ART VS. CRAFT
read Stephanie Ross's excerpted "Gardens and the Death
of Art" in the July issue and was dismayed that the dictums
of earlier decades are still finding refuge in critical writing
after being largely discredited by many respected art historians
and critics. Although
Ross's writing is well-researched and scholarly she has failed
to take into account many contributing factors that bear upon
her central questions.
First, in her queries concerning the now "moribund"
arts of stained glass, gardening, and tapestry she assumes
that the authors of objects or products in those media thought
about art in the same way we do. Art, as we have come to accept and define
it, began a little over two hundred years ago when social
and intellectual trends converged, eventually producing "modernity"
or the era of enlightenment.
With this development came new subjects and areas of
interest, among them one called "aesthetics," the
goal of which is to uncover overriding principles of beauty,
taste, and truth common to all the arts and make them examples
of "fine" art.
Until the enlightenment no other society had considered
art to be an entity in itself.
There was no reason to believe (as we take for granted
today) that the makers of paintings, gardens, sculpture, poems,
carvings, et cetera belonged to a "super" category
called artists" or that their products did either.
During the ensuing generations many scientific and societal
changes had a profound effect upon artistic products and because
viewers could no longer decipher the intention of the artist
a new and most important role was developed of which Ross
is a part: the writer/critic.
With the rise and necessity of the writer about art,
literacy became a requisite for appreciation of the art product. Today theory, its comprehension, and its interpretation have become
more important than the work itself.
So in order to tell the difference between a pile of
stones or a carpet inside a museum or found on the pavement
outside or in a carpet store elsewhere one must view those
in the museum through a special "lens" of knowledge,
made available through theory and disseminated by the printed
word. The acceptance
of the necessity of theory and interpretation in
artworks has spawned yet another line of theorists who have
lamented the death of art and proclaimed the assumptions about
art that I briefly outlined to be invalid.
Postmodernists and poststructuralists-i.e., Danto,
Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, et alia - are predominantly and
unreservedly preoccupied with reading and writing.
Visual arts are concerned with visual issues.
Although this should seem obvious, it is obscured by
written analysis of the purely visual.
As the ceramic sculptor Jan Kaneko has said, "No
matter how I tell you about the meal I had last night, you
still can't taste it."
Duchamp, anything can constitute art.
In this intellectual climate Beuys painted his face
gold and carried a rabbit around a gallery and it was art.
Warhol filmed the Empire State Building for eight hours. Damien Hirst cuts up cows and floats them
in transparent boxes of formaldehyde and it is art. None of this inquiry, freedom, limitlessness, and permissiveness
is bad. But just as
anything can be art, not everything can be craft. And the aforementioned crafts of gardening, tapestry, and stained
glass still flourish in environments that recognize the distinction
and see no pejorative in the description.
can the crafts of gardening (landscape architecture), tapestry,
and stained glass, which require technical training, compete
in a sensation-filled art world that values shock and theory
over execution and longevity? How else do you explain the selection of
Robert Irwin to produce an $8-million garden (at the Getty
Center) in an ecosystem that he disregards? (See "Critic
at Large," Page 184.) Theory (and obvious ephemerality)
take precedence over craft and knowledge of endeavor.
is a matter of relevance for writers like Ross and Danto to
ponder that which may never have existed at all, while artists/
craftspersons consider them irrelevant to the creative process.
JEFF BLAKELY, ASLA
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
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