Thursday, 9 August 2012

Sloppy Craft Book Project

The NeoCraft Conference in Halifax was in my opinion a game-changer for Canada.

Time to get back in the swing of things.  Time to get down to business.  My next big project is another book chapter.  This time it is a book about sloppy and post disciplinary craft and it is being edited by two of my colleagues, Elaine Cheasley Paterson and Susan Surette.

Here is the abstract for my chapter:

Abstract:  "Why are Sloppy and Post-disciplinary Craft Meaningful, and what are the historical precedents?"

Ever since 2007, when keynote speaker Paul Greenhalgh challenged scholars (at the NeoCraft conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia) to devise new ways of thinking about craft there has been a recognized need for a more contemporary and socially relevant understanding of current craft practice and objects.  Clearly, if theoretical understanding of craft was to advance the earlier models of contextualizing craft, which heavily relied on either the Arts and Crafts Movement as popularized by William Morris (1834-1896) or the Back to the Land Movement that had influenced studio craft in the 1960s and 1970s, would have to be replaced.  There was a profound gap between the contemporary practice of craft and how scholars understood it.

Emerging generations of craftspeople no longer worshipped at the altar of the past.  They did not learn in apprenticeships with masters and a growing number had abandoned classrooms. They were not slaves to techniques or materials.  Young craftspeople learned from their peers or the Internet. The digital age would be to craft what the sexual revolution was to feminism.  Skills were borrowed or exchanged in collaborative arrangements.  The old tribal media affiliations of clay, glass, metal and textiles were blurred as the younger generation became post-disciplinary.
 The U.K. has always been the leader in craft scholarship.

What is perhaps most meaningful and exciting about this trend is that it has huge significance and acceptance with an ever growing public audience.  This more democratic approach to craft is greater than self-expression for a special interest group or individualism.  This is an approach to craft that resonates with the times, linking craft practice to the wider concerns of today's society.  This is craft that embraces many social currents: think global act local, feminism, gender politics, social justice and ecological concerns.  It has the potential for a craft movement that is democratic and grassroots driven. 

What are the historical precedents for sloppy craft?  Sabi Wabi for one – the Japanese influenced approach to ceramics that preached the perfection of imperfection.  This is also seen in textiles as truth to materials and process that saluted the grace of the hanging thread, the slub in silk.  There is also a current of abstract expressionism that looks "sloppy" whether it is the Sheila Hicks generation of feminist textile art or the testosterone charged ceramics of Peter Voulkos' pots.  We can also consider folk craft with its naïve and unpretentious use of materials in woodcarving but also in lawn art and in the use of alternative materials, like houses made from beer bottles.  Or what about a house entirely covered in Barbie Dolls or plush animals?

It is worthwhile examining these historical approaches and their goals –whether it is humility, authenticity, expressivity, shock value and impact – to see if they are useful in understanding and contextualizing sloppy and post-disciplinary craft.  At the very least, it will help demonstrate whether contemporary craft practice is an evolution (of its prior forms) or a revolution.

I have written two articles for Studio magazine about specific examples of trends in contemporary craft practice that has helped to inform this abstract:
No Holds Barred Creativity, Post-disciplinary craft in the small community, Fall/Winter 2011-12 pps. 26-29.
The Tide is Changing; Four Newfoundland craftspeople reverse an old trend, Spring/Summer 2012 to be published.
I have also found Jen Anisef's report prepared for the Ontario Arts Council, Tracing Emerging Modes of Practice: Craft Sector Review (2011) helpful.  In 1993 I facilitated and worked on the OAC's prior review of craft practice; the change in craft practice is especially dramatic.

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