My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish. – Joyce Carol Oates
What do you think? Should art provoke? Should art offend? It certainly can.
Let’s explore that fact today, shall we?
In case you did not know, I help admin a Facebook group called, “Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists”. My friend Nicole Goetz of Mercantile 519 started the group a few months ago and it’s now composed of over 8,000 people!
Being an admin for large Facebook groups requires you to step back from your own personal beliefs in order to objectively look at problems that may arise between members of the group and offer a fair solution that may or may not help. If you can’t help, sometimes you remove people from the group, sometimes you take down posts, and sometimes you offend or enlighten others around you.
Offensive Fiber Art(ists)
My foray into my own mildly offensive fiber art didn’t start with knitting that big pile of pink hats for the March on Washington earlier this year, but it certainly influenced me a great deal. Discussions surrounding the hats usually took on one of two forms:
- People who were greatly offended by their interpretation of what the hats were all about AND
- People who were offended at the offense people took over the hats.
This eventually pointed me in the direction of where I wanted to go with OMG Yarn (Balls) and this little bloggy of mine.
I LOVE art. I have my own projects (like the “It Is Too Fucking Cold” hat pictured above), but I love seeing what people come up with on a daily basis in the Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists group. What I look forward to most is seeing some of the things that cross stitchers and embroiderers post: sassy sayings stitched in a way to provoke.
Most recently and most notably, a post in the group provoked a bit more than just an “OMG” from our members, but an intense discussion of institutional racism and experiences of others. Discussions got aggressive and beyond mildly offensive, leading multiple reports of the post. The image itself offended many as well.
Trying to stay neutral, I posted: “Admin here: Hi, stop reporting this post. If someone is being disrespectful to each other, contact us admins. You may not agree with the viewpoint given by the art in this post, but art is supposed to be provocative. Don’t like it, keep on scrolling.”
Then, I thought twice. Yes, art is supposed to be provocative but if it isn’t, is it still art?
The Art of Offending
As artists we cannot choose what is offensive to others, we can only create artistic works and hope that our intended meaning comes through. I mean, of course, sometimes a hat is just a hat and a sweater is just a sweater, but what about knitting or crocheting a uterus and sending it to a legislator to invoke change?
I cannot create a piece of art meant to offend and expect that EVERYONE will be offended. I also cannot tell someone who is offended by what I think is benign that they don’t have the right to be offended, even if it wasn’t my original intent. Like I said, we cannot control who is offended from who is not, but we can use art media in a way to provoke conversation.
Hell, there was a point at which someone was offended by my modern take on a dream catcher, even though I, myself, am Native American. I could have been offended by someone telling me what pieces I could and could not make, or I could have learned from the conversation. Why was she offended? What could I do better as a person to explain myself? Am I even required to explain myself as not exploiting a particular culture?
And then you could be offensive in what materials you use or how you use them…
The one thing that comes to mind when I think of offensive art was the fallout from Chris Ofili’s painting, “The Holy Virgin Mary”. The artist used elephant dung as a medium and the whole world lost their damn minds over it. Haha!
In the fiber arts community, there’s that lady who knits while keeping her yarn in her vagina. Nah, I’ll pass.
Offending, Provoking, and Invoking Fiber Arts as Means to an End for Change
Me, personally, I just stick to my occasional craftivism and hope to impact the world positively through knitting and crocheting for a cause and also to help pass on the tradition of fiber arts to younger generations. That’s what I mean to do with my fiber art for fun. The heavy lifting for OMG Yarn, obviously is yarn dyeing and designing, but still, it wouldn’t be fiber art without a little bit of stirring up the pot, right?
Historically, knitters and crocheters have been on the forefront of change in many ways, and craftivism is not a new concept.
“The history of craftivist art lies in the foundations first established by the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK. The idea of ethical interactions and relationships between the artist and his or her environment as a whole has carried through the generations. Female-led efforts to promote craft industries in Canada during the late 19thcentury have also influenced today’s craftivist undertakings by implanting the trend with feminist values and ethics. Craft artists and social action groups are thus driven to create their art in conjunction with a framework dedicated to political change and constructive protest. Through the manipulation and exploitation of stereotypes that lie in the assumed innocence of knitted artwork, the familiarity and gentleness of craft art has become a tool for assertive social action.” (Hardy-Moffat, 2012).
Now, I’m seeing people I’ve met in the fiber arts industry, people like Donna Druchunas and more, invoking social change and awareness with their fiber arts. Facebook groups like Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists and Compassionate Craftivists have popped up for fiber artists to unite their efforts or just ogle over others’ hard work at “offending”.
In the end…
Fiber artists are really just group of people out for tolerance, acceptance, and change and they’re united through an obsession with various fibers made into string. What’s not to love about that?
And yes, I do realize that there are people that knit, crochet, spin, etc. just to relax or have fun, but that is evocative too, no? What say you?
Frank, P. (2015, June 01). At $2.3 Million, It’s The Most Expensive Painting Made Of Elephant Poop. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/chris-ofili-elephant-dung_n_7470692.html
Hardy-Moffat, M. (2012, November 16). Feminism and the Art of “Craftivism”: Knitting for Social Change under the Principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://cujah.org/past-volumes/volume-v/essay3-volume5/
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