Monday, November 21, 2005

The Debate

The debate over what is art and what is craft has been a long and tedious one filled with many scalding arguments and heated words. In the end the only thing I could honestly deduce was that attitude toward the piece and the atmosphere it is intended to exude is the only real defining factor between art and craft.
On an extremely general note people like to define crafts as everyday items while art is defined as specialized items for viewing purposes only. This debate charges further debates as to who works harder for their purpose; the artist or the crafts man and to that which is more skilled. In the end it seems those both works hard for their ideas and are bound by the same basic guidelines of design. The defining difference seems to be that crafts workers use those guidelines to further their work while remaining inside them on the other hand artists while fully trained in and comprehending those same guidelines throws them out to push the envelope.
This is evidenced in the "Nuba Woman II" by William Morris for example in the way he not only treats the glass but uses it to represent a personal statement. He treats the glass in new ways creating complex shapes building upon an abstract concept. Namely that we draw from Nature in our everyday lives. It is the attitude that William Morris and the viewer lend the piece which in turn creates an atmosphere which the piece should continue to exude. Meaning because the “Nuba Woman II” is treated as a piece of art it becomes art. This is the same concept the Dadaists were after in such works as Duchamp’s fountain more commonly referred to as the urinal. Which seems to be a contradiction as it is an everyday item that was made for the mass consumption of male urine. However it was given a new life by Duchamp as art through his attitude of the piece which to this day hangs in the Indiana Art Museum gallery as art proving that it is the attitude given the piece by the creator for it to exude the atmosphere of art.
The attitude lent toward crafts however is that of mass production for people’s personal use which leads to a casual atmosphere in which the work is determined useable and abuse able to say it crudely. It becomes seemingly temporary while the art seems timeless. A goblet for example remains a goblet even after hundreds of years. Look at the Facon De Venice Goblet despite the fact that you run into this piece in a museum you treat it with little a here or there. It could very well sit in your cupboard at home, on a shelf in a store, or in the garbage for all that it would matter despite its decorative details and delicate hand etched designs. The only thing giving it authority to be there seems to be its age. This lack of presence is not created by the fact that it is a goblet however but by the attitude we are introduced to when we come in contact with it. The lack of an artists name to be included with the piece as well as its cramped proximity to similarly designed pieces by other anonymous creators from the same time period in a room filled to the brim with other such clusters of like pieces cause you to treat it with a casual disregard unlike the room in which the “Nuba Woman II” rests. Which is sparsely filled, more brightly lit and defines itself with large plaque cards filled with details about it and a creators name.
So where is the problem in defining art and craft then? We touched on it slightly with Duchamp’s fountain and it’s a visible question in pieces like the dinner sets created by Judy Chicago for her “Dinner Party”, or African American quilts they are examples taken out of their usual definition as craft and given meaning through the attitude lent by the statement despite their daily association with our lives. This attitude is not always readily accepted however which is where issues of art vs. craft ensue. These blocks of acceptance are often caused by the medium used to create the piece, the style in which is done and so forth. All these issues come down to matters of personal opinion and the creators’ intent of the piece. Whether it is a concept placed on an adopted piece such as Duchamp’s found object “Fountain” and the African American Quilts or if it was originally intended from start to finish as an artistic statement all along as in Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” and William Morris “Nuba Woman II”.

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