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The Culture of Craft

posted 20 Mar 2010, 08:33 by Shani Phethean-Hubble   [ updated 5 Apr 2010, 04:08 ]

Currently on my bedside table is a copy of the Culture of Craft - actually it has been there now for a couple of months. It has a very attractive cover to wake up to, and just adds enough guilt and academic kudos to my thought processes before going to sleep.  In fact I am happy to report that I have cured my sleeplessness by making sleep seem preferable to getting into this book.

I am a person who doesn't really read during the day - because I fall asleep (habit associated with bedtime – duh!) and far from switching my brain or relaxing me, I tend to find reading isn't something I can do and switch off after the hour.  When I read, I read - and then worse still I start writing...

Back to my bedside table....Every couple of days or so I pick the book up as it is pretty enough, tactile and has that paper smell associated with authority and libraries, sometimes I go so far as to have a quick thumb through... that was until yesterday though.  When - inspired (or should I say frustrated enough) with the recent mini debates concerning validity of crafts. Which I have instigated, I know, but as I now also know I am not alone – I feel duty bound to justify my thinking.  

So armed with highlighters and annotation pen in hand I commenced the first essay, which was the Introduction by Peter Dormer  entitled The salon de refuse? 

Despite its unpromising title, I was hooked. 

A light bulb switched on (eco long-lasting of course) - Theatrical lightning struck and I was aware of accompanying drum rolls (too much TV and curried chips before bed obviously).  As I read on, I though now totally understood what my “position” is in the pecking order of craft/art/social snobbery. 

 I am a Studio Craft Practitioner, who sometimes makes giftware (which is less desirable than art-craft, as it assumed to contain imperfections. Customers therefore wouldn't want to buy my products to keep for themselves, but only to give to others.  A bit like a child giving a sculpture as an offering to its parents I presume - you love the person so ergo you love the sculpture, even if the elephant has three legs, and the tusk looks slightly phallic.

Page 15 brought further enlightenment, so I invested in an orange filofax page marker to denote its authority to remind me to return here when the excitement fades, and my preoccupations move on.

  "Practitioners 'state' or rather demonstrate their arguments and values through what they do and how they live"

Yep that is me...  he goes on to say in the second paragraph, same page..

"Writing has assumed considerable importance in the battle of the status of the crafts because the written text has itself a high cultural status"

Aaah so that is why I write? not for the creativity and enjoyment, outpourings of imagination and desire to communicate and entertain.  Only to justify my existence as a studio practitioner (as opposed to what other kind of practitioner?  I am not sure –definitions and delineations of craft techniques/status - all started in the 12th Century apparently).

Then, reading on, I would have fallen in love with this man (if he weren't dead) he so knows my mind and has identified my frustrations.

He talks about the use of writing to create what he labels "propaganda" ie the “catalogue essay”. 

"Yet the question remains: whom does it convince?  Is anyone, other than the craftsperson's friends and relatives, inclined to believe the often over-elaborate philosophical and art-historical claims made on behalf of the work? Surely not"

Yipee…. you too….Yep mate, nobody sane would believe it, unless they can find captive audiences elsewhere that is. 

I recently sat through three weeks of discussions based around these forms of essays at our local media centre.  Entertaining, informing, eloquent assertions of highly questionable origin (a lot of psycho babble, that even my psych friends don't use), designed for and used in art-funding proposals no doubt, recycled for the edification of the masses in regional outposts such as Lower Knowle (Knowle West by any other name…).

To be fair, actually the masses consisted of two people the first two weeks, me and B, three in the last one when we hijacked a friend. The rest of the audience were friends of the speakers, others involved in the Centre or associated media, with the Council representative not returning after the first week - no sticking power (Shame I liked him though - he wanted to buy a scarf like the one I was wearing - obviously understands true culture). 

Back to me book…. Mr Dormer finishes the essay berating Andrew Graham-Dixon for having missed out crafts' importance from a current arts series which was being screened (in 1995/6).  I am totally content to add this to the list of other crimes Mr Graham-Dixon commits in the name of documentary reportage.

All in all, a thoroughly successful piece of thought-provoking writing me thinks.

Not wanting this bonding to end, I skipped on to page 194 and the essay entitled “Writing about the crafts”... and slipped into sleep filled nirvana (after realising it was now three o clock in the morning).

Now I know who I am and what I do, best get on with struggling through the day. I am looking forward to early bed tonight (no smutty laughs here please..) I have the second essay The Status of Craft by Paul Greenhalgh to look forward to...

I would highly commend this book to anybody who is seriously, or even curiously, interested in how craftsmanship has developed and its place in society today.