Glenn Adamson’s anthology, The Craft Reader, is a behemoth. Though filled with a variety of opinions and time periods, it is thoughtfully assembled and includes excerpts which affirm and contrast each other.
Two excerpts from the section of The Craft Reader entitled Craft in Action, Tanya Harrod’s alternate art history, written in 2002, and Lucy Lippard’s treatise on hobby art, written in 1978, go together quite fittingly as critiques of institutions and structural hierarchies of art and craft. Because this excerpt is a condensation of a longer book, I will focus on a few key points of her text. Harrod’s critique is centred on the presentation of art history, what is included and excluded. She suggests that when crafts are included they become a large part of artists’ ouvres and show the whole picture of connections and ideas. Many artists have “crossed the boundaries” into the craft world, making functional pottery, designing and making home decor items in the tradition of William Morris, but their retrospectives exclude this work. One modern redux of a 1910 exhibition at the Tate actually left out ceramic works from the original exhibition, making no mention of them whatsoever. The Tate’s mandate excludes craft, leaving it to institutions that would display craft historically, rather than in a fine art context(Harrod 513). Harrod specifically mentions the use of ceramics by Matisse and Derain, which helped them discover aesthetics they would not have known to use in their painted work. Gaugin, Picasso, and others made pottery as well. By the 1950s, artists’ forays into craft were theoretically derailed by the writings of Clement Greenberg, who suggested that painting was the more noble profession and “rarely goes with furniture”(Harrod 514). Many modernist women, such as Margaret Trahern and Frances Richard, trained as painters but ventured into craft (stained glass and embroidery, respectively), as the field was more welcoming to women. Because their works were made out of “inappropriate and highly specific materials” domestic and made by women, they were largely ignored(Harrod 518).
Lippard comes at the heirarchy slightly differently. Here she discusses hobby craft books, which often include instructions for making things from recycled objects, as well as easy materials for a housewife to obtain – bottlecaps, flowers made from feathers or dried plants, for example(Lippard 484). Different types of hobby craft appeal to different demographics, based on the concept of “good taste” and class structures. These activities are appropriate for their positions as housewives and supporters of their husbands and families as unobtrusive activities. Lippard argues that these instructional leaflets and books appeal to women because they are already marginalized by the art world on basis of quality and derivitiveness, even though many high art objects meeting these criteria can be found in galleries. Lippard argues that these particularly affect women’s art,” and adds that when a man tries a hobby craft, it is often elevated to “high” art or craft(Lippard 486). Though written in 1977, Lippard’s essay does not feel dated1. Perhaps this is due to the unwavering definitions of art practices and art institutions’ desire that the hierarchies within them remain. This is unfortunate, but is worth questioning and fighting against2.
Lippard and Harrod together might suggest that the boundaries between art and craft are largely manufactured and discriminate based on gender and class. Hierarchies of art and craft remain because they benefit the privileged few who run institutions and the artists who fit neatly into the categories within them. Harrod’s essay was slightly difficult to read, being that it was condensed from a larger piece of writing. It would have also been more interesting to read about the woman modernists using craft techniques, but it was subsumed by discussion of the old masters, which almost read as an attempt at proof of hierarchies in which old masters were not even exempt.
1Though hobby books like “Feather Flowers and Arrangements” could be replaced in a rewrite with Pinterest and its endless links to tutorials.
2For a slight update on Lippard’s opinions, this interview with Joe Lewis of Fibre Quarterly is quite informative.
Harrod, Tanya. “House-Trained Objects: Notes Towards Writing an Alternative History of Modern Art.” The Craft Reader. Ed. Glenn Adamson. Oxford: Berg, 2010. 512-524. Print.
Lippard, Lucy. “Making Something From Nothing (Toward a Definition of Women’s “Hobby Art”.” The Craft Reader. Ed. Glenn Adamson. Oxford: Berg, 2010. 483-490. Print.
I have been feeling stuck. So stuck. To make matters worse, my anxious mind is going a mile a minute trying to justify my feelings. It’s an automatic machine that way. It likes to sour things. I have had an amazing response on Tumblr to my work since my interview with Poesie Grenadine. It’s heartening and wonderful. But my mind wonders, why does it seem that people can relate to this body of work but not anything I have made since?1 I made that stuff two years ago, and haven’t stopped making stuff. Paranoia sets in. What if I will never make anything that people can relate to ever again? Am I the proverbial one hit wonder?
Is it consistency? I have been working so hard on that, but sometimes I just can’t force myself. I get terrified that I’ll never be able to make anything else ever again. I’m afraid to be consistent because maybe I’m consistently making something bad. Then I wondered, what do they (viewers, professors, etc) want from me? That is the opposite of a helpful question. A more helpful one, which I will get back to, is what would I be making if I wasn’t in grad school right now?
Sometimes when I get desperate, I look things up on google, even though this technique always brings useless ehow articles on “How to be an artist” or “How to get over artist’s block”(Step 1. Paint! Oh dear.) This time, though, I found this wonderful post on Friendly Anarchist: Artist’s Consistency versus Kicking Ass: On Avoiding a Consistent Body of Work. Here’s the quote that got me:
Of course, the reasons for ignoring the critics are the same as they were before the internet: Trying to be consistent all the time can be to your creativity what’s a tin of bug spray to a cockroach. Fatally killing deadly lethal, that is. Photographer Guy Tal describes the implications of accommodating to the critic’s requirements on his weblog: “A sad consequence of […] narrow-minded criticism is that many would-be multi-talented artists end up crippling their own creative avenues under the dictum that they need “more focus”.”
No wonder I feel stuck! I am trying so hard to please everyone but me, and that freezes my practice, because I don’t want to “waste my time” making something that won’t be successful. That’s when I took the reigns again, told my brain where to go (I do this sometimes, talk to it like it’s some schoolyard bully) and ran into my studio. After glueing some things to other things and doodling a bit, I got back to that question. What would I be making if I wasn’t in grad school? Probably wall-based stitched works, which are what I really enjoy making. So, I decided to make something I’ve always wanted to make, bunting. I don’t care that other people have made bunting. I don’t care if it will please anyone. Whenever a question comes up, I tell my brain where to go. Better to make lots of stuff and pare it down later than to overthink it and make one thing that you’re hoping so hard that people like. Screw that. So I got cutting. 52 triangles later, I was able to start stitching.
This is perfect because my routine lately is readings punctuated by naps or mindless tv. I can do this while I’m watching a movie or something, and I’m so used to having something to do with my hands, that it’s felt weird to just sit down. I don’t want to spoil the text yet, since I’ve just stated the lettering.
Ironically, I’m pretty sure what I end up making when I’m less worried about consistency is more consistent than otherwise.
1 I know this isn’t quite true, but my mind likes to exaggerate when it wants me to feel bad.
I mainly wanted to get it to take a picture of the thing I actually want to take a picture of, since I cheaped out and bought the more finicky Cool shade film. I didn’t have batteries for the flash, and realized quickly that it resulted in too long of an exposure, so the second two photos are braced on the fridge and stove. It’s rainy and dark and the kitchen was the brightest room at the time.
This was a short little experiment that made me feel a little better in the studio department, even though this project will probably be ongoing over the course of a year or longer. I’ve been doing so much reading and writing for my summer elective and thesis proposal that I’m feeling behind with my actual work. Talking about what I am going to make without knowing when I’ll get to is frustrating.
Meyer and Schapiro list fourteen possible criteria for a femmage, seven of which must be present for an object to earn the ‘femmage’ label. 1. The work is by a woman; 2. Saving and collecting are important elements; 3. Recycled scraps are fundamental to the process; 4. The theme has a woman-life context; 5. There is covert imagery; 6. An audience of intimates is addressed; 7. An event is commemorated; 8. The work has a diarist’s point of view; 9. Drawing and/or handwriting are sewn in; 10. Silhouetted images are fixed on other material; 11. Identifiable images form a narrative sequence; 12. Abstract forms produce a pattern; 13. Photographs or other printed matter are included; 14. It is both practical and visually pleasing.
I think this might be my missing piece.
Edited to add: here’s the original Femmage article, scanned by some lovely internet person.
There is nothing like nice glossy prints of your name to make you feel more important.
Alright, now back to work.
Background: I need to do 500 word responses for my summer elective, and I thought, why not make them blog posts? So here they are. Feel free to post a comment!
The two papers I’m discussing are Rosalind Krauss’ Sculpture in the Expanded Field and Eric Scollon’s Craft in the Expanded Field.
1.The Expanded Field
Craft in the Expanded Field is an article by Eric Scollon, loosely based on Rosalind Krauss’ 1979 essay, Sculpture in the Expanded Field. Scollon writes this during a similar “identity crisis” as the one sculpture was enduring when Krauss wrote her seminal paper. Too many things have been labeled “craft”, he says, and new definitions are needed.
Scollon uses a similar diagram as Krauss, replacing the continuum of Landscape and Architecture with Function and Mimesis. I’m not sure how I feel about these diagrams being used to simplify things, as they are a bit confusing to look at, but I do like the idea of Craft (big “C” craft, fine craft, conceptual craft, whatever you want to call it) as existing somewhere in this space between function and representation. Krauss discusses that definition as being an inherent negative; not one thing and not the other, and ameliorates that by making more definitions, but I’m not sure how necessary they are. Krauss expands her field to include marked sites, site construction, axiomatic structures and sculpture. Scollon’s terms include craft, pottery, axiomatic vessel and sculpture. Scollon says it would be simple to replace some of the terms with relevant ones from other media, but I’m not sure. What would I use to separate textiles into a graph, for example? Functional to mimetic? Could there be an axiomatic textile? A work that references an already existing form but isn’t necessarily functional? Maybe most two-dimensional textile works would fall there.
I am more interested in the key attributes that make craft craft, at least according to Scollon. I think this makes a better way to define it than the charts. He explains that whereas craft used to mean made skillfully by hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anymore, as people no longer have the time to commit to lifelong training. Scollon argues that it now signifies an activity apart from industry, allowing the hand to be revealed. So I would say that this is a category of “the hand”, or a reference to the hand.
“In fusing the mimetic and the functional, craft objects can exist in the conceptual space of art, while remaining physical facts of the everyday that we can use and interact with. This reframing of the term honours the functional history of the material, while acknowledging the new ways in which the term “craft” is being applied in a contemporary arts context.”
So if the object isn’t functional, it references a functional history. Scollon here references Miriam Schapiro’s Femmage works, paintings that reference textile patterns. They might not technically be craft objects, but they include references to the material, the functional history, and the hand, at least in the traditional process that would be used for that material.
Scollon’s other point is the way that craft can actually be functional but also be conceptual, as in pottery by Ehren Tool; cups that are printed with images of war and pop culture, given away to gallery visitors, reminding them of what they represent on every use. Craft is often described in a purely functional way, but this possibility for concept I think is very under-mentioned. Craft has such a rich history and it’s a very interesting place to explore. Maybe this could be described as an artistic practice rooted in craft.
So the key components of Craft:
- The Hand (or reference to the hand/process)
- The functional history of the material
- Conceptual possibilities that can include function
I am way over the wordcount here, so I’m just going to end with what I think is the most successful part of Scollon’s essay, which is the questions he ends with:
““Is this art?”
Once we move beyond that, by positioning a work within the expanded field, we can address more profound questions, such as: What do people expect from their aesthetic experiences? What does the kind of work we value tell us about our society and our culture? And as we begin to note the relational and social nature of crafted objects, we can consider: What are the implications of aestheticizing the social or trying to socialize in the space of aesthetics? Answering this set of questions will help us better understand how and why these ideas can apply to an engaging art practice.”
So I made quite few posts leading up to the completion of my smocked blanket piece, but then didn’t post any photos of its final form. Oops! I don’t really know what it is. This is my first time smocking, albeit in a very nontraditional way, and it didn’t really turn out how I expected it. I guess I’m putting all this work into something and then tossing it aside. At least for now.
The idea was that it would stretch to cover the body, as an emergency hiding place, but it is just so narrow and does not stretch. I ended up making these drawings which show the intended and unintended results(I think I posted this image earlier, but I don’t have the drawings here at home, so this will have to do.)
During critique, my committee discussed how it should be animated in some way, either by a performance or some kind of mechanical structure. I don’t like either of those ideas, but don’t have any solutions.
What a relief! And this quilt will be mine, oh yes. Of course, I’m also terrified that I won’t be excited about it anymore by the time it arrives. I’m so fickle. (via 1930′s QUILT- Grandma’s Dream–Pastel Colors/White-71×80-CUTTTER BARGAIN | eBay.)