Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The making imperative

Much has been circulating over the last few weeks in the blogs about the changes people see happening in the craft world. The discussion is actually much older than that, but as with many ideas, we in the metals world, are sometimes late to the party. Specifically, people are discussing ACC's decision to include a 'new wave' section at this years Baltimore Craft Show and Bruce Metcalf and Andrew Wagner's presentation at the SNAG conference in Savannah, GA.

I did not go to SNAG or ACC. I was not invited to apply to the new wave section, nor have I exhibited at any indie craft shows and my success on Etsy has been tepid. I was even rejected by Etsy Metal. I haven't read most of the recent American Craft issues, which have supposedly been revamped, because the half-cover thing irritates me.

How then, you may be wondering, do I have anything to say. Well, I did just finish grad school a year ago, which is not long, I'm an opinionated person in general, and I have been following these developments quite closely over the last year.

My query has to do with the nature of what is going on. I hear stories of anger and resistance, excitement and camaraderie, and that sounds to me like a revolution. But it occurred to me, the other day that in the grand (or even ordinary) scheme of things, crafts as we know them haven't been around very long. Of course, people have always made things, but it was the Industrial Revolution that made making things, on an individual basis, unnecessary. Hence the Arts and Crafts movement. It seems to me that the current idea of craft shows and studio craft artists began in the 1960s and '70s with another generation of people rebelling against mass production, and exploring the notion that people will like things made by other people.

So here we are today, claiming revolution because a group of makers has circumvented the established system of craft-showing in favor of having their own shows. But what is so revolutionary? Have the ideologies changed? Are the new makers not interested in the handmade, or are the old makers not? Obviously that is not the case. Both groups are just as dedicated to the need to make, to connect with the public, to improve the world (or at least our culture) through connecting people with handmade goods. Therefore, I don't see that there is any real change. Just a new style. Indie crafters claim to be more inclusive than the tradional venues, and maybe they are. But there's a look to indie-craftdom, just as there is a look to the ACC shows or Philly. And I don't know how anyone would get around that. It's hard to have a movement without criteria for inclusion. But maybe this issue is more a case of the next generation (which would really be only the first or second new generation since the current system began 30 years ago) coming into their own than that it's a revolution.

That said, I do think the crafts, and especially the metals world, need to make some changes. I particularly agree that there is a severe lack of criticism and while I think Metalsmith magazine is doing a great job of essentially cataloging the achievements and artists of our field, I think it bears some of the blame for our lack of criticism. Though, maybe not. Maybe some other publication that can take more risks and push the envelope should be started.

On conceptual metalsmithing, Andrew Wagner (current editor of American Craft) called for a manifesto. I agree! But I don't want one manifesto. I want many, some of which disagree, are unpopular or make people angry. I want letters to the editor, forums, and posts on the blogs with comments. And I don't want the discussion entirely led by makers from their studios. Of course makers have many valuable and necessary contributions to make to the criticism of our field, but we also need independent people dedicated to the scholarship of the field, or the crafts in general. People who can identify movements and trends, and name the social stimuli behind them. I don't know how those people would be paid... But the more we challenge and push and innovate in our field, the more we will interest such people.

So I hope these discussions continue, but more importantly, I hope they move on to a grander, more public scale.

Philly SNAG Conference chairs, are you listening?


Hay-now said...


Great post! Thanks for offering your input...I touched on some of what you were talking about in your last paragraph there in my talk at SNAG. Namely I think a lot of blame falls on the shoulders of publications like my own (American Craft) though we are of course trying to change this.

What I mean by that is how many "craft" magazines are there in the United States? Sure there are medium specific publications but still very few of those. And of those, how many pay an even close to decent wage? None (though as I said before, American Craft is trying to change that). Therefore, who do we have writing about craft for the most part. Academics and makers who don't depend on magazine writing to make a living. So what are we left with? Complete insider views. This is a serious, serious, serious issue. There needs to be much more outside voices - voices that can help the public decipher why craft is important to their life. Why this is a relevant undertaking and how and where it fits into the world. Outside voices bring the outsider perspective (obviously) which is missing from any craft conversation far too often. I hope to see a change in this soon because I will tell you, there is no shortage of people who would like to contribute to the topic at hand.

Anyhow, thanks again for the post. Oh yeah, also, please do read American Craft when you get a chance. Flap or no flap, it is certainly worth a good read (particularly for criticism)...if I do say so myself! Ha!

Corey said...

I actually am in the process of reading the entire Feb/March issue and find it much improved. I am over looking the flap!

Thanks for the feedback!


Andrew Wagner said...

Excellent! Thanks for taking a look again...you know, the flap is so interesting and has become a really divisive issue on some level. We are so drawn to it because it is such a unique expression and has helped us differentiate ourselves on the all too crowded newsstand...and we have already started to see big improvements in our sell-through there. We also love it because it allows the cover photography to stand on it's own and we see the interior of the cover flap functioning in conjunction with the image much the way wall text does in a gallery or museum.

That said, we have had issues with the production value and our printer has not been able to produce our design as flawlessly as we might like but we are making improvements. Still, not everyone will like it as much as we do...anyhow, thanks for reading!

Corey said...

I'm delighted to hear that anything, regardless of how much it may temporarily irritate me, is increasing the readership and support of American Craft.
So, I concede my point about the flap!