We recently had an estate agent round to prepare the sale of our house – yes, we’re trying again, though without much hope, it has to be said – and inevitably we entered my workroom (aka the second bedroom) so that the agent could measure up. ‘I work in here,’ I explained, apologetically gesturing at the books, the shelves, the cupboards, the stacks of paper, coloured pencils, paintbrushes, etc. Estate agents like to see a bed in a bedroom, and there is no such thing in my workroom. I had tidied it as much as I could, but there was evidence of art pretty much everywhere.
‘What do you do?’ asked the agent.
‘I’m a textile artist,’ I said.
She nearly dropped the measuring gadget. She glanced up at ‘Communion’, still hanging across the bookshelves. ‘Do you mean THAT??’ she said, pointing.
‘Yes,’ I said.
There was a long silence.
Eventually the agent said, ‘Well, I think it’s lovely that people can have a hobby. No, really, I do. Good for you. It’s nice that people can do something with their hands in their spare time.’
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation, but she was completely incredulous that what I do counts in any way as ‘work’.
And I’ve spent some time thinking about it myself in the meantime. Is it work? Even when I’m trying a new technique I think of it as work. I don’t ‘play’ with fabric. I work with it. Making art of any kind is challenging; it takes up more time than a full-time job; it can be strenuous; it’s productive; it’s tiring; it’s exhilarating. Does it make money in the way that a job does? No. Do I need money in order to live? Of course. So this has to become part of the ‘where-am-I-going-what-am-I-doing’ general life review that is happening at the moment. How does any artist actually make a living out of art? Do they have to create with the intention of selling? Is art (should art be) just another business, like plumbing or hairdressing?
And textile art is a whole different thing anyway. A painter can spend as little as an afternoon painting one picture, and then sell the print a thousand times. Textile art takes the same amount of skill, a lot longer to create, and can be sold once. The painting is described as ‘fine art’, the textile as ‘craft’. But we’d best not get started on the whole art/craft thing.
Today there are no pictures, as you can see. I don’t have a visual image that will say something about this.