Craft, R.I.P?

As you may have read here, I have a master’s degree and some background in the fine arts. Truth is I was one of those art-snobs that pooh-poohed Craft as nothing more than a collection of pretty, skillfully made, utilitarian objects.

As an artist, I made art that was very much about the materials and processes I was using. Now, oh-so-many years later and with a more mature perspective, I understand that I was making art that was very much about “Craft”. And over those same years my appreciation and love of Craft has grown as I’ve had the pleasure to get to know some of the greatest Crafters and Craft objects ever. I’ve come to truly admire and feel a kinship with fine work in the glass arts, ceramics, weaving, quilting, metal-working, tool-making, etc. as well as, of course, furniture-making and fine woodworking.

Brian Newell's Ebony Desk, 2002
Ebony Desk by Brian Newell , 2002

Craft’s role in our day-to-day lives, in art and society is a common topic among my friends and acquaintances. When the topic came up recently during a visit to Brian Newell’s shop, he handed me two CD’s of a lecture by Garth Clark from October, 2008, at the Portland Museum of Contemporary Craft. The lecture has the grim title “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement: An Autopsy in Two Parts” and is indeed a bit grim if you plan on making a living with your craft. But if you do, then you especially need to listen to Mr. Clark explain why you have been selling less and less of your work over the last two decades. The lecture is not without hope, however; as Mr. Clark describes his “autopsy” of the Craft movement with considerable detail and good humor he also attempts to help Craft set a new course for the future. (Are you listening, Portland?)

Clark’s lecture comes in two parts. The first is his formal presentation, followed by a very informative Q&A. The two parts are available as mp3 downloads from the Museum website and I’ve copied them (Part I) (Part II) to make them easier to get to.

I’ve listened Clark’s lecture twice and intend to listen again as the material is dense and provocative and I find myself thinking about what he just said and missing his next point. Linda and I (she was an art major as well) listened on a recent road trip and found a lot to talk about as we drove across the state. Interesting stuff for the aficionados among us.

Author: Ron Hock

Owner of HOCK TOOLS (.com) and author of "The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers"

One thought on “Craft, R.I.P?”

  1. Ron,

    Thanks for encouraging me to take a listen at WIA. You are correct. A lot to think about and many important issues that must be faced if craft is to have a future. Part of me feels removed from the lofty orbit Garth writes about, but I know that the realities he speaks about effects everyone trying to create a future within the world of craft. Wish I could talk to you more as I think much of this needs brought to the forefront with the wider woodworking community.

    Kindest Regards,

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