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You have probably heard of both textile art and fine art at some point in your life. If you don’t know the finer details of each type, it is easy to think that textile art is, or could be, considered a fine art, but this is not the case. If you aren’t sure of the difference or you don’t understand why textile art isn’t considered a fine art, you will know by the time you have finished reading this article. Let’s take a look at exactly what textile art is, and why it is not considered a fine art, where the reason it seem to be a gender-motivated decision.

What Is Textile Art?

Textile art is a very old form of art that has been carried on through the generations. Textile art is defined as the process of creating something using fibres from sources such as plants, insects, animals, or other synthetic materials. Textile art has been the backbone of human life since as early as when civilization began and has been used to make clothes, tapestries and so much more. For example, all of the clothes that you can buy in a store are technically a type of textile art, because the materials used either come from animals or a synthetic source.

These are the four main sources of textile art:

  • Plant – cotton, flax, jute, bamboo
  • Synthetic – nylon, rayon, polyester, acrylic
  • Animal – wool, silk
  • Mineral – fibre glass, asbestos

Animals, plants and minerals are all natural sources, making them a sustainable option for art in this way. 

Examples of textile art include:

  • Sewing
  • Knitting
  • Crocheting
  • Tailoring
  • Quilting
  • Pleating
  • Weaving

You will also find that textile art is much more focused on patterns and shapes than anything else. It is used to create something beautiful as a whole, rather than each being individual. 

(Image Credit: My Modern Met)

What Is Fine Art?

Fine art is used mainly for beauty or aesthetic purposes. For example, paintings and other types of visual art usually fall under the category of fine art. Most other types of art such as decorative art have some kind of practical function, but fine art is used to add beauty or ambiance to a room rather than functionality. However, it can also be created for intellectual purposes as well as simply being looked at with just beauty in mind. Some of the typical examples of fine art include:

  • Painting
  • Watercolors
  • Drawing
  • Sculptures
  • Some architecture 
  • Theatre

One of the great things about fine arts is that there is such a variety of art that falls under this category. Film is enjoyed by millions of people across the world despite the fact that there is no practical purpose to it other than the enjoyment of the visual and the stimulation of the mind. You can’t wear it or use it to warm your body, and yet it is loved anyway. The same goes for paintings and sculptures. Even though they don’t have a practical purpose, they still serve to engage the mind, giving us something to think about. 

(Image Credit: BBC)

Due to the large scope of art falling under this category, there are a number of careers that you can make from it. For example, you could be an art director, an art teacher, a visual designer, a dancer and so much more. 

Why Is Textile Art Not Fine Art?

The reason that textile art is not considered a fine art is because it has a practical purpose. Textile art is used to create, often, beautiful things such as blankets and other items that aid in daily life, whereas fine art is only for viewing or entertainment purposes. Of course, you can think about fine art, try to find the meaning behind it, but it still serves no practical purpose, and it’s for this reason that textile art cannot be considered a fine art. 

Essentially then, textile art is too practical to be considered a fine art. Even though the art that is produced under textiles can be stunning to look at, it still doesn’t count. 

Well, the issue comes in the fact that sometimes textile art can be created without a practical purpose. While it is largely used for things such as blankets, it also is used to make tapestries. While historically these might have been used to insulate the walls of the castle that they were in, nowadays they are simply used for decoration. You might think that this makes textile art come under fine art, but it still doesn’t. Seeing as only elements of textile art have no practical use, the whole sub category is still classed as having some kind of practical value.

So, no, even though there are some pieces of textile art that are created solely for visual purposes, which is the definition of fine art, it is still not considered a part of this category.

A gender-motivated decision

As we already said, Textile-based art has existed for centuries, but it has not always been held in high regard in the art world. The artificial distinction between fine art and textiles, also known as applied/decorative arts or craft is gendered question. Because of their associations with domesticity and femininity, textiles have always struggled as a medium for art.

Textiles have moved from the field of women’s craft to non-gender-specific fine art of the highest quality in recent years, as seen at Art Basel, museum exhibits, and other significant exhibitions.

Now that we live in the twenty-first century, values of democracy, women’s rights, and a non-gender-specific environment cause us to immediately recognize textile-driven work as fine art. The Feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s was responsible for the reintroduction of textiles and fiber into “high art.” They’ve reclaimed this space to include creative practices that were once relegated to the lower status of “women’s work.”

Others who have made significant contributions to this change include: Gunta Stölzl, a German weaver who contributed significantly to the growth of the Bauhaus school’s weaving workshop; Anni Albers, a weaver who helped describe pictorial textile art; Sheila Hicks, an artist whose woven and textile works blurred the line between painting and sculpture; Olga de Amaral, a Colombian artist noted for her large-scale woven abstract works wrapped in gold and/or silver leaf; Faith Ringgold, better known for her quilts; Elaine Reichek is an artist who uses embroidery to explore topics such as the craft-art division, the importance of women’s work, and the interplay of text and illustration.

All of these artists, as well as several others, began to use textiles and fibers in new ways, addressing the social and intellectual ramifications of their use, paving the way for future generations of textile and fiber artists. We can see that they simply employ textiles and threads as a painting and sculpting material.

In conclusion, we can say that little by little, textile and fiber art is getting closer to being considered a fine art, where each of these artists, plus lots of others, are leading to the significant contribution of different fabric arts reinventing the medium in a variety of ways.