In the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time writing for makers. I’ve written artist statements, funding applications, exhibition catalogues, website content and magazine articles. I’ve had to look at their work with a critical eye and perhaps reveal something that even the maker had not considered. This process is one of collaboration and connection between writer, object and maker.
As a maker myself I can also be confronted by the task of articulating work. Recently I made an exhibition application to recreate a Tennyson poem by making a garden of hand dyed and beaded cotton flowers. ‘Into the Garden Maude’ would be recreated on the gallery floor, with over 700 blooms. I had to make connections between Victorian mourning tradition, women’s handiwork and the parallels between poetry and textiles. Really I wanted to say ‘this exists in my head, fully formed and I want the opportunity to create it’. Often when connecting theory to practice the maker can feel fraudulent. As if attaching a more complex idea to a single object makes you somehow complicit in prescribing more meaning than it actually has.
Craft in a fine art environment does pose a challenge for makers but I think it’s a healthy one. Concerns over functionality, production, marketing can be put aside momentarily. Ideas, tenuous and as they often are, can be teased out and explored. I recently wrote a press release of a jeweller having a major solo show. This was a task the gallery had put to her several months before. She had been so challenged by the idea of distilling her body of work to 150 words that she crumbled under the pressure. She believed somehow the work to be at fault, as if it should come with its own text panel to support its existence. Within 30 minutes of talking to her, gently and slowly about the work, I was able to build a simple paragraph that was cohesive and engaging. There were plenty of ideas there, it was a matter of connecting the dots.
Is writing a skill that makers can or should acquire? From a purely self serving position I say not necessarily. Inviting someone into your process who can help navigate through this element of work can be a rewarding and enlightening experience that may have you going in different directions. But writing is just like any craft, with practice, technique and patience it is a skill that can be honed over time and can serve the maker well.