Journal of Modern Craft 5.3


Yamasaki, Akiko Handicrafts and Gender in Modern Japan

Helland, Janice “Good Work and Clever Design“: Early Exhibitions of the Home Arts and Industries Association

Talmor, Ruti Masks, Elephants, and Djembe Drums: Craft as Historical Experience in Ghana (download article)

Statement of Practice

Harrod, Tanya Interview with Romilly Saumarez Smith and Lucie Gledhill


Author: Knott, Stephen

Paquot, Oscar Edmond Preface to A Practical Guide for the Amateur Enamel Painter, or the Art of Imitating Ancient Enamels and of Making Modern Enamel Designs

For more details, go to the Berg site.

(Affective) Craft Manifesto

Two years ago I began teaching a critical theory seminar at the State University of New York in New Paltz that focused on re-envisioning the role of craft in contemporary society. The Art Department at SUNY New Paltz has a long-standing tradition of excellence, especially in the craft disciplines, and so it should have come as no surprise to encounter graduate students who actively interrogated the texts that we had selected. They were quick to point out that although many of the texts we read contained interesting ideas, they were often mired in an oppositional logic that attempted to either defend the discipline of craft against perceived enemies, or to usurp the seemingly more privileged role of fine art. While these debates served as an important backdrop for our inquiry, we had in mind a more evocative question: What unique potentials existed within the fuzzy boundaries of the craft disciplines? As critical craft practitioners we desired to see the topography of our disciplines expand while, at the same time, becoming more self-reflexive and relevant. There is much craft scholarship focusing on historical origins, the author’s intentionality or the signification of an object and our questions lead in a different direction. What are the affective potentials of the objects and their embedded relations? How can craft be used? What can craft do? For us these questions have deep aesthetic, political and material repercussions that should be taken up in by makers.

In a fit of enthusiastic hubris we decided that we needed to write the (Affective) Craft Manifesto.

Unlike most manifestos, our intent was not to make declarative statements that dismissed practitioners who did follow our logic, but rather to create a document that would provoke a discussion and, hopefully, illuminate new possibilities within the craft disciplines. The result is a patchwork of ideas gleaned from innumerable sources. Our desire is for this document to find a practical resonance that catalyzes divergent potentials, productive debates and unique collaborations. It is in the spirit of curiosity that we offer up this list of thematic statements for comment, interrogation and experimentation; please consider this an invitation to use this document however you see fit.

Matthew Friday, Assistant Professor of Critical Studies and Graduate Coordinator, Art Department, State University of New York at New Paltz (

Kerianne Quick, Visiting Assistant Professor of Metal, Art Department, State University of New York at New Paltz

Graduate Students: Martin Anderson, Eun Jae Baek, En Sang Cho, Gale DellaRocco, Maggie Dubler, Douglas Eberhardt, Douglas Fertig, Aran Galligan, Sara Glaberson, Elana Goren-Totino, Jiyoung Hong, Angelia Lane, Joseph Mastroianni, Lacey McKinney, Kathleen Rearick, Regina Ruff, Lesley, Wamsley, Paul John, Celine Browning.

Boundary Conditions

Craft exists within a historically determined space. Frequently positioned as the contingent frontier against which art is defined, craft mobilizes specific material practices, institutions and discourses. Any assessment of craft must confront and, perhaps, confound its discursive boundaries. Craft itself is a slippery word; at once a verb and a noun, craft can connote both a process and a category of object. We suggest that a third avenue exists; craft is a disposition, a mode of self understanding that opens up unique possibilities for making and use.

Everyday Practice

Unlike the modernist myth of autonomous art, craft has no pretence of standing apart from the world. Through craft’s engagement with everyday use, craft makes the world intelligible. Historically the craft object is indelibly connected to practical uses. While we do not deny this, we feel it necessary to clarify certain terms. We argue that it would be more proper to say we attain uses through practice and that utility is never simply practical. We act as if we owned the uses that craft objects satisfy when, in fact, the reverse is true. The necessary and the ornamental are not simply partitioned by pre-existent needs, but rather emerge as an immanent collaboration between social practice and the material world. Although craft has been conceived as that which addresses function, to think that these functions pre-exists the object’s entry into the world is to miss a valuable opportunity for experimentation. The confusion between function and purpose is one of the more insidious infections spread by capitalism. Purposes are never simply utilitarian, being, as they are, caught in the dynamic of production and consumption. Our habits often mystify and obscure our practices, making them seem necessary, autonomous and pre-determined. To exert care towards craft means addressing the history and contemporary implications of the practices sustained by craft.

Material Attunement

Materials are neither silent nor passive; matter has both history and agency. Makers do not give form to content, but rather their skill attunes them to the affordances of their material. Affordances, as a set of possible actions, emerge only through rigorous experimentation and are never solely inherent in the material. Much like evolution, the accrual of enough affordances pushes an object across a threshold, allowing it to link to an adjacent set of meanings, practices and material assemblages. Skill, as the engagement with the exterior world, can only be conceived in opposition to creativity when creativity is positioned as the sole provenance of interiority. Authentic skill is not teleological; it involves an experimental dialogue with the world.

Embodied Relations

Craft objects have a unique relation to the body; jewelry and clothing can be worn, cups and plates held. Furthermore, craft objects gather up the body for specific purposes, mediating the relationship between self and world. A ceramic mug full of coffee, lifted by the hand to the mouth, is part of a larger apparatus involving geology, ecology and evolution. Craft should revel in the ambiguity it grants to our notions of bodily autonomy and seek to create new human and non-human assemblages.

Beauty and Sensation

The world is irreducible; our language and representations can never exhaust or encompass the world. To experience beauty is to feel the weight of the ineffable pull you into new modes of sensation. Craft objects engender new desires through daily practice, producing radical pleasures that are far more transformative than any simple critique. By freeing sensation from cliché, beauty cultivates wonder and curiosity. To say that beauty exceeds definition is also to acknowledge that it is in dialogue with and delineated by discourse. Thinking about aesthetics means considering both the affective power of beauty and its relation to cultural and material configurations.

Circulation and Community

Within the increasingly globalized scale of economic exchange craft often resonates with a nostalgia for pre-industrial modes of production. This fantasy, common in so-called, “first-world” nations, frequently privileges certain ideas about authenticity and autonomy. Rather than envisioning craft as a retreat from the complexity of contemporary social relations, we argue that its value lies in recognizing and challenging the ways it is entangled with the global flows of capital, materials, meaning and modes of production. Although they are often consumed as commodities, craft objects have a long tradition of existing within the economy of gift exchange. Gifting involves a very different type of transaction, one in which production, distribution and consumption are not broken apart by market forces. We argue that an authentic disposition towards craft means resisting its commodification; something isn’t craft just because it is handmade or done with skill. The exchange of crafts should intensify and multiple the relationships between people. Because gift economies have the power to manifest a community, the various modes of solicitation and conviviality in which craft participates should receive equal consideration.

Responsibility and Preservation

Crafting also entails the creation of a craftsperson. Becoming an authentic craftsperson involves learning to care for one’s craft. This care entails responsibility and preservation towards both the discipline and the materials one takes up. Like ecologies, disciplines thrive on diversity, collaboration and rupture. The most interesting disciplinary history is the one that has yet to be written and the one that has been excluded. Learn to ask the difficult questions. Where do your materials come from? What relations does your consumption of these materials sustain? How can you develop more sustainable and resilient ways of using materials? Who benefits from the current structure of your discipline? Where can you locate leverage points from which to activate change?

The (Affective) Craft Manifesto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 License. Licensees may copy, distribute, and display the work for non-commercial purposes only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these. Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work. For more information please contact Matthew Friday: rodechenko (at)

The politics of community collaboration through craft

Joan Key questions the apolitical nature of many visual art projects involving community collaboration through craft.

Maria Nepomuceno, 'Tempo para Respirar' (Breathing Time) detail of installation at the Turner Contemporary, Margate, 14th September 2012-17th March 2013

Maria Nepomuceno, 'Tempo para Respirar' (Breathing Time) detail of installation at the Turner Contemporary, Margate, 14th September 2012-17th March 2013

My writing on the subject of craft was really limited to a certain period, around 1994-2000 and reflected particular discourses of that period about craft in the art gallery, which was the subject of the ‘Craft’ exhibition shown at Richard Salmon Gallery and Kettles Yard. In current practice such issues are less contentious because strategies engaging craft are more dispersed into a wide range of cross-generic fine-art practices. Even so, some residual observations may be relevant.

The communal ethos of makers/making craft artefacts can suggest a social context of the works’ production as a subtext to the work of art. At the period in which the Craft essay was written, I was thinking along these lines in an unpublished seminar paper about the Hohenbuchler Sisters’ work, seen in London at the ICA and at Camden Arts Centre around 1996. The communal aspect of the Hohenbuchler’s ‘sisterhood’ and their collaborative work with institutions lent a positive and attractive aspect to their practice, in spite of a darker side to the sisters’ therapeutic narratives. More recent examples could be Anthony Gormley’s clay works, ‘Field’ or Ai Wei Wei’s porcelain Sunflower Seeds, shown to popular acclaim at Tate Modern Turbine Hall and recently the subject of a purchase for the collection. The idea of community draws in viewers of such projects, not only as viewers of the artists’ work but as interpreters of the social construction that produced the work. The imaginative elaboration of this wider nexus of productivity may even be encouraged in documentation within the exhibition, as with this year’s exhibition of Alighiero e Boetti’s embroideries, Mappa Mundi, at Tate Modern.

Such histories of working collaboration may never be perfect. This was clear in the exhibition, also this year, at the Courtauld Institute, of ‘Working Papers’ drawings by Donald Judd which formed part of the history of his interactions with the professional metal workers who fabricated his sculptures. Judd’s historic example demonstrates the importance of understand the specific relation of the individual artist to collective productive practices. Craft’s relation to art-work offers opportunities to consider such issues, including contracts and conditions of employment, as questions to be made transparent within Fine Art. But the more general concern about this strategic and at times didactic approach to presenting craft in the art gallery is that art galleries contain their own historic narratives, and craft’s positive ethos within these contexts may not leave sufficient space for the viewer to consider such issues but supply ideological and methodological suggestions with too immediately positive certainty: the therapeutic relation in the case of the Hohenbuchlers exhibition ‘We Knitted Braids for Her’; creating projects that enhance local communities in Gormley’s widely toured exhibition of clay figurines; or engaging with positive aspects of volunteering in Maria Nepomuceno’s work currently on view at the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate,

Nepomuceno’s work is a case in point. Publicity about this exhibition suggests the beauty of the traditional Latin American craft techniques this artist employs: ‘woven forms made of rope and straw, along with beads and other objects, often in fiesta-bright hues, resonate on a fundamental level’. This presents a happy, mythic picture, both inclusive, ‘from the genetic to the cosmological’, and spiritualised, emphasising symbolic interest in spiral systems and natural rhythms. These works tend to support a primitivising Western anthropological account of the communities and work-histories of Latin America. Nepomuceno’s textile structures also resonate with forms and practices developed in historic feminist works relevant to celebration of the generosity of histories of women’s domestic textile labour reminiscent of the quilting groups of North American women in the nineteen-sixties, in the way a collective, the Maria Nepomuceno study group of volunteers and craftspeople, continues to extend textile productivity during the course of the exhibition, out of the museum and into the sea.

The gallery text invites the viewer to relax with Nepomuceno’s work ‘whether spreading across the floor, rising up or suspended like hammocks, the works’ relationship to the body is key’. The cultural relevance of craft and body may be strong but should be treated with caution. An apolitical benevolence in small scale art-world models of production may give permissions in wider but not unrelated contexts. The question ‘who is the artist or the maker’ can imply hierarchies, and opportunities for understanding the internal dynamics of craft and art collaborations be lost.

Joan Key’s article for 5.2 Readymade or Handmade is available for download.