Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wikipedia claims that there is "no general agreed upon definition of art." That was not always the case. I am old enought to have been among the last high schools students exposed to Latin as a non-elective subject. When I went on to university it was non-elective there as well. Remember telling my Latin teacher that I thought the subject was retrograde and unnecessary. As I studied biology, that turned out not to be the case!

Whatever; I rather like the idea that art was originally seen as subject to rules. We have broken away from that concept during the twentieth century and perhaps definition B, implying some craftiness in the pursuit thereof is apropos. I also checked out my Webster's International from the nineteenth century to see how the Victorians perceived this business: They defined it primarily as "skill or dexterity acquired by experience, study or observation..." Having a classical bent, their scholars remembered that it was a "business " and that it involved "cunning, dexterity, artifice and craft." "Syn. Aptitude, readiness, skill, dexterity, contrivance, profession, business, trade, calling, cunning, artifice, duplicity." I guess those added meanings opened a floodgate for craftiness in art and the redefinition of the crafts as art.

I had not realized that "artisans scorn the very word "craft"". Recently I purchased "The Business of Crafts" a book issued by The Crafts Center, a U&.S. non-profit organization which explicitly states that its aim is "to ensure that producers receive a fair share of profits..."
In 1987 the British Crafts Centre in London actually altered its name to Contemporary Applied Arts. North America's premier craft fair now calls itself the "Sculptural Objects Functional Art Exhibition". Further, the American Craft Council openly admits preference for "handmade in America" over the "craft" in describing what it offers for sale. This book, purchased at a yard sale, explains quite candidly that the Crafts Center "tends to recommend "high end" or "high nich" markets, which require only small quantities (of product) and pay higher prices." Even "decorative art" is said to be "scorned by modern artisans as denoting frivolous, unnecessary (and low profit) decoration on functional objects..."

Jane Alexander writes: "The aesthetic challenges and messages of (traditional) painting, sculpture, drawing and printmaking are beyond many of us who want to surrounded by things of beauty..." Apparently, she makes reference in this statement to modernist movements such as abstraction, expressionism and the like, as there are certainly contemporary traditional artworks which can be described as beautiful.

This author admits that craftspeople have hitched onto the "art" bandwagon because that is where the wealthy buyers are found. She says: "Crafters are gaining recognition as designers and artists, and are crossing the boundaries that ghettoized crafts (i.e. kept profits low) in the past." She does go onto admit that "there still exists a curatorial bias against artworks made with craft materials and techniques..."

In my view, the craftspeople have been more very effective in representing themselves as artists anmd have proven themselves "cunning" at the very least. What say you?

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