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!
Jessica M. Grimm
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