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Wednesday 02.08.06

« Around the web + welcome new sponsors | Main | Controversial ho hum »

Art vs. Craft: The Debate Continues with Paula Owen

The art vs. craft debate has been perpetuated in part because of the lack of analytic and critical thought devoted to craft, leading to an ambiguity that leaves crafts at the margin of art discourse. No doubt a DIY-inspired breed of craft has given new mainstream visibility for craft in the early 21st century by a generation of 20 and 30-somethings who are involved in knitting sessions and eschewing big business in favor of the handmade. But there's much more to it than that. Paula Owen, writer and curator at the Southwest School of Art and Craft in San Antonio is calling for a concerted effort on behalf of the craft community to establish a critical framework for craft. In a recent essay, she cites Roberta Smith's writings in 1999 calling for the "rematerialization" of art to provide a counterpoint to the emphasis on non-material practice in art since Conceptual art took root. Owen also sees Dave Hickey's observation and championing of a more material-based practice at UNLV as a key sign of the return to the tactile. It's clear that without a more sharply defined critical discourse artists like Teresita Fernandez—recent MacArthur winner who works with textile, glass and bamboo—will continue to be more readily compared to Robert Irwin than contextualized within in the craft lineage. Likewise, without such discourse, thousands of craft artists will continue to work in relative anonymity at the margins of the dominant art practice. Hear more from Owen on the craft establishment at tonight during her lecture, given as part of Contemporary Crafts Museum & Gallery's Excellence in Craft Lecture Series.

Lecture • Wednesday, February 8 • 7 p
Pacific Northwest College of Art • 1241 NW Johnson • Tel. 503.223.2654


Posted by Katherine Bovee on February 08, 2006 at 9:23 | Comments (6)


Comments

well other words like; tradition, design and intent in addition to "craft" all open a pandora's box of discussion topics.

The big story here is that contemporary objects have very much asserted themselves as worthy intellectual persuits after much of the 80's were spent trying to explain them away. Good point on Dave Hickey, he picked a fight and won... Ken Price, Josiah McElheny and even the daunting presence of Donald Judd and Rauschenberg's combines all indicate how objects can prompt rich and complicated interactions with the viewers that wouldn't happen if it were merely a concept on paper.

The thing matters as much as the idea, it's a chicken and egg really. It's all good.

At the same time the Northwest is so entrenched with "crafts" that there is a backlash. When some New Yorkers talk of Portland I often hear, "so do you do crafts?" They can be oblivious to the fact the city is a design hotbed and design is incorporated into everything. Yes, pejoratives abound and most of it wallows in ignorance... that said there are distinctions between craft and art, it just isn't mutually exclusive. Brad Cloepfil's museum project at 1 Columbus Circle in New York may have some influence on this discussion too.

When Stephen Holl's contemporary museum in Seattle turned into a craft museum it further polarized the debate regionally. It also probably cost Holl the opportunity to redesign MoMA. In many ways Holl would have been a better and more progressive choice than Taniguchi... but not the same kind of wildcard Rem Koolhaas provided.

It's done now, both in Seattle and New York. The Contemporary Crafts Gallery in Portland is currently seeking to expand on the North Park blocks and I dont think they want to polarize the contemprary art vs crafts that the Holl Museum did.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 8, 2006 11:32 AM

I concur with the reference to Hickey as championing a materiality or tactility in work, but (it seems to me) never at the expense of its overall aesthetic mmm...perfection or seamless beauty. Not that craft cannot be perfect. I guess it could be argued as just another trajectory of a content/intent debate. But it still doesn't quite ring true. Yes, he supported a beautiful manipulation of materials, but I can think of few occasions where he has championed a use of those materials traditionally relegated to the realm of craft. Uncommon materials beautifully finished, yes; but ceramics and textiles? (Gosh, even photo.) I just don't think so.

Posted by: joewbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2006 08:30 AM

At what point is the intention or action catagorical?
In this way - the real problem is language, and frankly the word art is problematic. Art in its purest sense is an idea.
However it is frequently regarded as something material.

Where as craft is more active. it is technical, and most forms of expression rely on it.

Art seems so western in its application and definition.
At what point is building something out of clay or wood not art?
Antiquity blurs the line which exists between contemporary objects. And to this point, the argument is flawed. John James Audobon, the Harvard botanical studies and the V+A in London come to mind. To suggest that the object by nature is 'practical ' or 'functional ' is irrelevant. Intention, in this way is a ruse.

Posted by: jerimiah [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2006 10:52 AM

At what point is the intention or action catagorical?
In this way - the real problem is language, and frankly the word art is problematic. Art in its purest sense is an idea.
However it is frequently regarded as something material.

Where as craft is more active. it is technical, and most forms of expression rely on it.

Art seems so western in its application and definition.
At what point is building something out of clay or wood not art?
Antiquity blurs the line which exists between contemporary objects. And to this point, the argument is flawed. John James Audobon, the Harvard botanical studies and the V+A in London come to mind. To suggest that the object by nature is 'practical ' or 'functional ' is irrelevant. Intention, in this way is a ruse.

Posted by: jerimiah [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2006 10:53 AM

In an Anthropolgy class of mine, we attempted to define what the word "race" meant. What exactly is a "race" of human beings? After about four hours of open discussion, we had no solution or definition. The only thing we concluded, is that there shouldn't be categorization and division, like such is implied with "race." The same goes for 'art' and 'craft.' Aren't they really the same? Do they really need to be broken down and analyzed to their very essences. They are just categories.

Posted by: Calvin Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 9, 2006 07:43 PM

No, they simply are not the same. They are quite different. The occasional rhetorical disintegration (or for Jerminiah more deconstructionist) into fun art v. craft debate is amusing and totally self indulgent, but recurrent for a reason. I don't pretend to prioritize one over the other. I enjoy both equally, and by no means dog craft. But they are different. Those lines are being blurred constantly and with rapid increase, but I still find myself on occasion faced with terrific work that is craft. Art is intended for aesthetic consumption. This can include a kind of conceptual aesthetic. It goes beyond the quality or skill of its production. I once argued vehemently against this myself, until faced on numerous occasions with work that I simply could not call art.

Art at this point is unfortunately very much located within a Western filter. But does antiquity blur the previously referenced lines, or is it rather the archive and its corollary in the institution? I separate the two. I appreciate the contention of intent as a ruse on some level, but I am concerned with invoking historical institutions as some sort of argumentative support. The archive is a slippery slope, and that which is placed there is very useful to those that do so-politically,philosophically, and with the "contemporary object" (what is that really?), economically. Are we talking intent or context? Perhaps we argue the same thing...I have had a cocktail. Do I misinterpret? It is essential to divorce any perception of the debate from the archive/museum. Is art that which we rarify and observe? If so, then the institution has done its job. Heck, why not include a second played out debate?

p.s. as always, love Port and the always informative eye it casts onto Portland.

Posted by: joewbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2006 02:15 AM

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