Sharing a laugh...
As I have written before, I am trying to get recognised as a textile artist instead of a craftswoman by the authorities. Germany, and indeed some other countries, have legislation in place that provides cheaper health insurance, a modest pension and tax relief for artists. For as long as I have been self-employed, I have been treated like any other small business. That's not really fair when you know that I often can't even charge the legal minimum wage of €8,83 per hour. To give you a sense of perspective here: when I was a self-employed archaeozoologist, I charged €65 per hour like everybody else. Most people who know me and my embroideries thought it would be easy to get this formal recognition as an artist. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. And as my latest down-turn is so hilarious, I am going to share it with you. So what happened?
My official application was finally, after a round of corrections, turned down. However, I was allowed to appeal. One of the things the authorities criticised was my lack of recognition amongst fellow artists. So I decided to join the Fiber Art Network (FAN): a great place to learn about grants and exhibition opportunities. This will certainly help me in the near future! Then I applied to the TAFA-List (Textile Art and Fiber Art List) to be included. As this is a vetted list, it has a little more credibility than FAN. And the list's curator Rachel Biel, has been very helpful in suggesting a few changes to my website in order to make it more obviously art. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a German association for textile artists. So I applied for membership at a local artist society. And then things went bonkers!
I wrote them a lovely email explaining who I am and what I do. What I would like to achieve artistically in the future and how I thought membership could help me achieve this. It was followed by 14, yes FOURTEEN, days of deafening silence. I decided to re-send my original email, minus the pictures; after all you never know if they had clogged up their email boxes :). I promptly got a reply. I was told that 'after lengthy discussions' they had turned down my application as my embroideries are of very high quality but firmly belong in the realm of craftsmanship or are at best 'applied art'. Not 'real art'. Wow, that dampened my spirits. A nagging self-doubt emerged. Luckily I kept my wits about me and started thinking about the whole difference between craft, applied art and 'real art'. I perfectly know that not all my embroideries are automatically 'real art'. For me, a piece of art is art because it has different layers of meaning. So, I wrote a second email.
In that email, I asked them to consider the new project I am working on depicting the pope and the encrusted pebble memory stones I make when beloved people pass on. I firmly believe they are ART. And this is the reply I got:
Dear Mrs Grimm,
Not only for us, but especially here in Bavaria, embroidery is a traditional craft. Your work is really very beautiful and also original, but clearly limited to the tradition of this craft. …. When you would like to mingle with artists, you are very welcome to attend our courses in figure- and portrait drawing or any other course that we will offer in 2019, for instance structures in oil or acrylic. We will publish these new courses on our homepage in January. Please don’t be blue, but we won’t ever exhibit stitched saints – not even when they are so very imaginative- as part of our group exhibitions.
Chairwoman of the Artist Society Tusculum in Murnau
Is she seriously suggesting I should take up drawing or painting so as to further my artistic developement? As the Dutch say: This makes my trousers drop! Then I realised that she excludes all textile artists that use embroidery from ever creating 'real art'. And that's when my self-doubt melted away completely. And I had a good laugh. Although I used to be impressed by this particular artist society, several of its members have attended art school, I now know that they have really limited and prejudiced views when it comes to art.
As you can probably imagine, this whole process is draining me. I am even battling with a cold; the first one in several years :). And although I know I will learn and grow through this experience, I do not have to like it, now do I? But it has helped to understand some of the other experiences I have had over the past seven or eight years in both Germany and my native Netherlands. Up until recently, I tried to be accepted by the artisans. This never really worked. Some fellow craftspeople reacted with suspicion to my embroideries. Visitors of high-end craft shows were openly hostile towards me and my work. Both groups repeatedly commented that my work has nothing to do with 'traditional embroidery'. They made it clear to me that I don't belong. Ironically, the 'other side', the artists, say I don't belong either.
So what will I do? I did write my appeal to the authorities. I am pretty sure they will turn me down again. In the meantime, I will make camp on the fence and get to grips with the fact that I don't belong in either camp. I will keep creating my art embroideries and I will connect with fellow textile artists through FAN and TAFA. There is music in me that seeks a canvas. It will flow through my fingers onto that canvas using a needle and not a brush!
The truly great are never immediately appreciated by the mediocre and are often attacked by those who should know better. Until later...when everyone wants to take credit for discovering and supporting you.
Thank you Monique! That's what my husband said too. Once my pieces get starting to get attention, this artist society will probably be more than happy to have me as a member :). The good thing about a blog is that you can just write these rotten experiences down and that's a huge step in overcoming them!
Hi, please accept my condolences,😁
LOL, accepted, Anne! Unfortunatley, organisations like the Embroiderers Guild and the EGA are seen as craft organisations here in Germany.
It certainly is, Bobbie! And I really felt that she was taking the piss when she suggested I should attend their drawing and painting classes. Ah well, unwards and upwards!
Wow. Completely speechless here. I wish I were more surprised...
I couldn't agree more Rachel!
Thanks for the link Rachel! Such a shame they have closed submissions. I've written them an email anyway and hop they'll accept new members soon :)!
Thank you Tanja! I did indeed include a link to you. However, I am under the impression that they did not really look at my website or any of the links I provided. Will keep trying!
Yes, Jessica, you're probably right! These people might not even know how the web works and are quite incapable of looking up a website on their computer...:(
So sad for you to read this but not a little bit surprised!
Oh no Meri! Yes, there seems to be a common theme here... The problem with the RSN is that their Certificate and Diploma courses have no official accreditation at all (only their BA course has). Textileartist.org is a fantastic resource and well worth signing up to in order to receive their blog posts!
This is the ongoing story of all wonderful needle artists, the same rejections and turned down applications for their memberships,etc.
I hope so too Velia! And I see signs that things are changing. So who knows? Soon they might be fighthing over me :).
Hi Jessica, I´m sorry for you, I can imagine how disappointing this has to be for you. In Germany embroidery is somehow not very popular and is indeed seen more as a craft than art. Are you a member of the Stickgilde in germany? Maybe they can give you an advise or ask Bärbel Zimber from https://paintersthreads.com/ .
Thank you for your long and interesting comment, Helena! No, I am not a member of the Stickgilde, nor of any other guild. I have been a member of the EGA in the past. Membership of these guilds do not help my case with being accepted in the Künstlerkasse. In medieval times, guilds were places where craftsmen gathered. If I want to get accepted by the Künstlerkasse, I need to stay away from the word craft :). Another problem with the guilds is that nowadays (contrary to the medieval form) anyone can enter. What the Künstlerkasse wants is that I get a membership of a society where my work is judged by a group of peers. Guilds don't do that. I have had contact with Bärbel in the past, but her school is just not for me. As far as I understand it, historically, painting has always counted as a 'high' or fine artform. Women were long banned from persuing it. Needlework on the other hand was always firmly the domain of women. Unless it involved costly materials; medieval vestments were mainly stitched by men :)!
Hmm you are right, guilds belong to craftsmanship. I just had the idea, that their knowledge of the system might help you somehow, you might be not the only one with these problems.
Thank you so much Helena! I will contact them and see what they might know. Will report back on the blog :).
Oh my... what a shameful behaviour of a group of artists. I would have thougt these people are more openminded than the "normal" population. Mh... seems I failed.
Yes, that's probably what makes me wonder most too, Steff. I always thought artist were creative, experimental and open-minded. Not this bunch :). When I got my failed application back for the Künstlerkasse, it was indeed filled with past court rulings. Germans are a very efficient people :). Going to the universities will open a can of worms. I don't think they would help me there. After all, I have not studied art :).
It is criminal that embroidery is not regarded as art. I would like to some of those critics trying to embroider.
Oh, wow, Susan, that sounds wonderful! At least recognition for some with very powerful institutions behind them. I think things are shifting, but probably a bit faster in the English speaking world than in the German or Dutch speaking world :).
Thanks for introducing me to the work of Marja Vink, Monica! I will certainly contact her. Trying to cooperate with a fashion designer, wouldn't help me. On the application it clearly states that the designer is an artist, but the hands who mak it are not automatically artists. It is seen as applied art, at best.
Hi Jessica, I was so sad to read your article on your battle. I admire your courage and your ability to laugh at it. I know, because I have been there myself, struggling with recognition first as an embroiderer and receiving only contemptful sneers, and then as a textile artist and receiving only complete ignorance and indifference. Embroidery is indeed not considered as either art nor craft, depending on who looks at it. I'm proud to see that you keep fighting back, because it is so hard and takes so much energy. I'm wholeheartedly with you, and if I can do something to cheer you up, please do tell me!
Oh yes, it does take so much energy, Marina! But I want to share the process on my blog as a kind of 'how to jump the hoops' instruction for others. What I find the biggest problem is the fact that we use the internet a lot to communicate. However, I am asked to submit newspaper articles to prove that I am accepted amongst my peers as an artist... Times are changing fast and more and more people express themselves creatively. Quite a large proportion has started to make art in which they address social issues. I think that's brilliant and I cannot understand why the traditional painters and sculptors do not see us as 'added value' to the artistic process. Maybe they are just afraid of change?
The age old question!
Good question Shirley! I had provided links to the websites of Jess de Wahls and Victoria Matthewson. I don't think they even looked...
Oh what a clusterfuck, and such narrowminded people! I hope you can find another way to get that art-classification.
Me too, Lena!
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