Craft as Art

We as humans in a society consumed by bigger, better, faster, stronger more powerful things have finally realised we are losing what has made us human in the first place- what makes us, us and the personalised human touch.

Craft is emerging no longer with the stigma of just being something bored, uneducated housewives just sat around doing in quilting bees, knitting circles and craft corners while their husbands in the role of the breadwinner brought home the bacon.

But at what cost are we discovering this lost art form? Unfortunately for us, we have become unskilled and all the skills of knitting, sewing, crocheting which were for people of our Grandmother’s generation second nature. Who can wistfully remember our Granny sitting there teaching us how to knit while patiently telling us that, “one day you will be able to make a nice sweater, dear,” while secretly thinking that it would be so much easier to head off to the shops and buy a better one already made, off the rack.

When we see our friends wearing what they have discovered their mother’s wardrobes full of one-off vintage pieces we wish that we too could own a piece of individuality and uniqueness. We can see this desire to create every day and more and more people are gradually becoming inspired to create something by hand. Something hand made by themselves, which they can proudly say, when asked “I made it myself”. This can clearly be seen with the popularity of television programs such as ‘Better Homes and Garden’s’ with the likes of People such as Tonia Todman making “fabulous wall hangings you can make from bits around the house in less that 2 hours.” Who doesn’t feel that they too can take a break from a world increasingly obsessed with the ready made and disposable objects with planned obsolescence.

The increasing emergence and popularity of Craft’s fairs exemplify the human need for the humanness in our everyday lives. Unfortunately for us, this desire comes at a price and the cost of someone’s time, dedication, and effort is reflected in what seems to be ridiculously hight prices. It’s even harder to comprehend now, the cost of something which has it’s own character when we know too well, that we will be buying something our Grandmother’s would have just made anyway.

Diana Wood Conroy’s article, ‘Curating Textiles: Tradition as Transgression.’ Reminds us that familiar Western archetypes of Art/ Craft must be continually given attention to. She recognises that there is a lot of polarisation with the meanings of the word “Art” and the meaning of the word “Craft”. Her article shows us that these too practices are not the far cry from the other as it may originally seem.

Cross disciplining practice across media & into technology involves a theorising of practice, while recognising differences in histories & approaches among studio disciplines.

Both Art and Crafts people have a belief in an intuitive basis for artistic inspiration.

Students of textiles, like those of painting produced work that holds attention from a conceptual understanding & sensitivity to materials and structures. The combining significant concept & developed techniques in the textile medium. Yes, it is true that crafts such as textiles derive from very old tradition but like wise so does painting, so does sculpture. The crafts field became nuanced, differences of philosophical approach, ideology and practice.

The term craft once clearly defined in the 1970’s ‘Craft Revolution’, now faceted into myriad positionings blurring divisions between process, function and concept. Craft is commonly identified with the body and thus perceived as non-individual and non-conceptual. While art is associated with the mind & the conceptual with the ‘one-off’ artwork in a highly individual categorisation of the experience.

Groupings reflect our history, & continue to influence unconscious assumptions.
Craft plays the ‘feminine’ role to the ‘masculine’ art world. The strategies of visual art theory- feminist, post-structural & semiotic approaches are equally applicable to the crafts. Current theory suggests that the multiple, the corporeal, the feminine, histories of medium and materiality- all trad. Characteristics of craft-equal relevance to cutting edge art.

The crafts practice covers a multiplicity of perspectives, just as art practice encompasses innumerable styles & intentions. The is increased importance of maintaining some forum for the integration of conceptual sophistication allied with developed craft skills. Using Craft histories to engage in issues of subversion has benefited many notable visual artists who carefully avoid and contextualisation with crafts.

To make textiles that copy visual art in order to attain a de-skilled style seemed to undermine the integrity of the craft process. Rather than craft media being ‘appropriated by artists identifying as non-craft artists in major exhibitions, or working within a visual arts style, craft artists should participate fully in their own traditions and histories. When it boils down to it, the strength of craft is craft and craft may give a different resonance and depth to the Australian Art world as a whole.

Likewise Sue Rowley’s article, ‘Parables of Criticism.’ Highlights what we are just beginning to realise the stigma attached to craft, that it is merely an inferior form of art. Art belongs in the museums and galleries while craft belongs in schoolyard fetes and craft markets.

The criticism about art, craft literature & culture should not be seen by artists as a kind of service industry. Many crafts practitioners & writers have a strong sense of belonging to a relatively small community that places high value on cohesiveness.
Don’t know each other face to face but there is a strong sense of interrelatedness and shared experiences. This sense of belonging to something which is part of a larger scale experience is incredibly exhilarating.

The “Privatisation” of criticism – increasingly shows the veiling of crafts from public address. Sue Rowley states that the exemption of art from criticism is also an exclusion from public intellectual life. In craft communities, fear of ostracism & the partiality of advocacy functions to inhibit the development of critical insight into the crafts at a time when the practice of craft could be enhanced by its inclusion in public intellectual life in Australia.

A great deal of the emerging crafts writing seems to engage in story telling as a mode of interrogation. Not that this is a particularly bad thing, in fact it is quite the opposite the fact that craft shares kinship with folk tales heightens its importance. In Rowley’s article she proves this by drawing the parallels between two folk fairy tales, ‘Snow white & the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.

Robert Nelson’s article, ‘Towards a Typology of Small Objects’ shows us how people are facing the questions of the viability, the integrity, the destiny of craft. Like Sue Rowley, Robert Nelson is concerned with the positioning of craft in a world consumed with the value of art. He realises that we are lacking in current debates of craft and this is good typology- typology being the method of classifying things made. He suggests that to categorise is to conceptualise and if there is no attempt to describe order, there is no chaos theory, no means of handling, and no critique.

Crafts people frequently begin with their material and let their ideas gel subsequently.
But if design becomes expressive because it looks like it wants to do something- it speaks a language of gesture. It must convey purpose and must therefore suggest a reason for being beyond itself. Everything is for something else. All things made by the human hand (with the possible exception of art) are for something else.

In very recent times painting and sculpture have sealed themselves off from the rest of the world in a museum of conceit. There is a potent motif of interdependence in all things made, an interdependence which is the context of meaning and purpose for each thing. We have to talk of the destiny of objects as though it is nothing but the context which each object makes for each other object.

Items which serve other objects before serving humans are more instrumental than those which serve us directly. We automatically become disgusted if objects and their functions are confused. Nelson shows us the very practical example of if we were to see someone drinking straight from the jug. If we were to see this, we would feel uncomfortable because the jug is not there to drink from, the glass is there to drink from. Therefore, the blurring between the purposes of everyday things make us suspicious of the unfamiliar.

Craft is a powerful purchase on daily life and its history of passionate debate, offers the humanities the ideal context for theory, for examining the way we fundamentally conceive the world.

Kylie Winkworth’s article (complete with the different photographs of examples of tea cosies), ‘Making Things,’ Describes to us that the word craft has been smeared over a whole culture of making things, regardless of distinctions between different types of practice, different levels of skill and different motivations behind the making of things.

Craft is a term used in an indiscriminate application to work of every description- from the mundane and routine to the expert and the original. The parallels between women’s crafts of the nineteenth century and recreational crafts today are striking and suggest a continuous culture of crafts practice. The traditional gender roles are explicit: textiles and the domestic sphere are for women. While metal and wood belong in the ‘man’s place’ in the shed or garage.

From the vantage point of the craft artist, the work reads as sentimental and lacking in originality, design quality and any level of real skill or invention. The vitality of popular crafts indicates a healthy desire for handmade object and for the experience of making things. The urge to make things is a fundamental point of connection between amateur and professional arts practice.

Anne Brennan and Nola Anderson, ‘An exploration of memory, theory and making’.

Show us the very powerful analogy of the Wedding Ring, and like Robert Nelson’s article describe what happens when objects are used for a purpose which is different than the purpose it was originally made for. They state that objects should not be used for any other purpose than which it has been made.

We have to reinvent ways of talking about the crafts and materials, processes, functions, ornament, symbol and medium histories, in order to salvage an awareness of the personal richness that an object embodies. Craft is more to do with the way of living than with the way of constructing theories.

In the existing system we separate the artist from the art. We insist that the art object alone can embody all meaning and that it alone bears the responsibility for value.

The art object is autonomous and makes its own rules of progression. Ie. one style or period supersedes another. When this is applied to crafts we divorce these objects from those things which have breathed meaning into them, that is the artists life & the way the object participates in our lives.

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