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art vs. craft, reply to michael mcdowell

updated sat 20 jun 98


David Hendley on wed 17 jun 98

Well, I'm sure a lot of you tired of this discussion long ago,
but, since I was directly asked to elaborate, here goes.

Michael, you ask how I can denigrate what others do?

Read what I said again:

>Stupid, Un-artistic, Un-imaganitive Me, I've been glazing
>and firing dirt dobber nests for years, and GIVING them
>to kids who visit the pottery shop.

>I guess what makes something art is that someone calls it "art".

To me, this sounds like SELF-depreciation and acceptance of absolutely
anything as art.
The boundries of "what is art" have been stretched so far and wide,
that this is the only logical conclusion.
And, this is nothing new. I'm reminded of Duchamp's urinal and
Picasso's bicycle seat (bull) from, what, 70 years ago?

The truth is, I try to give conscious thought to everything, no matter
how small, I do.
Yes, when I unload 20 tons of clay, I notice the pattern, repetition, and
variation. I'll even turn a bag around to make the writing fit into
a pattern I see developing.
Also, I try to sign my car insurance payment check artistically.
I try to park my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot artistically.
I try to arrange my papers in my file cabinet artistically.
I try to crush my Dr. Pepper cans for recylcling artistically.
I try to artistically arrange my toothpaste on my toothbrush.

Is this getting mundane enough for you?
Would you like to see a photo spread in a magazine of my
artistically signed checks, artistically parked car, etc.?

I think not, even if I considered my activities to be art, and they were
done for well-thought-out and intentional reasons.
And, were it published, I think that you would consider it
humorous that at least 3 people (me, the author of the article,
and the magazine editor) considered it interesting and worthwhile.

Now, Michael, I'd like to respond to your statement to Jay Gertz:

>As a professional working in clay, it is not enough that I am doing what I
>love to do. It is important to me to communicate through my medium to
>others. That requires me to find an audience for my work that is willing to
>adopt my frame of reference, and regard my work as significant. If I fail in
>this I will not be able to obtain the prices that I need to finance the time
>my work requires. So it is important to me what "labels" are applied to me
>and my work because these labels are indicative of the regard I and my work
>are accorded in society.

I don't fault you for desiring to make a living, but you are NOT talking
about art here, Michael (and the subject heading was 'art vs. craft').
You are talking about marketing. That's what advertising is all about.
Trying to convince people that a product, or service, or whatever, is
somehow 'more' than they might first think.
A true artist will continue with her art if she 'obtains the prices that she
needs to finance the time her work requires', or not.
A true artist will continue his work regardless of 'labels' or 'the regard
he and
his work are accorded by society.'

David Hendley
Maydelle, Texas

At 09:41 AM 6/16/98 EDT, you wrote:
>----------------------------Original message----------------------------
>Riff in Colorado and David in Texas, I want to take you both on here. Riff,
>you say you've been thinking about the issue "what is art?" for a very long
>time now. It's a shame you couldn't share any of the process of that thought
>with us in your last post, only a few out of context dictums that leave your
>opinions unassailably your opinions. You mention two paintings out of all
>the history of human endeavor that you recognize as "art", but you are mute
>on what it is that so qualifies them. You complain that over the last
>hundred years the definition of art has become too broad to be of any use. I
>disagree, and would like to broaden it further, but surely YOUR definition,
>two paintings, is too narrow to be of any practical value. Rather than
>dispute what I think you may be getting at, let me ask that you clarify your
>position a little further. What do you say makes an object "art", and is all
>art of equal significance?
>David, not often do I find myself in disagreement with you, but I have to
>ask. Why do you have to denigrate what others do and present as "art" simply
>because you might do the same activity without giving conscious thought to
>the artfullness of your actions? I believe that art is a natural human
>function which people are constantly exercising to one degree or another in
>their daily lives.
>Going about the premeditated creation of objects of art is an abstraction
>from or extension of the basic art process. Debates such as this one, over
>what IS art, are an even further abstraction, but the underlying process is
>still going on.
>In some very fundamental ways, I think that the examples you gave of stacked
>clay bags and fired mud dauber nests presented as art, go right to the heart
>of the issue. Why not give yourself credit, David, instead of witholding it
>from these other artists?
>Michael McDowell
>Whatcom County, WA USA

>Good story about the split plate, Phyllis.

>I got a good laugh from the current Ceramics Monthy.
>There is a photo of a sculpture that consists of dirt dobber
>nests that the artist fired and put on a board.
>Stupid, Un-artistic, Un-imaganitive Me, I've been glazing
>and firing dirt dobber nests for years, and GIVING them
>to kids who visit the pottery shop.
>My favorite "ceramic art moment" was back in the 70's,
>when my studio was in a building that also housed a clay business.
>I'd just spent the day unloading a boxcar full of clay (that's why
>the rent was cheap), and came home, dead tired, to a new
>Ceramics Monthly from the day's mail. There was a full page
>photo of a piece of art that consisted of bags of clay that the
>artist had arranged in a cross pattern on the gallery floor.
>The same damn bags I'd been wrasslin' with all day were
>now presented as "art".
>I guess what makes something art is that someone calls it "art".
>David Hendley
>Maydelle, Texas
>"There's twice as much ditch as road in the journey of life".

Riff Fenton on fri 19 jun 98

Michael McDowell observed to
>"Riff in Colorado...
>...You mention two paintings out of all the history of human
>endeavor that you recognize as "art", but you are mute on what
>it is that so qualifies them."
I mentioned these two works because of their importance, and the
strength of there is overwhelming agreement about
these two pieces being works of Art. I was trying to illustrate
my incredulity at potters who wish to catagorize a pot with
Vermeer's "Girl Weighing Gold" (another example). These are not
the same thing, or the same species, not remotly related as to
thier essence in any way. If my bowl is art, what is
Velazquez's "Las Meninas"??

>"...surely YOUR definition, two paintings, is too narrow to be of
>any practical value."
Indeed, westeren civilization HAS produced more than two works
of art. How many? I'm not sure. How many should I name to make a
list of practical value? 25? 50? 100? I think that if we are
truely seeking what Art is, then a good place to begin would be a
list of the 25 most important works.

>"You complain that over the last hundred years the definition of
>art has become too broad to be of any use. I disagree, and would
>like to broaden it further..."
I don't recall complaining, but I do believe that to be the case
with ANY word. You are free to disagree all you want, but if a word
means everything, or anything, then it means nothing.
I too would love to define art broadly enough to include myself,

There have been wonderful posts on CLAYART, enjoyable
explorations into the seperate aesthetic of potting. Maybe we just
recognize them for what they are. I remember a guy
(Hiro, I miss you) who once wrote about the way he felt about
kilns. It gave me an entirely different way of seeing my firing

There are "seeds" of seeing that what we potters do IS different
from what the art community does.

Yes, Michael, I have thought about the question "what is art?"
for a long time, so I hope that you really don't expect me to
share that process in one hopelessly long post.
To be hopelessly brief: Most of us
don't have the opportunity to see Art. I've mentioned 4 works
of Art and only one of the four ("Girl Weighing Gold") is in the
U.S. There might be only four of the top 25 in America.
I do believe strongly in the importance of Art, the profound
significance of the IMAGE, and how the history of civilization has
revolved around the control of the IMAGE. That being said, you might
understand where I'm coming from when I made the observation about
the dilution of the meaning of the word art. Art is much MUCH
more than what I might "feel" about it.
Riff in Colorado