Thursday, January 26, 2012

Arts and Crafts... what's the difference?

There is a remarkable show of quilts hanging right now at the Mississippi Craft Center in Ridgeland by the late Gwendolyn Magee.  I was only vaguely familiar with her work prior to visiting the show recently, and I never had the opportunity to meet her before she passed away last year.  I was primarily familiar with her work in the permanent collection at the Mississippi Museum of Art.  Her work often attacks images of race and injustice head-on like a visual steam train of which you cannot get out of the way.  Narratives of slaves with bloody slashes on their backs, one pooring arsenic in her master's supper, a man hiding in the shadows of his home defending it from those burning a cross on his lawn,  even the death around the New Orleans Superdome after hurricane Katrina.  She successfully avoids being trite and sentimental in her narratives.  The amazingly beautiful craftsmanship of the quilting juxtaposed with the hard core imagery is as powerful as any art should expect to be.  

Fortunately she gives us some relief from the emotionally charged narrative work and produces more traditional patchwork quilts as well, with a superb delicacy and uniqueness.  However, it was the narratives that lingered with me.  They are not images you might expect to come across in an environment like a craft center. So it got my mind to wondering, what is a craft?  Gwen's work hangs in both the Art museum, and the Craft center, so is there a difference?  Is there a fine line, a fuzzy line, or no line at all?  

I began the search for an answer by trying to figure out what the Craftsmen's Guild of MS uses as a criteria for acceptance.  It seems pretty open ended.  Primarily the work has to be three dimensional, hand made, and show a level of mastery of the material.  Apparently there was a little question at first about Roy Adkins' mixed media pieces.  Roy is a local photographer and the pieces look like work you would find in a typical art gallery, but when he explained that in his work pieces of canvas were sewn together then his energetic pieces were fully embraced and welcomed into the fold.  

I soon realized that the Craftsmen's Guild and the Craft Center were not trying to define what a craft is or isn't, they are just trying to define the culture of their own organization. says that a craft is "an arttrade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill".  Art itself can hardly be defined at all other than something created by a human being wherein if he calls it art it must be (sorry, what the elephants do isn't art).  Most art requires some sort of craftsmanship, though not all.  Stretching a canvas, sizing it, priming it, even painting it is all craft.  

So my answer is no, there is no difference between art and craft.  Some work rises to the level of fine art, some doesn't. There has to be a difference in quality of art, but that is a whole other discussion.  Art is wonderfully undefinable and will always continue to challenge, excite, entertain, and fulfill us as long as there are living breathing people on this Earth with the God-given gift of creativity.

 Gwen Magee
"86 Lashes to Go"

Gwen Magee
"Full of the Faith"

Gwen Magee
"Over a Way That with Tears Has Been Watered"

Gwen Magee
"Yassa Massa, Yo Dinner Won't Neva Be Late No Mo!"

Gwen Magee
"Jewel Fire"

Gwen Magee
"Not Tonight"

Roy Adkins

Roy Adkins

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Art in the back yard part 2

This past summer I put almost everything on hold to focus on building myself a new studio.  This blog was put on what was supposed to be a three month break and it turned into a six month hiatus.  I'm not apologizing though, and won't bore you with excuses.  

What I am sorry about is how few art shows I have actually visited lately.  I have missed the opportunity to write about and share thoughts on some really nice shows like the Clarence Morgan show at the MSU School of Architecture and completely missed seeing shows that I wanted to check out like the Dan Piersol and Maureen Donnelly exhibition at Fischer Galleries.  I did make Richard Kelso's annual December show at Fischer, and you may still be able to catch some of it if you're lucky.  

Clarence Morgan

Dan Piersol

So I've decided that I will return to the passions of my children and their love of Andy Goldsworthy.  previous post  At some point early this past summer my 5 year old and soon to be 4 year old asked to watch the movie about "the guy who makes things".  Could any of us ask for a better title than that?  The dreams and inspiration after watching Rivers and Tides are evident in their eyes, and I am right there with them.  It never fails that after watching this documentary they are ready to create.  My son decided that we should make a stone arch like the ones Andy makes.  Problem number 1: we don't live in a rocky environment.  Problem number 2: that sounds like a lot of work, and I am going to have to do it all myself.  Problem number 1 was solved when I found some chunks of broken concrete.  Problem number 2 couldn't be solved.  So here we go...

The first arch...


he was devastated...

the second arch...


as did the third and maybe the fourth, I can't remember now how many of them I made.  In the documentary Andy talks about getting to know the stone as you are working with it.  There is a lot of truth to that, and finally...

we (I) did it.

But the story doesn't end there.  In the documentary Andy says "the very thing that brings the work to life is what will cause its death".  In his case it is nature, and in my case it is a 5 year old boy with a soccer ball.  Apparently after two weeks our stone arch began to look more like a soccer goal than a piece of artwork.  He was heartbroken though, and there is probably a good lesson in there about how we become too comfortable and careless with things around us that we care for... be it art, religion, relationships, or whatever.  

In order to keep this blog post from being completely nostalgic I wanted to share some new thoughts on Andy's work.  There is an obvious connection between Andy's work and the environmental or land art in the United States from the late 60's and early 70's, but his aesthetic seems quite different from most Westerners.  During the same time period there was an art movement in Japan called the Mono-ha.  This movement was also environmental in nature, but the work has that certain something that Japanese work has.  A simple beauty and elegance that is indicative of the culture.  This overall Japanese aesthetic is apparently derived from traditional tea ceremonies and is called Wabi-Sabi.  In Leonard Koren's book Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, he says that Wabi-Sabi is "a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  It is a beauty of things modest and humble.  It is a beauty of things unconventional."  I think that Andy Goldsworthy may be Scottish, but he is really Japanese at heart.