Messy Histories Part 4: Pattern


I didn’t do a blog for Part 3. Part 3 was “rainbow” and honestly, does it need more explanation than that? I had no idea how the week was going to pan out – less overarching (pardon the pun) narrative, more based on my whims. I don’t buy into colour psychology, but there’s definitely shades which suit my feelings more on some days than others.

There’s not a linear history this week either. Pattern has existed for petty much as long as people have been decorating objects. Pattern is easy, and accessible – a few simple marks are all it takes. And I think that’s one reason I LOVE patterns. They can be so simple, yet so elevating. Patterns weave their way through our experience of everyday life so subtly, we don’t notice them But if they were absent, or just different, we would. What we think the world looks like is based at least as much on the patterns we see as the objects they decorate.

But I have more thoughts about pattern’s place in art. And it is all arts, meaning the entire spectrum of artistic production, that I will be looking at this week. Think of “pattern” and I bet your first thoughts are of fashion, or maybe interior decoration. Things which are practical, and so not quite “art”. I strongly believe this is a false dichotomy. It suits the Academic system to be able to somehow differentiate themselves from the production of craft and design because…well, why? They don’t want to be seen as related to the same kind of commercial output? Or perhaps it’s putting up an accessibility boundary in other ways. If you associate “design” with merchant trades and “craft” with folk production, “art” is more rarefied, specialised, less accessible to patrons and practitioners.

The fragility of this line between “art” and anything else is easily exposed. Coming up with my list of images for this week (too many, I won’t be able to used them all!), I’ve chosen quite a few examples of patterns in “art” to expose this interdependence. Art, craft and design have all developed their own stylistic practices in accordance with their media, yet all taken inspiration from each other’s innovations. This interplay is one of the ways they each find new inspiration and stay fresh.

By the way, I’m not being particularly original here. My first example of the week is Enid Marx, a woman who couldn’t graduate from the Royal College of Art because her designs were too ‘abstract’. Since her subsequent success with a variety of mid-century design projects, many other artists have navigated this space between art and design pursuits. And yet the division still exists in the wider public consciousness. So if this week chips even the smallest part of this wall further down, I’ll have done my job.

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