Art versus Craft

Well that is an enormous subject to take on so I am only going to scratch the surface here.  I had the privilege to be at the private show for an exhibition called Twelve Tall Tales this week.  It is a collaboration between the Crafts Council and a group called Women in The City, about which I knew nothing and feel that I need to make it my business to investigate.

Aside from the fact that the gallery space is fantastic and the curation was intriguing and had a definitely ‘crafty’ feel to it – all the works were exhibited on beautifully woven soft blue/grey fabric – it was an extremely interesting idea.  One of the works carried the question ‘Can clay carry stories?’ Well, yes!  That is what I am trying to do all the time with my work!  The story of a building, a mine, an incident for example.

Food vessels made with soil contaminated by radioactivity. 

Another asked ‘Can craft be contaminated?’ and it was accompanied by a series of food vessels made by soil taken from the rice fields of the last farmer to leave the area after the disaster at the Fukishima Power Plant.  It was a really moving work – for its simplicity and for its story – but it was alone in the exhibition for not demonstrating a particularly high level of skilled craftsmanship.  So was it craft or art?  A third work showed 7 beautiful lacquered bowls and posed the question ‘does the making make the object?’  In Wajima, Japanese they still continue to make bowls using a particular lacquering technique called Urushi which involves seven stages, each done in a particular workshop.


Urushi bowls.jpg
Urushi bowls

The bowls are moved around from one workshop to the next in order to complete the process which has to be carried out by skilled craftsmen and this installation tells their story.  They are beautiful and their rich red interiors positively glow with energy.

The exhibition contained brooms ‘with attitude’, a space suit made from fabric woven in the last mill in Wales and an amazing jacket, shirt and trousers using the styles and logos of many of the most well known fashion houses.  In most of the exhibits the high level of skill involved was very evident; there was clear evidence of craft. Yet the ways in which the various crafts had been interpreted altered them and somehow pushed them towards becoming art: they were no longer functional objects, they were installations which told of humour; disaster; process.  And therein lies the rub – why do we insist on talking of craft and art?  Why do we still consider them as almost separate?  Granted the barriers have come down a bit but, in my mind at least, it is a continuum which is demonstrated particularly well in ceramics, and which is very evident in this exhibition.  If you find yourself anywhere near Covent Garden I comment this exhibition at the Hospital Club until 29th August to you.

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