson is a little more ambiguous.  A question regarding the terminology of ‘art’ and ‘craft’ came up a while ago in the OCA weekly bulletin and it sparked some interesting comments.  I consider a craftsperson to be someone who has taken an in-depth, long-term interest in a specific discipline, for instance printing, woodworking, garment construction, etc..  That person will have studied their subject, evolved to a high degree and may be regarded as an expert in their field.  Are they good at designing?  In my experience, not always.

I recently engaged a tutor, for an organisation I’m involved with, who I would put into the category of a craftsperson.  She demonstrates and sells a wide range of textile related products, all of which are excellent quality, most concentrating on printing or fabric dyeing/colouring (which is where her interest lies), and many of which I have bought from her.  She knows how to use them all, her product samples are good and she can advise on every technique they can possibly be used for but, in my view, she cannot produce any coherent art pieces or finished works.  I’m no expert – and that’s why I’m on this course – but I believe I have a reasonable understanding of the elements and principles of design so I’m judging her against my own expectations.

It’s difficult to generalise when considering the similarities and differences between textile artists and designers.  Perhaps it is worth looking at it from the end product point of view.  Does a designer necessarily have to consider how their work will be produced in any tangible way?  What is their drive?  Is it to produce a spectacular and original concept which may not be particularly practical or possible to translate into an actual object?

These paradox illusions, the Penrose Stairs and Penrose Triangle, demonstrate how a designer can produce something very clever but which cannot be produced.

Or can they?  The mobius shawl is cleverly twisted and knitted, or crocheted, in one piece with no joins and somewhat resembles the Penrose Triangle.

Obviously textile artists are always interested in a physical outcome in the sense of something created from their design whereas the designer may have reached their goal at the design stage.  Having said that, designers who are employed for specific end result products such as furniture, homewares and garments, will have to take that into consideration when they formulate their plans.

So, depending on the outcome to be achieved, there will be an obvious crossover of approach and skill demands in each of the above listed categories in many instances.



About Claire B

I am a passionate printmaker, paper maker and book artist. I'm a 'forever' student and frequently attend courses and workshops to extend and improve my creative skills.
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2 Responses to Research Point – Part A

  1. Nola says:

    Interesting thoughts, Claire!

    The one that springs to my mind is that many craftspeople don’t actually design anything. They work from patterns that someone else has designed, or even from kits, which supply even the basic materials. This has been on my mind lately, since some friends, who are textile artists, admired an embroidery that my MIL made for my husband. One of them commented on the design and it didn’t occur to me until afterwards that they assumed she had designed the work. As it happens, she hadn’t – she’d used a commercial design. Her work is beautiful and skilled and worthy of the term craftsperson, but she didn’t design many of her works.

    Some embroiderers and quilters and knitters use only traditional designs, which are not owned by anyone. Yet we don’t say they aren’t craftspeople, because they don’t make original designs, do we? We can assess the quality of their work without assessing the design element. A walk through any quilt show offers multiple examples of the same pattern, made in different ways, so we are judging them only on things like the skill of the maker and the use of colour.

    • Claire B says:

      Well put Nola. Basically we are saying similar things – each category of person (per the posed question) has their strengths and weaknesses and each develops a feel for where those are. A great designer may be completely unable to produce an actual piece but the concept they provide is very strong. The maker may have the flexibility to interpret, source appropriate materials and construct, happy to refer to a source design from elsewhere. I believe all streams of creative input, from original thought to final production, are equally as valid and necessary – some may be multi-skilled in a variety of areas whilst other may have stayed in a more confined area but built their skills to a high level within that discipline. There’s room for everyone, luckily.

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