Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

Synopsis

Choosing Craft explores the history and practice of American craft through the words of influential artists whose lives, work, and ideas have shaped the field. Editors Vicki Halper and Diane Douglas construct an anecdotal narrative that examines the post-World War II development of modern craft, which came of age alongside modernist painting and sculpture and was greatly influenced by them as well as by traditional and industrial practices.

The anthology is organized according to four activities that ground a professional life in craft inspiration, training, economics, and philosophy. Halper and Douglas mined a wide variety of sources for their material, including artists' published writings, letters, journal entries, exhibition statements, lecture notes, and oral histories. The detailed record they amassed reveals craft's dynamic relationships with painting, sculpture, design, industry, folk and ethnic traditions, hobby craft, and political and social movements. Collectively, these reflections form a social history of craft.

Choosing Craft ultimately offers artists' writings and recollections as vital and vivid data that deserve widespread study as a primary resource for those interested in the American art form.

Excerpt

Choosing Craft is an assemblage of artists’ words describing their lives, work, ideas, and values as they relate to the history and practice of craft in the United States. It is an anecdotal narrative, thematically arranged, that examines the post-World War II development of modern craft, which came of age beside modernist painting and sculpture and was seminally influenced by them as well as by traditional and industrial practices.

As an art discipline, craft has been poorly documented in academic and critical journals and texts and largely omitted from the art-historical canon. Reasons for this marginalization are many. The nature of craftwork—its historical associations with artisanal labor; folk, ethnic, and communal traditions; and the anonymous production, often by women, of items for domestic use—distanced it from many core values and protagonists of high modernism. Given the general disinterest of the mainstream art establishment, craft scholarship—historical documentation, critique, and theory— developed as a separate track in insular contexts driven primarily by practitioners themselves.

Makers’ letters, reports from craft conferences, articles in mediumspecific periodicals, lecture notes, and oral histories constitute the primary documentary record of modern craft history. We targeted these materials as the foundation and research focus for this book. Our purpose is to present artists’ writings and recollections as vital and vivid data that deserve widespread study as a primary resource for craft scholarship.

Following the lead of these artist-constructed sources, we listened as makers argued, theorized, wondered, and rhapsodized about craft. Our method was open-ended and inclusive in examining their motives, training, work habits, markets, and diverse networks of association. What emerged from this investigation to become the organizing structure of this anthology was a picture of craft as cultural labor drawn from individual artists’ experiences and opinions. This perspective differs from many other artists-on-art books, which often exclude matters of lifestyle and economics in favor of a narrower focus on aesthetics alone.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

We concentrated on the post-World War II period because of the availability of printed materials and interviews and the huge growth of the studio craft movement in that era. The war sets the historical context for the anthology. It prompted the emigration to the United States of influen-

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