In her comments on my fabric manipulation assignment, my tutor mentioned that when writing about my work I should ‘extend [my] frame of reference to include the work of other artists and craftspersons’ – to show that I’m aware of contemporary and historical textiles and to show how I’m influenced by others.

I must admit I sometimes avoid looking outward very far, for fear that I’ll find someone else doing just what I’m doing. I have had that experience once or twice, and I know it’s happened to other people too. I don’t mean copying – I mean that strange phenomenon where several people in far-flung places all start doing the same thing at the same time.

But, how important is that desire to be different? We have this strange Western obsession with originality (or I do anyway). Yet my most treasured comments are when someone has said my work inspires them – which I take to mean that something about it passes into their work or their way of seeing. And I don’t actually mind if people copy something I’ve done, if it’s in order to learn something or take something further – not in a commercial context, and I hope not without acknowledging it! As much as I can, I try to share my processes as I go along anyway. So I should surely take off those anxious blinkers and pay more conscious attention to who might be inspiring me, whether it’s in technique or style or philosophy. As my tutor says, ‘No-one works in a vacuum.”

So thanks, Julie, for mentioning Alice Kettle’s recent Place Settings series – it set me off on a trail of discovery. Here’s one of Alice Kettle’s collaborative pieces with Helen Felcey. There are more on her website under the ‘New Proj’ heading. I think these pieces are absolutely beautiful, lovely lines that move between the cloth and the ceramics, delicate shimmery spoons and cups set against the scribbly textures of Alice Kettle’s embroidery.

A search for place settings in art led me to some other works too. One was Judy Chicago’s famous piece “The Dinner Party“. I had read about this celebration of the lives of women throughout time before, but the power of the web means it’s now accessible in a 3D tour where you can virtually wander round the table. Quite awe-inspiring in its scale and execution, even just on-screen.

The second piece I found is a work in progress – also a large-scale installation – weaver Eleanor Pritchard’s Place Setting. This will be at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, from 12 June – 26 September 2010. Eleanor Pritchard says the work is ‘essentially a project about dining’ – her guest list includes all kinds of people from aristocrats to nursery maids. I’m glad I recorded the idea of narrative stitched into napkins in my ‘hospitality’ theme book before I found this site – that originality thing again! One of my ideas for the hospitality piece was to machine embroider the words of asylum seekers, their responses to receiving welcome, as white words on white fabric, ‘hidden away’, ‘revealed in the opening up of a napkin at the beginning of a meal’, ‘hard to read but if you look they are there’. I decided on placemats, not napkins, in the end, and I may not use the writing idea (though it’s still in the mix) but the uncanny similarity of intention remains. Eleanor Pritchard’s embroidered stories are central to her installation and will reflect the lives and narratives of her guests in 24 damask napkins. That is just a part of this work, which I think is going to be amazing and well worth a visit if you are within reach.

The last piece I found, which again has some elements in common with my theme, is not a large public work, rather a personal gift, but public nonetheless by virtue of being on Flickr – Samantha‘s lovely, quirky set of 6 ‘mismatched placemats‘ for a wedding anniversary gift. If I tell you I had already decided that my ‘hospitality’ piece would be 6 mismatched placemats and that they would be blue and white, you may guess that I did indeed start to feel a bit worried at this point! In fact the resemblance ends there and is actually quite incidental, but it does show that very few ideas are really unique – however hard you strive to be ‘original’. So I think I’ll stop fretting about that and just enjoy the connections!

Speaking of enjoying connections, I occasionally make a Flickr gallery, it’s easy to do and a great way of collecting some lovely and interesting work together in a complementary way. With blue and white very much on my mind, here are two to share with you: blue and white cloth and blue and white cloth 2. I hope they make up for the lack of pictures in this post!

context and originality (or ‘who said it first?’)

9 thoughts on “context and originality (or ‘who said it first?’)

  • May 26, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Thanks for the link to ‘The Dinner Party’ I’ve just been reading about it for my OU course.

  • May 26, 2010 at 7:39 am

    What a wonderful blog post! I will be giving my age away when I tell you that I actually got to see Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party in person when it was ‘on tour’ in Cleveland in the late 70’s. I remember my very naive male friend and I walking around the table, as the plates became increasingly female genitalia-centric…and his ‘cool’ fighting with his embarrassment. A happy memory, indeed!

  • May 27, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Good to meet you, thanks for stopping by! Goodness there are a lot of fabulous things to look at on your blog, I shall have to come back a few times.

    I don’t normally read long pieces with no pics but you had me there to the end! (those blue & white cloths were stunning, good to see Heloise)I’m terrified of plagerism, that is, me doing it. So I try not to look at detailed instructions & wallow about trying to work it out my way, but why reinvent the wheel? Anyway, I crave visual images, I do so love looking! It’s an empty person who says they aren’t inspired by anybody else, surely?

  • May 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Beautiful mosaics. Funnily enough we were having this very discussion today about originality and derivation. If you think about it, artists study other artists, both contemporary and historic and in the past artists have worked alongside each other painting the same view. The impressionists are a case in point, Monet and Renoir used to paint together I believe and you can see the similarities and the differences in their work. I’m glad the Alice Kettle link sparked your interest:o)

  • June 1, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    great post,Fiona.originality is overrated,as if we created in a cultural vacuum 🙂 what we do have is a personal filter to process the information. originality ,cultural vacuum and personal filter in italics 🙂

  • June 2, 2010 at 8:49 am

    I particularly enjoyed your woven pieces, and the piece done on the wood from the beach. I remember seeing Ros Hills samples at Hampton Court, wonderful texture and colours. Thanks for linking to my blog.

  • June 4, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Thank you for pointing me to place setting. I lived in Twickenham for 6 years and went to Strawberry Hill college so its really fascinating for me.

  • June 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    It’s funny, I’ve been talking about originality/copying and acknowledging influences with a few people recently. I know we all like to be original but sometimes it takes the work of others to give our simmering ideas a nudge in the right direction and it’s only right to give credit where it’s due too. And I completely agree about sharing processes and I really like to see the results if people try something I have. Again, I agree with not using ideas for commercial gain, especially without acknowledment, that’s just low.
    I liked the links you posted

  • June 11, 2010 at 3:11 am

    Thank you for this post. It helps me put things into perspective. I’m only just learning about fiber artists and their work, but I know exactly how you feel about being original. (I made a whiny comment about it the other day.)

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