Snail Scott on sun 13 apr 08
> Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2008 20:57:00 -0500
> From: Lee
> On Fri, Apr 11, 2008 at 4:37 PM, Snail Scott
>> Likely, 'Art' doesn't even know that 'Craft' is kicking it in
>> the shins...
> All I can say here is that most of craft is oblivious to
> the high art work. It is the sculptural ceramic and "pots for the
> mantle"people who are stuck between a rock and a hardplace..
I think you are correct in this. Craft that finds its role
within the traditional realm of craftwork has a secure
place. More secure than fine art within its own world,
to be sure, where viewers are always seeking the new
and where even excellent work can become the 'flavor
of the month'.
The transitional zone between craft and art manifests
itself in many ways. One is fine art which references craft
practices, but which would never be mistaken for craft
itself. The wooden sculpture of Martin Puryear comes
to mind in this respect, as well as the quilts of Faith
Ringgold or the found-object 'tapestries' of El Anatsui.
The claywork of Ruth Duckworth is of this sort, also.
Another approach is the one which seems to find the
most difficulty: objects which begin within craft but
incorporate concepts more familiar to fine art. Some
which succeed include Ed Eberle's work, in which the
vessel forms supporting the surface drawings seem
as relevant to the content as the linework. A cousin to
this is the work of Grayson Perry, which takes traditional,
even hackneyed pot shapes as an icon of respectability
in contrast to his provocative and subversive imagery.
Betty Woodman has turned the vessel into a diagram,
a reference to itself, and transformed function into content.
Vessel forms which become sculptural in their own right
are another approach to this, but one more fraught with
The ornamental vessel has an ancient history, of
course, and scarcely needs postmodern theory to
justify it. The ways it works the best, I believe, are
those with an overtly decorative function, in which
the object is made with an eye toward its role in an
interior or setting, as one element in a larger design.
Garden urns, fireplace mantle jars, all these take
on a near-architectural role, but this subservient
function is one of the things that makes them stay
within the realm of craft and outside the current
definition of fine art. Autonomy of an art object was
not always seen as desirable, but it tends to be so
nowadays, and even 'site-specific' works generally
still expect to be the star of the show, not a supporting
player. Thus, decorative form in general (rightly or
wrongly) is not seen as a part of fine art, but some
practitioners have tried to bridge the gap.
The 'Fine Craft' movement, which seems to have had
its heyday in the '80's and '90's, attempted to promote
works which sat the line between craft and art, with a
general bias toward works of so-called 'craft media',
(clay, wood, glass, etc) or using craft-based processes
(weaving, stitching, turning, etc). Sometimes, these
works were wonderful formal expressions that could
be understood purely as abstract works of art. ('formal'
as in 'related to form', not 'formal' like a tuxedo.) Others
utilized their processes in the service of concept-
driven work, which gave it a clear place within fine
Some 'Fine Craft' practitioners, however, seem to stay
linked to craft processes which do not support their bid
to be seen as 'art'. The vessel orientation of many works
is a trap for many, in my opinion. For a clayworker, the
choice to make vessels may seem like a 'given' but it
is just the sort of thing that needs to be reconsidered.
A lot of work that leaves pure craft behind by defying
function, fails to enter pure art when it leaves the non-
craft-oriented viewer wondering "Why does it look like
a vessel at all? What's the point?" It ends up in all the
ceramics magazines, but because of this unexamined
habit, will never make it to the mainstream art press.
The ubiquity of the 'nonfunctional teapot' is a classic
case, in my mind. For a craft potter, it remains, even in
this day of teabag-in-the-mug, a defining test of skill
in fabrication and design. Taking it as a starting point
for sculptural form seems like a natural, but is it any
wonder that the 'outsiders' of the fine-art world shake
their head in bewilderment? "Why even start with a
teapot?", they wonder.
Many in the 'fine-craft' world take another tack, and
use traditional craft processes to do forms or to
express concepts that ought to place them firmly in
the fine-art world. Often, however, those processes
don't serve the end. Many craft processes take a
lifetime of practice to master, and the craftsperson
is naturally loathe to set them aside. They may be
right in this, but then fail to choose projects that
truly suit the medium. The result may be a tour-de-
force of technical excellence which leaves the
art-world viewer wondering, "But why clay?"
The glasswork of Wiliam Morris, (no, not the
19th-century one) is one example: amazing
simulations of stone, bone, and wood, but then
why not work in those media to begin with?
The temptation for a skilled worker to apply their
skill to a true challenge is high, but will the
result be art? Technical mastery without purpose
is a stunt, not art.
When your only tool is a hammer, everything
looks like a nail, and just because your only tool is
clay, doesn't mean everything has to look like a pot.
If an artist wants to keep clay as their medium, (and
why not?) they should ask themselves: "Does this
idea really want to be clay?" If it does, then go for it.
If it doesn't, it's time for either a new medium, or a
new idea. Or just make a good, honest pot.
Wes Rolley on tue 15 apr 08
Your comments regarding the "transitional zone between craft and art",
are just about the most clear, succinct statement of the problem that I
have read. Your comments about non-functional teapots are spot on.
One area you missed, however, were trompe l'oeil objects. Again, most
of those that I have seen would be regarded as mere stunts, even when
executed by a master of the craft like Richard Shaw.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don't, then you are wasting your time on this Earth" Roberto Clemente
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Snail Scott on wed 16 apr 08
> Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2008 10:19:59 -0700
> From: Wes Rolley
> One area you missed, however, were trompe l'oeil objects. Again, most
> of those that I have seen would be regarded as mere stunts, even when
> executed by a master of the craft like Richard Shaw...
Yes, I agree. Most tromp-l'oeil objects are intended to evoke
expressions of awe at the technical mastery they display,
and while this can be pretty fascinating, it falls short of the
best that art can offer.
The point when tromp-l'oeil can become more is when the
technique is applied to make a point, or to convey an idea or
sensibility that couldn't be achieved though a straightforward
use of materials. One thing masquerading as another can
force us to reconsider our attitudes toward both, or can draw
us to closer consideration of something that we wouldn't
have examined well (or at all) in its more obvious
manifestation. It can be a dialogue of materials (or of ideas
that those materials bring with them), or a camouflage effort -
a stealth invasion of the unexpected.
Modernism has left us a legacy of 'truth to materials', which
has survived most other bits of Modernist thought and
become general currency among people who wouldn't
knowingly be caught dead amongst the moderns. While it
rings with virtue and obvious merit, like most handy
aphorisms it sounds better when left unexamined. In fact,
I have come to believe, 'lying with materials' can be a
powerful tool in the artist's kit, to be used with discretion to
If 'lying' sounds a little immoral, well, that's also consistent
with the legacy of Modernism, which associated a restricted,
nearly puritanical approach to each medium with a nearly
evangelical sense of righteousness. That's something that
I'm reflexively skeptical of, and after some consideration,
I prefer to think of materials as free, both to be themselves
and to play dress-up in a good cause.
This actually ties back to some of my prior issues on this
thread, particularly: "Why is it made of clay". Ironically,
the use of tromp-l'oeil can actually emphasize the identity
of a material, foregrounding that identity as an important
aspect of the artwork's intentions. The medium becomes
part of the content, and not just a convenient means of
creating dimensional form.
Lee on wed 16 apr 08
On Sun, Apr 13, 2008 at 5:08 PM, Snail Scott wrote:
> When your only tool is a hammer, everything
> looks like a nail, and just because your only tool is
> clay, doesn't mean everything has to look like a pot.
> If an artist wants to keep clay as their medium, (and
> why not?) they should ask themselves: "Does this
> idea really want to be clay?" If it does, then go for it.
> If it doesn't, it's time for either a new medium, or a
> new idea. Or just make a good, honest pot.
Snail, I second Wes's praise of your thoughts in this post. Both
you and Wes give careful thought to ascetics.
Related to "ornimental" teapots. I have been looking at
a friend's teapot made by Ron Meyer's. They said they bought it from
a slide of the teapot (it was being considered for a show) and she
asked to buy it if the curator passed it by. It was passed so she
bought it. She was a little surprised when it arrived, because the
photo showed only one side: a cat with its paw lifted where the spout
was. But the other side has a black rat. Haha!
I always thought it was an "ornamental" teapot but there
were other folks over for lunch and so a larger teapot was needed and
she used the cat/rat teapot. It worked wonderfully!
When Steve assisted Ron at the woodfiring at Osetrich's for
NCC, Steve said nobody wants the high fired woodfired pots, but the
low fired ones with the images on them sell as fast as he can make
After 8 years in Japan, I am really struck by the vibrancy
of ceramic work here in Minneapolis. We can't judge our art/craft
from NYC alone.
Lee, a Mashiko potter in Minneapolis
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that
can be counted counts." --(Sign hanging in Einstein's office at