Journal of Modern Craft 5.1

The first issue of 2012 considers the way in which craft is represented on the public stage.

Editorial introduction


Ann-Sophie Lehmann Showing Making: On Visual Documentation and Creative Practice (free download)

Victoria Cain The Craftsmanship Aesthetic: Showing Making at the American Museum of Natural History, 1910-45

Irene Stengs Sacred Singularities: Crafting Royal Images in Present-day Thailand

Henritta Lidchi Material Destinies: Jewelry, Authenticity, and Craft in the American Southwest

Primary text

Gail McGarva Daughterboats

Statement of practice

Margaret Merwin Patch The Craftsman

Glenn Adamson Commentary

Book reviews

Adrienne Childs Material Girls: Contemporary Black Women Artists

Exhibition reviews

Dave Beech Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture by Gregory Sholette
Eileen Boris The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Parker
Meredith Goldsmith Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art by Maria Elena Buszek (ed.)

Listening to craft in dialogue

I would like to thank everyone on Facebook’s Critical Craft Forum for so many thoughtful, useful contributions on my last set of, and expand upon some of my remarks.

My concerns have to do with the fact that craft and material culture histories have only VERY recently (last ten years or so) been taken up by critically-oriented scholars and curators. Much of our field’s history is mired in a half-century of connoisseurship and object-driven analysis. Now, I may get people jumping down my throat regarding this last—object-driven analysis, but I would like to point out that singular objects—seemingly the raison-d’etre for craft history—are no longer driving the field.

Wendell Castle Music Rack, 1964, photo: John Ferrari

Wendell Castle Music Rack, 1964, photo: John Ferrari

Let’s take, for example, a classic object like Wendell Castle’s music stand, or even Garth’s rhapsodic commentary on a singular Peter Voulkos stack. I too could go on and on about the significance of the music stand, its biomorphic punning, its significant melding of form and function, etc etc., what I would be missing is the object’s circulation in the wider world of ideas. How, for instance, the music stand is made of stack-laminated wood, circa 1964. Castle’s essential plasticking of wood and his later coated fiberglass pieces are sculptural, exploratory, and reject traditional techniques, opting for new and clever materialities alongside a more well-known and more lavishly celebrated, but lesser craftsman, Donald Judd. As an art historian, it is this comparison that is much more important to make, than a stand-alone interpretation. Further, Castle’s music stands have never been put in dialogue with the avant-garde or experiments in electronica, atonality, and avant-garde music that was so prominent throughout the 1960s in the Northeast (where Castle was located) and Western Europe, ie, John Cage, Pierre Boulez, David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier.

What I am getting at, is that Castle’s music stand reconsidered within this context is so much more interesting than its hand feel and its shape alone. Castle—and a host of other craftspeople-have never been complexly or richly re-situated in their own place and time. This is the work to which I am referring—the serious, scholarly pursuit of relational situations, ideas, zeitgeists, and circles of influence. This is the kind of work I mean, when I say that the writing in our field has not yet caught up to the sophisticated conceptual work being made now, in 2011.

More than ever, I believe, artists are invested in their current conception of place and time, because they continually evolve forward in their own trajectories and oeuvres. But good scholarship and brave writing traces a path less backward than sideways, making multiple footpaths alongside each other, so that there isn’t just one path with two directions, but infinite concurrent and disparate routes—some more direct, others more circuitous, and still others dead-end. But this is the spirit of research—process. Who but an artist could relate?

Being a craft writer beyond the academy

For this blog post, Kevin asked me to consider the query: Are there ways of being a craft writer beyond the academy?

My honest answer is that there are not. While criticism itself exists somewhere between journalism and theory, the sad fact is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make a living as a freelance critic of any sort: art, music, dance, theater, and yes, craft as well. Blogs are all good and well, and call attention to individual practices, but criticism doesn’t really pay the bills. As well, I think there is a real dearth of serious readers in our field. This is mainly because the scholarship and inquiry lags far behind the high quality of artistic practice. That is, there are too many people making, and not enough people writing.

Also, while craft has moved away from an object-only sensibility, its marketplace has not. SOFA and other large-scale craft shows here in the States privilege the individual maker, and have not yet found a way to expand vis-à-vis contemporary art, where the group show model is more prevalent. The world of craft magazines is highly dependent upon gallery-based advertising, which is dependent upon supporting the one-artist model, which, in turn, are featured as singular impressarios.

I do not enjoy reading monographic, single-artist feature articles, I find them horrendously trite: usually full of clichés, and without the comparative analysis or historical context that the craft historian/theorist can provide. But the problem is less the writer than the structure: contemporary craft doesn’t yet have a platform for supporting true analysis. It is almost hard to remember that American Craft, with its anti-intellectual, faux-mainstream content, is the poor relation of Craft Horizons: a discursive and controversial forum that ran from 1941 until 1979, during the so-called “golden era” of post-war craft.