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.

Swings and Roundabouts

If at first . . .
Hold tight and keep your nerve.
It has been a bit of an up and down week and I am, as a consequence, over 24 hours late with my blog.  Suffice it to say that I have spent the summer applying for a number of schemes to support emerging artists and am getting slightly depressed by rejections now!  On the other hand, I have begun talking to people about my new work and I am getting some very positive responses, including from Hothouse, the Crafts Council support scheme for graduates.  They have rejected me for this year but they took the trouble in their feedback on my application to be very positive about my work post-qualification and reminded me that I would still be eligible to apply for the scheme for next year.

So all is not lost!  I suppose . . . .

I am not so dreadfully downhearted.  It would be great to gain the encouragement of acceptance for sure but this is very early days and I cannot expect too much too soon.  On the up side, everyone who I talk to about my new work believes that it has real mileage and I am feeling extremely good about it.  In fact I have been thinking over the weekend that it makes more sense to focus on November when the Studios in which I work, in Wimbledon, are open to the public once more for a 4 day stint during which thousands of people will be flocking into the studios and might well get excited by the idea of commissioning a story vessel from me – one that tells of an important event, a memory, a place – it is up to them to approach me with their thoughts really then I will transform them into their own personal Progenic Vessels.  However, over the weekend I was approached by a gallery in central London which is holding a sculpture and ceramics exhibition in the autumn and which I might not be able to resist. It was also suggested to me that I should consider researching events such as the Country Living Christmas Fair as an outlet for my idea.  That is something which I had not thought of until now but it might be worth considering.  The important thing here is to decide where I am pitching my work – gallery or fair because I am fairly sure one should not be aiming at both.  So I need to knuckle down and make up my mind – what am I making? why am I making it? How am I selling it?

When I think about it there is loads going on and I just need to keep a level head, hold my nerve and find time to get down to the studio and make – now that would be very nice.  I also need to remember what Fred Gatley said to me towards the end of the diploma – do one thing and do it well!