Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Crafting a Life

Crafting a Life

In the following paragraph I will tweeze out some phrases from the first section of Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art. With each phrase I will attempt to turn it around and inside out. The idea is to look at the information presented in a construed and roundabout way.

Some statements are from the book. Some statements are from my head. Some statements are from my teachers. None of this is true. None of this is false. All of this is true. All of this is false. It is what it is. It is what it is not. I crafted as a child. I designed as a livelihood. I make art because I can. I made art as a child. I paid my bills by design. Crafting a life. Artful living.

Craft is bound to the hand. Good craft is art. Good art is crafted. Hands are made for crafting. Making of an object. Object making. A record of what went on in the studio between maker and material. Maker and material revealed. Skill of the hand. Hands of skill. Stressing process over product. Stressing product over process. Product stresses process. Process stresses product. Design follows function. Function follows design. Learning by doing. Doing to learn. Handicrafts increase observational powers. Observation increases visual thinking. Developing character through practice. Practice makes perfect. Craft to uplift. Uplifting craft. Hands-on education. Educate the hand. Material culture creatively inspired. Inspired by cultured creative materials. Cultured by inspired materials. Material inspiration cultures creativity. Human-made objects. Objects made for humans. Art is imagination. Craft is skill. Design. Art is skill. Craft is imagination. Out of context. Context taken out. What is true? What is false?

If any of the above statements can be true at any given time in context then why is there so much worry about the role of craft and crafters in the craft book Extra/Ordinary? Having just finished reading the Taylor book on Contemporary Art I am struck by how one book operates from the Art World construct and the other operates from what I will call “the fringes” for the sake of this essay. I can never figure out why there needs to be such posturing and performance.

The Art World has built up a way of talking about itself that attempts to shut out those who “don’t get it,” unless of course they work to “get it” like I have been doing. I understand that there is a great deal of history behind the Art World construct, but I also believe there is a great deal of unwritten history behind the crafts people have been making since the beginning of time. The craft world has been ever inclusive and people share and try to help each other out, work together often in groups, and generally want others to find the comfort they themselves find in being a maker.

So I realize I am completely over-generalizing, but am I? I feel like there is a general agreement that Art is better than Craft – especially when measured in dollars. I cannot help but wonder if some of the “problem” is because much craft work is created by women but, I know that is not true. My grandfather spent all of his extra time on small woodworking projects in his tiny garage shop (he in fact taught me most of what I know about tool use); and he is not the only man to spend a great deal of time crafting objects. Crafting is not only the domain of women so there is something else going on here?

As I see it, we cannot live without all of the craft that has been a part of people’s daily existence. I grew up in Mexico and Brazil and I can remember people making things, like sandals, on the streets in the markets that were immediately sold to walk-by shoppers.


Imagine the family cottage without a quilt, heads without warm hats, feet without warm socks, alternately trees without a hammock in the summer, heads without a straw hat in the fields, feet without sandals. Oftentimes, the very same people that used the crafted items actually crafted all of these useful items for themselves or their family.


Crafts have never had to postulate and preen they knew of their importance in being objects of every day use. I wanted to create homes for people as a child because the home was an item of everyday use. Instead, I have come to art school to make things no one really needs and few want but there is a whole world out there that pretends that we do.  The Art World construct continues to exist because there are people willing to exchange money for culture. There are artist, including me that consider this pursuit worthwhile.

I began this essay by explaining that I would: attempt to turn it around and inside out, “it” being the art vs. craft worlds. I took apart the words that I see in the books I am reading and I now ask the reader to decide for them selves: is the art world more important than the craft world? Does the craft world need to reinvent it self to fit into the art world? Can both co-exist? Is money the best measure of importance? Do the materials that are used to make objects matter in the discussion? 

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