Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Art of Fine Craft

Liz here today. Anyone else wondering where the summer went? I wanted to sit in the sun this morning with my coffee and a good read so I picked up the June/July 2014 issue of American Craft. In it discovered a great article titled Hot Glue & Staples by Bruce Metcalf. He questions whether craftsmanship even matters to the contemporary art world. Mr Metcalf and I both agree that it should!

Mr. Metcalf gives us 4 standards to which we can look at art (our own or others) to help us determine which is art and which is not.

Al B thinking about the next step

The first is that good art demands careful thinking. Metcalf holds that clear, interesting ideas and a compelling concept are key to good art. Bad ideas abound and they result in bad art. "Good concepts require careful work. In other words, there is a craft to thinking, a way of thinking carefully, as opposed to being sloppy and stupid".

Second, 'The artist must know his field'. I see so many examples of failure in this arena in the mixed media world. Someone who knows her field is so often copied by those who don't know the materials, techniques and tools. They create something that on the surface is similar but doesn't have the soul of the first artist. Then they run out to teach it. This makes me crazy! The unwitting student doesn't get the real meat of the field and is left not knowing much more than how to copy. I won't get on my soapbox even though it is tempting...

The third standard is that 'the artist must be able to translate the idea into a visual experience'. Art is and always has been about communication. This is where the artist must continually circle back to the concept from the first standard and work through their knowledge of the second standard to determine how to express the essence of their idea. Does the form they envision communicate the idea clearly, uniquely, and in a compelling way?  I think this is often done intuitively as the artist goes through this dance back and forth through concept/idea and material constraints instinctively.

Fourth, 'the last component is exercising control over composition'. How do you arrange the elements of the idea, remove or add distractions to make something interesting without losing the concept or idea of the art? While the basic principals of design and composition may seem so old school, you can't make great art without understanding them.

 I agree with these 4 standards. I have never written down my process but it follows these 4 standards pretty closely. Generally I spend more time in the thinking stages because they guide the production stages. Of course the many years I spent learning my field and time spent studying in other fields to add in what is useful to me, help make the execution stage fairly straight forward and often relatively easy. Not that I don't struggle with parts and nothing ever gets birthed without going through an extended ugly stage!

What do you think of Mr Metcalf's 4 standards? Does it resonate or leave a sour taste in your mouth? Leave me a comment below.
You can read more about Bruce Metcalf and see his beautiful jewelry on his blog and website.


Janis Doucette said...

Good piece! Bruce Metcalf pretty much kept the worms in the can by speaking directly to "craftsmanship" rather than the terms "craft" vs. "art." Smart!

Liz Kettle said...

Yes, Janis! I was really delighted with his article. I was expecting the normal art/craft thing. We forget that early artists would have considered themselves craftsmen not artists.