craft thinkin (am I wading into a nasty swamp here?)

by Sayraphim on August 29, 2008

Craft is an odd thing. Society isn’t sure where it’s placed or how to think about it. For example: I was talking to a gallery owner about maybe organising a craft exhibition a few years ago and she was behind the idea but said several times through out the conversation “Now, you’ll make sure it’s high craft, wont you. I don’t really want low craft in it. Only really good craft.” And I assured her the craft would all be of the highest quality, but secretly inside I was wondering where the line is drawn.

It was actually the first time I’d heard the term “high craft” and “low craft”. I come from a fine arts background, so I’ve heard of High Art, but you don’t hear much of Low Art. There is Lowbrow Art, but that’s different again. High Art is really Fine Art, the upper end of the scale in quality and subject matter. Lowbrow art is on the other end of the subject matter scale, stuff that’s snigger worthy. Of course, there are people that transcend this, Jeff Koons leaps to mind as a man who makes High Art out of lowbrow subject matter.

But to High Craft and Low Craft… When she said it, I quietly went home and did some research on the net, and spent a lot of time thinking about it after that. It seems on the net that the popular opinion is that older crafters see older crafter’s work as High Craft and the new wave of indy crafters as Low Craft. There are arguments out there that if it doesn’t come out of a university degree, it aint High. The problem with researching it on the net is that the arguments are all one sided. The older guys who seem to be fighting off the indy crowd don’t really blog, and so it’s the indy crowd telling everyone their version of what the other side thinks.

Not really the best way to understand the argument, and it turns out, not really the argument I’m looking for.

What I’m trying to find is the definition of what is High Craft and what is Low Craft. And thus, in finding that maybe I can find the reason why it’s important. I understand that the gallery owner didn’t want crap in her gallery, only quality craft. But it seemed to me she was asking more than that.

Who is to say what’s not gallery-worthy? I’ve seen some dreadful things in galleries over the years, often under the label of Fine art. Who says that all crafters make things for galleries? A number I know make things for the joy of it, make things to put in shops and would never think of putting their stuff in a gallery. But who is to say that craft does not belong in a gallery? Walking past Craft Victoria’s shop front on Little Flinders you can always see the craft through the window. Craft Victoria only deals with High Craft, and crafters who do it full time, they’re not interested in people who craft for a hobby (direct quote from a friend of mine who was told that by CV). But surely that’s not where the line is drawn.

I come up against pregidous with my craft. Art dolls have secured their place in the art community, there are some truly exquisite dolls out there (and again I point you to Beth Robinson as an example) but it’s hard to find exquisitely beautiful knitted dolls. Knitting, from its very nature, is chunky, and chunky dolls end up being cute.

So that makes me wonder if I knitted a doll with tiny needles and 2 ply wool, would she still end up being cute? The same gallery owner who didn’t want Low Craft kept asking me “So, when are we going to see an exhibition of your knitted monsters?” That never helped my ability to find the line between high and low craft. Monsters were high craft enough for her?

It’s a strange concept, and one I’m still wrestling with. I don’t have any answers at this stage, I”m still jsut kicking around concepts.

As for craft itself, I’m not really interested in the scrap booking, primitive kind of craft that stores like Lincraft seem to be geared towards, although it’s usually the subject matter rather than the style. Painting a set of drawers in various shades of pink or scrapbooking images of cats doesn’t really inspire and excite me. Anything with googily eyes makes me wary. Children making that stuff, that’s fine. But when you find adults making it, that makes me wonder why they never progressed. But then, it’s unfair to judge crafts that people make for themselves against my higher standard of craft of a quality to sell or exhibit. Maybe that’s, at least in part, where a line should be drawn. The purpose of the craft has to be taken into account when deciding where on the line it goes.

But whatever conclusions I finally come to, I’m beginning to find that in every group in society there are a) people who look down and up at everybody else and b) sub groups of same. So in craft there are people fighting a war to find where on the hierarchy they are placed, and at the same time, identifying themselves with smaller sub-groups, and doing the same there. I first noticed this mentality in the goth community. Yes, I know its hard to believe, but I was once young and angsty too, and you’d walk into a room of other goths (usually at a club) and everyone there would instantly measure you against their mental Goth Ladder to find where you were placed, and, more importantly, where you were placed in reference to them. It was also called the Gother Than Thou mentality, and as I recall, there was a card game and everything.

So, to sum up.
– There is High Craft and Low Craft, although I don’t know where the line is or really what checkpoints to use when assessing something
– There is a rift between the old guard of seemingly academically educated older crafters and the hip new indy guys
– There seems to be a Crafter Than Thou attitude from some crafters, although this is pretty much across the board of humanity in everything people do
– and for people who take themselves so seriously, goths are pretty damn funny

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

shula August 29, 2008 at 8:40 am

Tough subject, S. And I’m sitting here right now, thinking about it. Off the top of my head, two things come to mind that would classify craft in my mind as High.

1/ Technique. Know Thy Craft. Sloppy or lazy work annoys me, and gives ‘indie’ crafting a Bad Name, which I think is why traditional crafter take issue with it. It is craft, after all, and stuff that’s lazily done is just slack.

2/Innovation. Traditional crafting is all very well, but it’s not known for it’s boundary-pushing, in fact for many years it was moribund. Neither is it making a statement, which is the point where craft starts blurring into art. Do we really need another rendering of hollyhocks on linen, however expertly done? Personally, I think not. People who learn the time-honoured traditions and then challenge and extend them, transform them into something else and, above all, have something to say with them, now THAT excites me.

Just a thought.

I’ll probably be shot for saying this.

Sayraphim August 30, 2008 at 6:10 am

I’ll probably be shot for saying this
Funny you should say that. I wondered about blundering into a firing line starting that whole topic off.

I totally agree with you re technique, sloppy craft isn’t a deliberate art form, its jsut lazy. And I know, cause I used to do it at Uni. “No no, all those scratches on the neg and dust? Those are deliberate choices to hold up to close examination the previous regard for clean, scratchless negs. It has nothing to do with me being lazy and careless with my negs, NOOOOOOO…”

Interesting you mention innovation actually. I’ve ready on the net where people say that the new wave of craft, using old techniques for new craft (subversive cross stitch for example) is being disrespectful to the older crafters. That’s plain ridiculous. That’s along the same lines as graffiti artists are disrespectful to the Renascence. Dear dear. If the art form doesn’t keep evolving then it’s going to stagnate and die. Its the same across the board for everything. History is full of Darwin’s dead ends. And I think that’s what you’re saying too.

If they come in the night, I’ll be there right beside you up against that wall 🙂

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