Sunday, February 19, 2012

the c word

Luanne Martineau, Parasite Buttress 2005

Professor of craft history at the Nova Scotia School of Craft and Design, Sandra Alfoldy speaks about craft as a noun. She writes in Studio magazine:

"On a recent visit to the National Gallery of Canada I realized that the idea that it does not collect craft is a falsehood. Yannick Pouliot , Regency: Monomaniac, 2007

The gallery's exhibition It is What it is: Recent Acquisitions (Nov 5 2010 - April 10, 2011) was filled with materials and forms from the craft world, such as Luanne Martineau's felted and stitched works and Yannick Pouliot expert furniture making and upholstery.

The difference was that neither the didactic panels and exhibition catalog nor the curators and artists employed the term craft." Sandra Alfoldy

The curator of the exhibition, The C Word, currently up in Toronto's Doris McCarthy gallery thinks of the word craft as a verb. The artists chosen for this show are mostly painters. Elizabeth Bailey, Pink Bed, Warm 2011-2012

"If you work in one of the more traditional artmaking genres, you soon become aware that certain sectors of the art world hold the view that being too skillful in your use of materials, or taking the formal visual concerns of your art too seriously, is somewhat gauche.

To raise the “c” word is to run the risk of being seen as a mere technician, whose work must therefore be devoid of any deep feeling or thought."
Richard Mongiat

What do you think?
(all images in this post are from the artists' web-sites)


  1. I've been watching the series 'Why Quilts Matter' and one of the presentations was 'What is art?'. There are almost as many opinions on this subject as there are artists and craftsmen. The thinking also seems to have changed through the years and I don't think there is an answer that will ever satisfy everyone.

  2. Anonymous9:19 pm

    who cares.

    I really have struggled and debated this to the point of inactivity.

    really who cares.

    I make stuff. I make stuff that only I can make. I care about the parts of it that I care about and where that leads

    well how will I ever know that, even accolades within my life may not dictate how my work is treated or received when I'm dead.

    two hundred years from now I may have made something that will be the next inspiring piece. I may have only made something my great great great grand kids love.

    I might have my work in thrift shops across the country.

    It doesn't speak for ME any less.

    Other peoples opinions don't subtract me from my work so why am I adding their opinions into it.

  3. Anonymous9:26 pm

    Michael's opinion
    because he's sitting here with me and we're discussing this

    following someone else's designs exactly is craft

    any variance upon this, making it your own, is making art.

  4. trying to describe something as art or craft misses the essence of a thing. rather we should be thinking of the principles of composition, line, color.....

  5. Unable to claim the handle of "Artist" or "Craftswoman" in the commercial sense of participating in the business of Art or Craft, I still know that every act of creation I complete , from the written word to the variety of artifacts I produce, is my art. I totally understand the distress that working artists feel when struggling to be acknowledged for their work. Even artists have to pay the bills, after all. The craft or art debate is just another categorizing division produced by a values-labeling culture, and so can only be viewed in that context. This is a political issue, and, for some, a matter of life or death, of who makes it into the history books, the galleries, museums and auctions houses.

    I have retired from the field on a deep level. I no longer have motivation or energy for the fight. Those who do will continue to debate, promote, and legislate long after I'm dust. Meanwhile, may all the artists continue in their craft (whatever it is) with passionate vigor. Without those individual stories, the world of being would a woefully lesser place.

  6. I think too much. Been told so.

    However, I will point out that I wasn't really trying to defend whether something is art or craft in this post. Just talking about how these other (important in the art world) people use the word craft.

    Sandra Alfoldy writes about fine craft. She is disturbed that senior craftspeople - those who make beautiful things with great skill, will not make it into the history books as artists.
    She is interested that young, conceptually strong artists who have not necessarily studied craft technique are "MAKING" stuff that has crossed over. She is noticing that they are not calling what they do craft.

    Richard Mongiat has noticed that since 1960, the conceptual idea is more important than the art making skill.
    The artists selected for The "C" Word all use craft. The exhibition includes works in a range of media, including furniture and paintings. Central to the artists’ work is a love of the process, for the struggle of working with materials and transforming them into objects. This exhibit is about the craft of making art.
    The idea that even whether a maker is making a painting or a quilt, they are crafting.

    So it's just interesting. I've just been thinking about some of these ideas.

    Sharing them here. Catching them here.

  7. "being too skillful in your use of materials, or taking the formal visual concerns of your art too seriously, is somewhat gauche." these are who? Critics, gallery owners, pundits? It's easier to criticize than to create.

  8. artists have always been crafts(wo)men and vice versa; it seems to me it's the people in the business of buying and selling, those who are not creating, they need labels and boxes and special places removed from everyday life to exhibit, criticize and make money and feel important and that's fine, it is a business, but let us not confuse that with the actual making of art/craft;
    thanks once again for a thought provoking post

  9. this question always infuriates me. judy, it's not your fault. i think it's as unanswerable as the gender of god or how many angels fit on a pin head.

  10. I come to this question from outside- outside the world of art at least- and I wanted to say that Mongiot's quote, and your summary of his and Alfoldy's positions are a wonderful invitation. These are the kinds of ideas that are exactly the kinds of ideas that I think people 'outside' are thinking. These are the things my Mom asks about, and not in a dismissive or denigrating way. Just that sometimes you see art and think about how it was crafted. And that gives somebody like me or my Mom an anchor in the work; Judy, I love these ideas!

  11. Jane Rylands12:09 pm

    Dear Judy,
    I have been enjoying your blog and your work for some time now - thankyou for taking the time to post. I see you have added Roanna Wells to your blog roll (another useful 'service', thankyou!)- isn't her work fabulous. I particularly like her drawings.
    kind regards,

  12. "This exhibit is about the craft of making art.
    The idea that even whether a maker is making a painting or a quilt, they are crafting."
    I find it interesting although I'm not sure to understand exactly what you mean, Judy.

  13. i think about this all the time too. and then there's also "folk art" which plays in somehow (i wonder what you think of that term?) it can all be debated endlessly but here are some things on my mind of late...

    [there's definitely the fact that art has historically been defined by a privileged group that perpetuated itself... (and art has been deemed craft simply because of the gender/race/class/geography/etc/etc of the maker.) obvs. this is horseshit.]

    but still, it's largely about communities. there are arts communities and crafts communities. people with mfa's making "art" with thread aren't calling it craft (even though they are referencing traditional craft and using its techniques) but they are surrounded by artists and that's what they want to make and do and be. and there are crafts communities too, where people are very happy using that term (with or without irony). so i often think these terms are more about the various marketplaces and career paths than about anything to the work. although often, the things being created are contextualized among other work made within these communities - they aren't made in a vacuum (of course there's some crossover, but in general..)

    i have a hard time with this because i have friends solidly in both camps, and then friends who kind of straddle. but part of the choice of which to sign on for depends on who i want to align with and where i want opportunities and a career trajectory..

    i find it important and inspiring to recuperate the word Craft, as noun and verb, as nothing less than (and imho possibly even superior to) Art. but then i also still want to be able to call myself an artist, lol.

    i do wish that there were a variety of media including traditional craft-based media represented in the C word exhibit. seems only fitting.

    anyhoo i have more thoughts on this, but that's probably enough for now!

  14. There are more traditional craft based artists in the c word exhibit. a furniture maker. a ceramicist. I think one or two more.
    Each of the makers in that exhibit has an online video interview in which they talk about what the word craft means to them. I watched two of them. V interesting.

    I suppose I should have mentioned that in the body of this post - but as you can see from the comments, this is an issue that hits many a bone.

  15. Craftsperson is one who has superior skill to accomplish said work, sad that the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, got to wonder where the notion that the word craft is separate from art. Does one not hold the hand of the other?
    A skilled craftsperson is a true artist, but is an artist a skilled craftsperson?
    just more thought fodder.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx