A publication and a publisher hit the dust (by Olga Norris)

From the age of four I wanted to be an artist.  Later I grew to appreciate writing in its various forms, and was lucky enough to have a fulfillingly creative career in publishing.  When the career became distinctly less creative I turned my attention more fully onto becoming more involved with personal expression.  This was aided and perhaps even specifically directed by an inspirational magazine I found while living in the USA in the very early 80s: Fiberarts.  

I did not turn to textiles immediately.  Such is the power of the accepted view of what being an artist is that I worked first in acrylics on paper.  But I subscribed to Fiberarts, just as I had subscribed to Crafts magazine for years previously.  It was a combination of my previous experience with textiles as a child, the constant inspiration and broadening of my thinking by reading Fiberarts, and the encounter with a fascinating exhibition entitled Art of the Stitch by the UK Embroiderers’ Guild which finally tipped me over.

 I found a voice of my own at the turn of the century, but the desire for incoming inspiration and information about the work of others, their expressions and their intentions has not diminished.  I am sad that Fiberarts is now no more.  I must admit that I have been expecting it ever since it was bought by a company which seemed primarily interested in enormous circulation; but I take no pleasure in being proved right.  I am only glad that the Internet is there to supply serendipitous delights – but what is missing there is critical nourishment.

 I had hoped some years ago that Telos books would grow into a list spanning from introductions to the artists in various countries using textile as their medium, through monographs on particular artists, to academic texts.  The visuals were stunning.  The design seductive, but the text was sadly lacking, and increasingly more so as the price increased.  Even a book addict hooked on art textiles stopped buying some years ago now.  So now Telos is also no more.

 Does this mean that there is no market for thoughtful, thought-provoking critical analysis within and about art which uses textile forms and techniques?  Have those of us who want to exchange thoughts more about intention than technique been swamped by the seemingly ever increasing thirst for the latter?  Is it out there and I’ve just missed it somehow?

14 Responses to “A publication and a publisher hit the dust (by Olga Norris)”

  1. 1 judy martin July 18, 2011 at 7:17 am

    I am so glad to read this post. Not because of it’s dismal but true content, but because I was so saddened to open my last copy of Fiberarts magazine and read that from now on, my subscription would be fulfilled with Quilting Arts instead, and then within the magazine itself, find out that Telos book publishers had also ceased.

    Thank you for your insightful comments.

  2. 2 Olga Norris June 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Beverley, it does seem to be a time of many losses. I wonder if the deep divers have been so outnumbered by the paddlers that these latter have become the overwhelming market. Paddlers sometimes swim, but they also include in their number many who get no more than their toes wet and would never dream of full immersion. Sadly paddlers are not only there in numbers, but often have more disposable cash than the divers.

  3. 3 Beverley June 27, 2011 at 6:27 am

    I was saddened to find Fiberarts at an end, although it had been on my mind not to resubscribe, because it just didn’t seem the same magazine it was – and i’ve taken it since mid 90s.
    The news came midst a flood of other endings here in the UK. The Julia Caprara School of Textiles has ceased, leaving many studying for textile degrees dangling, uncertain if they can find anywhere else to take them on, and of course saying goodbye to money paid out. A few days later I realised that Windsor College as we all know it, was exhibiting their last textile courses. At one time coach loads, yes I mean that, would frequent their exhibitions. And then a few days later I hear a longstanding UK magazine, Workbox is also to cease publication.
    Some time back a well known textile artist and author said that the requirements of an author for books had changed, in that the word volume was now considerably less. Large chunks of the books give the basics, anything from a whole page pictorial spread on how to thread a needle (yes really) – then there’s suppliers and a gallery section (which I do enjoy of course). But the substance, the reason for buying is often less than a third of the volume. I don’t want that kind of book.
    I like my books, and can’t imagine having them via digital – but I do subscribe to a couple of magazines via digital – because they are US based and I’m in the UK, and the saving is enormous, plus it means I can get the two, rather then one.
    Friends and I have speculated the loss of the magazines… is it the internet, is it blogs which take you direct to an artist, or You Tube for videos of technique… does the closing of textile courses also impact on the readership. No classes, no like minded get togethers, no sharing a publication which might attract a new purchaser.
    These are sad times.

  4. 4 Olga Norris June 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Yasmin, I’m afraid that it is not just work but time which is involved, and that seems to fly past me too fast these days. However, you and June have encouraged me to try harder. If I want depth, then I shall have to dig deeper! I shall continue to contribute to the Ragged Cloth Cafe, but the excavations will cause pauses – which I hope will be filled by the diggings of others.

    Now, where did I put that hard hat?

  5. 5 june June 22, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Yasmine, you have expressed my thinking precisely. Olga’s faithful work here on Ragged Cloth has kept this place alive for me after I abandoned it (for personal reasons) some years back.

    Olga’s thought, (as Yasmine expressed it) was a “statement about the lack of thought involved in the work of many in the textile arts, and a lack of community for those who seriously think about the meaning of their work as textile artists.” This resonates with me.

    Print media is as peculiar a form as the computer for dealing with art. Art is unique: print and the internet are mere replication, more or less truthfully rendered. I was reminded of this today when a friend visiting Santa Fe remarked that Georgia O’Keefe’s works were disappointing when seen in real time and space. Print has made us believe that O’Keefe works bigger, more grand, more “something” than we find when we see the works themselves. So replicas are not the art, either in Fiberarts nor on the WorldWideWeb.

    But the thinking about art, in writing, is far less distant from the original than the replication of the image. It isn’t exactly a conversation or a private meandering without audience, but it comes much closer to these, and in many ways can be more valuable. Whereas the big art book with photos of O’Keefe’s paintings could become more valuable, even if less true to the art — perhaps in the future we’ll think so because it gives us an art that isn’t O’Keefe, but an art that nevertheless has the potential to thrill.

    I fear I ramble. But Olga and Yasmine have both expressed what I will miss with Fiberarts demise; serious, cosmopolitan, intelligent overviews of the textile and fiber world. Yasmine says, “Where do those of us interested in a critical and thought provoking conversation on textile arts turn? The answer may be constructing a web site or a page and selectively inviting others to participate.”

    I would echo her thoughts and even suggest that she and others, including myself, put in more time and effort into helping Olga fill out this website. It is here, to be used. To be most effective, a website such as Ragged Cloth requires, like Wikipedia, the work of many minds, living in many places, seeing many different things, and reporting back on them, in thoughtful words that help us all know more. I think Olga and Yasmine have issued a challenge!

  6. 6 Yasmin Sabur June 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    There is an art to engaging in conversation. The first rule of which may be to listen, or in this case to read. Listening requires controlling the thoughts roaming through your own brain, not framing a reply while someone else is speaking, and focusing your attention on what is being said, or written.
    I don’t hear Olga saying that the internet has caused the death of publishing. Rather what I hear is a statement about the lack of thought involved in the work of many in the textile arts, and a lack of community for those who seriously think about the meaning of their work as textile artists.
    Fine textile work, is like all fine art, elitist. If Fiberarts was purchased by a publisher interested in large number circulation then, obviously, this publication, with a circulation of 8,000, was destined to fold.
    Where do those of us interested in a critical and thought provoking conversation on textile arts turn? The answer may be constructing a web site or a page and selectively inviting others to participate. Conversations regarding fine textile art take place all around the internet. On textile museum sites, textile design organization sites, in reports from conferences and symposiums, on sites from universities and colleges with textile departments and galleries.
    Not quite as easy as subscribing to one magazine, but no one ever said technology doesn’t require some work.

  7. 7 Olga Norris June 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Jean, Sunny, I agree that most people want everything for free on the Internet. And Sunny you are right that quality writing takes professional development which takes time. We are not going to get that for nothing, and that is why I am willing, and lucky enough to be able to pay for it in books and magazines where I find it.

    I suppose that I should stop bemoaning the lack, and just continue to enjoy the breadth of information that I can so easily access these days.

  8. 8 Sunny June 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I love books, the feel, smell, heft of a book. And I love my computer — instant gratification at my fingertips, paradise for the ADD-afflicted. I was a newspaper reporter and later freelance writer for my career (count me among those 50+ women). Now newspapers are dying at a rate that makes journalism a poor career choice. Here is my take on the issue: while we all love the Internet and the glut of information instantly available, who will produce quality material when no one will pay? We all want everything for free. And plenty of people out there will spend their days researching and writing for the joy of doing so, especially those who are out of work and have little to no hope of gainful employment. But good work requires time, years of training and dedication and practice of one’s craft or art. When the written word becomes so devalued that writers can’t earn a decent living, good writing will go t he way of … well, we know where it will go. Our topic of interest is art. The same collapse of publishing is happening in every field. It’s a real problem and no one wants to talk about it beyond opining ‘someone will find a way…’

  9. 9 Olga Norris June 22, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I too am a grey head: 63, and love my computer. Indeed my work is computer grounded. I also worked for well over 20 years in the publishing industry from the days before the beancounters took over the running of the show. My passion has always been for the seeking of information and hence the enthusiastic transmission of information: a virtuous cycle in whatever medium appropriate. I am excited by books, and by the world wide web, there is just so much at our fingertips these days.

    But what is missing is quality of thought. I look for depth. I fear that the proliferation of superficiality in information provided will lead to superficiality in information sought. But maybe that is the real change in society, and the developments in technology simply facilitate that. Or perhaps ’twas ever thus. After all, casual visitors still marvel at the number of books they see in our house – and those on public view are the tip of the iceberg – let alone the access my husband and I in our different fields make of the Internet.

    Rachel, I am afraid that I had not heard of TAFA before various reactions to the demise of Fiberarts magazine. I shall explore your website further, but meantime have had an extrememly quick look. Being more marketing based, I suspect that it will not be something I will join. Yes, of course I want to sell my work, but my primary focus is on thinking about, designing, and making my work, then thinking about it some more in order to make better work. The input I need is from others who feel similarly, some of whom use textiles, but I learn so much from sculptors, ceramicists, printmakers, etc. I am sure that many of the posts will be of great interest and help to me, just as on many other websites and blogs – it is with regret for the delightful convenience of magazines like Fiberarts which package thought provoking articles by correspondents like Jessica Hemmings for instance that I will miss the publication.

    June-Marie, I completely agree about the wonders of the Internet. We are indeed a wondrously blessed generation to have experienced such developments in information distribution. I well remember how astonished and delighted I was when we lived in the US for a couple of years in the early 80s to discover that such a wide range of magazines was available at such low subscription costs compared with the UK. Now for those with electricity and the funding so much is at the world’s fingertips!

    BUT… as the old advertisement used to say: “Sifted grains make finer flour.” Are we destined to live in a world where we ‘never mind the quality, but feel the width’?

  10. 10 Jean M. Judd June 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I thoroughly agree that the computer is a great reference and research tool. We all now expect it to be there for free. I don’t know a lot of people who are willing to pay $30 or $40 a year for a virtual subscription unless they get both a paper version as well as the print version. It just does not need to be the end all and the only way that we get to read books and magazines in the future.

    Rachel brings up some great points as well about leaving those without access to technology even further behind. My parents are in their late 80s and have no desire to try to learn the computer or spend the money to purchase one. Many of the public schools in very rural and poor inner city areas are having huge funding cuts and technology is one of the places they are now cutting since they have already pretty much anniliated the art departments as well as physical education area.

    The next 10 to 20 years are going to be an interesting time to see where print media ends up. I worked in the publishing world for over 15 years and watched a major reference book publisher go from printing 30,000 copies of the main book they published every two years (and selling out in that timeframe) down to 10,000 copies and printing the book every 4 or 5 years during that 15 year period. People wanted the information for free on the Internet and someone overseas scanned in the book and offered the information for free on a web site. Nothing they could do about copyright violations half a world a way once it was on the Internet — no physical address to use as a contact and emails were not responded to. They paid for a lawyer in Europe for a year but got no satisfaction from any court.

  11. 11 Rachel Biel June 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I wrote about this on my blog, too and there are a couple of good discussions going on on LinkedIn. I’ll leave the links here, for those who want to explore them:




    Without getting too repetitive of what has already been said, today I heard a program on NPR referring to the death of print media as a done deal. On the one hand, it makes sense. Unlike others who hold on to their old issues, I rarely refer to magazines once I have read them and feel guilty about the piles that grow from them. I had three subscriptions: National Geographic, Fiberarts and Newsweek. The rest I get online.

    The biggest problem that I see is that there is a whole segment of the world who is not interested at all in jumping into cyberspace. I have quite a few friends who want nothing to do with a computer. They actually still write letters! They are smart, educated, and they read. They, along with the whole part of the world who is too poor to invest in technology, become part of a new kind of illiteracy. We live in and access completely different worlds. The fastest growing populations joining both the internet and facebook are women over 50, which happens to be the population I work with through TAFA (www.tafalist.com). They are overwhelmed as they frantically try to jump in and make sense of things.

    This techno world can be overwhelming and is very demanding on time. Many who jump in, jump right back out because they would rather be making art than trying to figure out who they are supposed to network with on which site.

    Fiberarts was an important bridge between these two worlds and it’s a real shame that it has been closed down. Getting into and launching a similar publication is prohibitive, even for seasoned publishers. I wish that they had sold it, along with their audience to another party who might have valued its importance. I have no idea what went on behind the scenes and doubt they would have made this decision lightly, but it sure does leave a big hole in our dialogue.

    • 12 June-Marie Courage June 22, 2011 at 12:12 am

      Hi, I’m a woman over 50 (over 60, in fact) & I use the internet lots & I’m neither frantic nor overwhelmed !!!! I also buy, read, & reread print books. I want both! I want everything !!
      Moreover, as I get older, & I am getting older, I am grateful that the internet allows me greater freedom & security than my grandmothers could have imagined. If winter weather turns too cold for me to go out – I simply order my groceries online. Restricted to a pension income, I can search the net for affordable gifts for my family. Living in a town with no art or craft shop, I buy everything I need with the help of my laptop.
      Apart from which, the internet is a constant source of both inspiration & information, bringing me the work of artists of whom I might otherwise never have even heard, let alone been able to get some idea of their work.
      Now living in a small town, I plan to move to a rural area next year.Without the internet, this is something I might think twice about. As an ageing woman, living independently on a restricted income, I am glad I don’t have to choose between the convenience of city shops and galleries, & the countryside which is so important to my work. I can live with green fields & trees & still keep up to date with new exhibitions as well as in touch with people all over the world. Living in the UK, I have friends in the USA, Spain, Ireland & Nigeria, & through the internet I can show them my work & see theirs in a way which would be wholly impossible if I had to rely on traditional means of communication.
      A point about access in poor countries: precisely because traditional communications (road, rail, & the newspapers, books, magazines & mail which depend on them for distribution) are so bad in these places, internet cafes have become extremely popular, & offer people new & wider opportunities to access information & education than was ever possible in the past. This is, of course, apart from the many millions who, in spite of intermitant electricity supplies, still look to their computors as an absolutely vital link to the rest of the world. And don’t forget that it is largely the power of the internet that has bought about the current challenges to despotism in the middle east & further afield.
      Many thanks for an interesting post. June-Marie

  12. 13 Olga Norris June 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Jean, I think it will be a while before art books disappear – although if more folks use tablets rather than kindles to read books, perhaps not. I agree that the computer is a tool; but on the other hand I find it exciting that so much can be found out at one’s finger tips – if one knows where to look. That is where a good magazine can be such a help as a pointer. Also there is a dearth of critical discussion on blogs.

    Two magazines which I do find critically stimulating are Craft Arts International, and Sculpture. I find them to be informative and intellectually exciting.

  13. 14 Jean M. Judd June 21, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Is this just the beginning of more publications going by the wayside? Are book publishers next? There is something akin to textiles in reading a true magazine or book. The tactile feeling of turning the page, in most cases the images are better as well than online. I don’t want to be forever attached to my computer. It is a tool, not an appendage to my very being.

    I am glad that I have kept all of the back issues of magazines that I subscribe to as well as have purchased textile books for my own library. They will become more precious as time goes on it seems.

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