Monday, February 24, 2014

Gustav Klimt, Fashion, and Working in Other Disciplines

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. Portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein, 1905.

The Austrian fine art painter Gustav Klimt, a firm favourite inspirational artist for most of those involved in the creative textile world, was a great advocate , as were many in his lifetime, of the ideal of creativity as a whole, a world where the lines between fine art, design, and craft were either irredeemably blurred, or better still, dismantled altogether, where one creative individual could cross over into another and produce work that carried a different flavour and perspective than was perhaps usual. This stance or notion taken to the creative world has often been seen by later critics as fanciful, doomed to failure even, but why should it so definitely have to be so?

Gustav Klimt produced a number of pieces of work in a discipline that would have been conceived as alien to fine art work, namely that of fashion design. Admittedly, he was encouraged by his long-term partner Emilie Louise Floge who ran a successful haute couture fashion business in Vienna. However, it does not change the fact that Klimt thought it acceptable to travel across disciplines, working in an environment that he obviously felt an affinity to, but had little direct knowledge of.

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. Costume design, 1906.

All of the black and white photographs in this article illustrate examples of Klimt's fashion work. To be fair, he might well have only been involved in the decorative detailing, which is obviously Klimt-like. However, being involved generally in the practical design work of costume, no matter how limited, must have brought in elements of Klimt's perspective on the world as well as that of Floge, and this interaction of disciplines, rather than a clash, is more like a constructive melding, and could only be seen as an opportunity for growth.

For those who have always had problems with cross-disciplined interaction, we have to ask ourselves why? Who gains most from ghettoising the creative world into mutually exclusive camps, with their own distinctive and often impenetrable vocabularies, no one. These barriers are set up to discourage and often actively exclude not only the general public from becoming too familiar, but also inexplicably those of other creative disciplines from getting too close. Not to put too fine a point on it, there is an element of distrust at cross-discipline interaction, and although things are much better than they have been in a long while, there is still far to go until we reach a point where all disciplines are open to the inquisitiveness, exploration and intuitiveness of others.

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. Costume design, 1906.

You only have to think of the loud cries of condemnation, particularly in the news and critical media, of creative individuals who have the temerity to move into disciplines for which they are not known. The list of these individuals seems endless, but popular cross-discipline journeys that rate particular media critical frenzy are modelling to acting, music to fine art, fine art to craft, any discipline to writing, and so on. 

To me it seems unimportant whether creative individuals who cross disciplines are deemed worthy or not, it is the act of exploration and inquisitiveness that is important. Why shouldn't a quilter explore fashion design, or a jeweller fine art? Why shouldn't a fine art painter produce ceramics, a writer paint, or indeed a model act? Why do some deride others who wish to add interest and innovation to their own personal creative paths? Is it a matter of jealousy, or is it as simple as a case of unimaginative thinking? Everyone should be encouraged to explore and expand their creative journey. Perhaps not every project attempted succeeds, but is that an excuse to deride and jeer? I personally think not.

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. Costume design, 1906.

Life is all about the exploration of the self, creative self-expression being perhaps the most important human perspective we have. So, if an individual wants to write a hundred bad poems, or act in a hundred bad movies, or produce a hundred bad paintings, why would that matter to anyone else? Everyone is entitled to the freedom to avoid creative work that doesn't interest or engage them, but to actively discourage someone else's creative path, because the critic judges it as worthless within their own perspective, seems harsh and perhaps says more about the critic than it necessarily does about the victim.

In the long scheme of things how are we to know that an individual who produces a hundred critically dismissed works, won't produce a one hundred and first that overturns the consistency of those critics, or that future generations won't see a different perspective in work that the contemporary generation of the creative artist universally derided. Nothing can ever be universal or static in the creative world. The perspective changes as generations change. An artist that is ignored by one generation can be lauded by the next, and vice versa of course.

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. Costume design, 1906.

As to the world of cross-disciplined artists, although as already stated it is indeed becoming easier for some, it is still hard for many. Personally, I would encourage anyone and everyone to explore other disciplines, if even only to bring elements from another discipline into your work. Perhaps we may not feel as free, or comfortable as perhaps did Klimt, to explore the avenues of fashion, but the world of alternative views and understanding will never really amount to anything if the creative world, which is the natural home of the alternative lifestyle, is too timid to explore more than one discipline in a lifetime.

However, this is not meant to be an article in which to blame or shame anyone. It is much more a case of approaching the creative world in such a way as to allow yourself to be available for opportunities, particularly those in disciplines that might not have occurred. To see ourselves as creative people who just happen to be familiar with one type of discipline, but are certainly intrigued with the creative process to have a go at working in another.


pansypoo said...

love klimt.

Debbie said...

Another very interesting post and one with which I wholly agree. There have always been a few in each generation of artists, such as Picasso, Hundertwasser, Morris etc, and of course some in our present time, the most obvious being Grayson Perry.
I think that perhaps those involved in craft as apposed to 'art' maybe cross disiplines more or work together with makers from other genre. An interesting collaboration at the moment is Matthew Harris(textiles) with Howard Skempton(music)

Sweetpea said...

Really excellent thoughts here, John, thank you so much for laying them out so succinctly.

[Klimt & fashion ... I had no idea!]

John Hopper said...

Thanks for your comments, much appreciated as always. I am convinced that cross-disciplined working is one of the great releases to creativity, particularly in the creative arts. A number of names, other than Klimt did of course spring to mind, Grayson Perry being at the forefront, at least in out own contemporary world.

Heather said...

John, you are amazingly consistent in giving us great, juicy posts with lots of food for thought. It makes me wonder though - you are so good at writing about others, but perhaps one day you will share with us some of your own design or textile work? Or are you primarily a writer/teacher? I must confess that I am not familiar with your practise, other than this blog.

elizabeth said...

Klimt is endlessly fascinating.
This collaboration with Emilie was fruitful and wonderful.
I live near the Neue Galerie so can pop in and bask in Klimt pretty often.
Joseph Hoffman also was into designing total environments.
The post office in Vienna is an astounding example of one designer (not Hoffman!) controlling every detail.

John Hopper said...

Heather, I spend much of my time writing now, although I do keep my hand in with knitting and pattern drawing. I am going through a mandala phase at the moment and am thinking of how to produce some design work on a larger scale, for a larger wall piece for example.

John Hopper said...

Elizabeth, I think you are right, Klimt and Floge made such a great and dynamic team. I also do love the idea of designing a total environment and the Austrian/German architect/designers did such a great job of achieving the ideal.

Spring said...

Excellent article; I journey through many artistic disciplines (collage, printmaking, fiber art, et al), sometimes concurrently and sometimes 'mixing' mediums; I see no difference in the creative process.

John Hopper said...

Always a great place to be in my eyes. If you are comfortable moving between mediums, even allowing them to overlap from time to time, it seems to give you more freedom, and more freedom tends to mean a much more fundamental creativity.