Is fashion an art form?
For Arena Martinez, the answer is emphatically yes. But people find the question difficult, and it’s worth doing some drilling into why. People experience art in galleries, behind ropes and glass screens, a specified distance between viewer and artwork. Sometimes, it costs a meal out’s worth to see that artwork. Fashion, however, is experienced in the streets, in bars, on trains, at parties; we can touch and feel clothes in a way that we can’t touch and feel visual arts, sculpture or (most of the time) performance and conceptual art. Does fashion’s materiality take it down a level from art? Or is it fashion’s commerciality? Fashion is dismissed by many as fine art’s less-cultured cousin – and in some ways, it is. Even couture is cheaper that buying art, and fashion is more accessible, less exclusive, and less prohibited by the invisible barriers of class, wealth and education. So there is, at least in practice, some distinction.
I wanted to start this blog with Schiaparelli because there are always exceptions to the statements, couturiers who are artists, who are sculptors and exponents of the avant garde. Rich Owens, Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano, to name a few. But all of these artists, without exception, have lines of their businesses (or the businesses for which they serves as creative directors) devoted to bringing cash in, to making money. Businesses do not run without bottom lines, and businesses must make money to survive, and to compete. It is not the same for artists, not to the same extent. Artists do not have shareholders, artists do not have corporate responsibility in the way that Commes des Garçons, for all its innovation and avant garde credentials, does. So perhaps it is the business of fashion which muddies the question of fashion as an art form for so many people. It’s an age old dilemma. Anything touched with the brush of commerce becomes, in the eyes of some, vulgar and devalued, and as society and capitalism grows, we just experience the same old dichotomy in new ways.
But. The way we experience art is changing. And the way we buy fashion is changing too. The market for artwork which was once notoriously opaque and impossible to access is beginning to crack open. We view artwork on Instagram, in the same place where we encounter our favourite brands and celebrities. We see our friends’ snapchat stories at exhibitions. Hotels and coworking spaces are renting artwork from galleries and changing the way we mix art into our working environments. Collaboration has never been more important to creative exchange and development, and I’d wager that the amount of collaborations between artists and designers over the last decade has intensified due to the medium-mashing capabilities of the social media sites like Tumblr and now Instagram. When we’re able to curate our own feeds juxtaposing a line of poetry with a Balenciaga campaign, placed next to a piece of baroque architecture and a gestural nude sketch, it makes sense that this exchange will be reflected by designers and artists themselves.
In this series, I want to trace a few collaborations which have made an impression on me, some very recent, some a few years past, and to look at what the impact of artists’ exchange has been. Fashion is an art form, but it’s experientially different to viewing art in a gallery – the context is different. Can blurring those distinctions, using clothes as a canvas, alter our experience of wearing clothes, and of viewing art? I’d like to use this series to follow some fashion moments where it certainly did.