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String, Felt, Thread

The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art

2009
Author:

Elissa Auther

String, Felt, Thread

A beautifully illustrated history of the use of fiber in the American art world in the postwar era

String, Felt, Thread presents an unconventional history of the American art world, chronicling the advance of thread, rope, string, felt, and fabric from the “low” world of craft to the “high” world of art in the 1960s and 1970s and the emergence today of a craft counterculture. In this full-color illustrated volume, Elissa Auther discusses the work of American artists using fiber, considering provocative questions of material, process, and intention that bridge the art–craft divide.

The study of modern craft has only a few real stars, and none shine more brightly than Elissa Auther. Her innovative book is a challenge to more conventional histories of textiles and postminimal art alike, and an important contribution to feminist art history. Perhaps most important, String, Felt, Thread serves as the prehistory of our own cross-disciplinary movement. This is a book to be welcomed by historians, artists, and craftspeople alike.

Glenn Adamson, Victoria and Albert Museum

String, Felt, Thread presents an unconventional history of the American art world, chronicling the advance of thread, rope, string, felt, and fabric from the “low” world of craft to the “high” world of art in the 1960s and 1970s and the emergence today of a craft counterculture. In this full-color illustrated volume, Elissa Auther discusses the work of American artists using fiber, considering provocative questions of material, process, and intention that bridge the art–craft divide.

Drawn to the aesthetic possibilities and symbolic power of fiber, the artists whose work is explored here—Eva Hesse, Robert Morris, Claire Zeisler, Miriam Schapiro, Faith Ringgold, and others—experimented with materials that previously had been dismissed for their associations with the merely decorative, with “arts and crafts,” and with “women’s work.” In analyzing this shift and these exceptional artists’ works, Auther engages far-reaching debates in the art world: What accounts for the distinction between art and craft? Who assigns value to these categories, and who polices the boundaries distinguishing them?

String, Felt, Thread not only illuminates the centrality of fiber to contemporary artistic practice but also uncovers the social dynamics—including the roles of race and gender—that determine how art has historically been defined and valued.

String, Felt, Thread

Elissa Auther is associate professor of contemporary art at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She founded and codirects Feminism & Co.: Art, Sex, Politics, a public program that explores feminist social, political, and artistic issues through creative forms of pedagogy.

String, Felt, Thread

The study of modern craft has only a few real stars, and none shine more brightly than Elissa Auther. Her innovative book is a challenge to more conventional histories of textiles and postminimal art alike, and an important contribution to feminist art history. Perhaps most important, String, Felt, Thread serves as the prehistory of our own cross-disciplinary movement. This is a book to be welcomed by historians, artists, and craftspeople alike.

Glenn Adamson, Victoria and Albert Museum

This book is the first, and long overdue, in-depth history of the evolving use of fiber media in the 1960s and 1970s, elaborating and challenging hierarchical art–craft distinctions. It is absolutely critical for modern art history, and essential reading for artists working with fiber as a material in contemporary art. Bravo to Elissa Auther!

Anne Wilson, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

While some work hard to show that clear boundaries exist between related creative fields, Elissa Auther demonstrates that those involved in art and craft have frequently broken down the barriers between their disciplines for reasons that are political, complex, and important.

Liam Gillick

Auther’s book offers important perspectives on blind spots in art history and indispensable background on fiber within the arenas of contemporary art and art criticism.

Fiberarts Magazine

This is an academic book, with the expected references to cultural critics, philosophers and scholarly issues, but it is smoothly written, assured and clear enough to be accessible to any serious reader. It is an admiral model among the scholarly books about crafts.

American Craft

Its contribution to research is invaluable to assisting with the building of a contemporary fibre practice history separate from (but in support of) the larger contemporary craft history.

FibreQuarterly

Students of art history and those who enjoy fiber arts, along with anyone who has an interest in sociology and women’s history, will certainly find this book worth reading.

Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot

Auther is a synthesizer, never allowing the reader to lose sight of the larger art world, the influence of reviewers and of critics like Clement Greenberg, and the variety of themes addressed with fiber from gender to globalization. Her knowledge of the field is impressive and supported by her extensive notes and bibliography. This is a beautifully illustrated book.

Studies in American Culture

In String, Felt, Thread, Auther subjects this ubiquitous reiteration of the art-craft hierarchy to careful scrutiny. Her evenhanded treatment leads her to a conclusion that a more regretful or judgmental one might have missed.

College Art Association Reviews

Auther’s book is an important scholarly contribution that does much to illuminate and elucidate the connections between three artist groupings not typically thought of as interconnected. The essays are well documented, and this handsome paperback volume includes color illustrations throughout and features a substantial bibliography and index.

Woman’s Art Journal

Auther’s book is a welcomed addition, a feisty alternative to the dry consensus of literature on the 1960s that tends toward major figures such as Judd, Smithson, or Warhol.

Journal of Modern Craft

The ongoing ‘struggle for legitimacy,’ a concept stated early on in String, Felt, Thread, becomes a uniquely American story of social justice in an art context. In many respects, this is the best aspect of the book, shedding light on art that deserves more of it.

Art Journal

Whatever textile discipline you may be working in it provides a lot of food for thought.

The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers

String, Felt, Thread

SEE THE VIDEO (BELOW)

 

UMP blog Q&A: Three questions with Elissa Auther.

2/10/2010
String, Felt, Thread
examines the use of fiber in art across the larger art world in the 1960s and 1970s, an approach that illuminates intersections between artistic spheres of practice—from craft, to post-minimalism, to the feminist art movement—normally addressed in isolation from each other.
While the book addresses the elevation of a single medium—fiber—it also examines how aesthetic hierarchies and boundaries, specifically their creation, maintenance, and dissolution over time, has shaped the art world and our experience as artists, viewers, critics, collectors, or art historians.
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