What is Art?

Clare Bryden. Particulart: the art of knitting, chemistry, and gentle protest. Average Art Magazine, “What is Art?” issue, 1 December 2016.

Particulart: the art of knitting, chemistry, and gentle protest

Particulart aims to engage people with environmental and social issues and challenge the status quo through the power of knitting, science, and public art.

It’s a combination of 3D knitted representations of molecules – eg. greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, vehicle exhausts – with photography, games, knit-your-own workshops, data, gazebos, cars, greenhouses, and/or inflatable globes. It’s about raising awareness, provoking reflection, starting conversations, and encouraging action, but without being all shouty.

In its use of knitting as a medium for a message, Particulart is an example of ‘craftivism’. In 2003, the writer Betsy Greer coined this term as a combination of craft and activism, defining it as ‘a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite’.

But is it art?

Nowadays, the art of ideas jostles alongside the art that imitates the world. Although Particulart does represent the molecular building blocks of the world, it primarily reflects on the culture and society in which we live, exploring the issues and effects of consumerism and accountability: the production and treatment of waste, the interactions between humans and rest of our environment, and even the disjunction between science and the rest of culture.

In an episode of “What Do Artists Do All Day?” screened in November 2014, the Chapman Brothers said that in some of their work they were “trying to just ruin the assumption that art has some progressive motion to it. And we think that by doing things like flower arranging and knitting that in some ways we can undermine the heroic nature of making art. We can just turn it into something prosaic.” Their position supports the notion that knitting can be art, even if it is phrased somewhat pejoratively.

Now watch YARN: the Movie, and you will meet more artists “who are redefining the tradition of knit and crochet, bringing yarn out of the house and into the world.”

Clare Bryden is an artist, writer and freelance website developer based in Exeter. Her interests are primarily in how human beings affect and are affected by the natural world of which we are part, and the related theology and psychology of connectedness. Her creative practice springs from her desire to communicate environmental and social issues, her need for hope and energy in keeping on keeping on, and her habit of making connections and finding patterns.