Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Fall 2009: Due December 11, 2009
Student: Salley Knight
Mentor: Heidi Whitman
Faculty Advisor: Julia Scher
Salley Knight finished the semester as a very promising student and artist. Salley continued to explore ideas and materials fearlessly, and found new artists to learn from and emulate. She wrote insightful papers and went to see exhibitions. She is just where she should be as a beginning grad student.
Salley is passionate about color and transparent materials - specifically her hand dyed silk. Salley did some work using Jessica Stockholder materials- plastics etc, but she then veered away from those materials. She is a colorist whose interests are rooted in nature and light. Salley’s most recent work has involved whorls of colored silk. She is working hard on how best to present and format these whorls.
One of Salley’s strongest works is a floor piece that involves circles, rectangles, transparent scrim boxes, and silk. She is deftly using grays as a foil for her reds, yellows, and oranges. She is using some element of chance and spontaneity in this work. Salley is trying to remain as experimental and open as possible.
Embroidery is another aspect of Salley’s work. She has done several embroidered drawings on dyed silk of children in school lines and of cows. They are quite wonderful especially when layered over each other. This work may or may not connect with the other “whorl” work.
Maya Lin’s systems and connection to nature are of interest to Salley. She admires Richard Tuttle’s arrangements and use of materials. Salley responds to Stockholder’s color. As Salley progresses through the AIB program I’m sure she will continue to learn from other artists. Continuing to write about concepts would be especially important for Salley. I hope that Salley can be increasingly specific and clear in her thinking and writing.
I’d like to see Salley continue on with the same degree of involvement she has had this fall. I do have one strong suggestion. I think that clearing out her studio further would be conducive to clarity in the work. I’d like her to put up a couple of homosote walls. Eventually I think Salley should get a studio in an artists’ building. I’d like her to connect with more students and artists to share ideas and give support and encouragement. I hope that the January sessions at AIB might be a way for Salley to meet more artists. I’d also recommend that Salley start making regular trips to New York to see work as well as continuing with her research on the web.
Salley has had a very strong and courageous first semester.
Professor Julia Scher
If I could put one word on this semester it’s been “exploration”: of materials, of my vision, and of my inspiration. I created works inspired by Jessica Stockholder, Richard Tuttle, and Anna Torma. I explored ideas about my eyesight, line and embroidery, and ways to bring more dimension to my work by creating silk cubes and whorls.
At the beginning of December I felt lost. I had gone so far into my explorations that I had lost my bearings. I related to Bruce Nauman’s experience in art school of feeling like a bouncing ball. Where am I? What questions am I pursuing in this visual medium called art?
After all is said and done, I seem to be still dealing with the question that I came to Lesley with, only now slightly reframed: what is it to love the land? Is it about my memory of the light? Is it about the feeling of the earth beneath my feet (or the horse’s feet) in climbing or descending? Is it the expanse of space, the light, the warmth of the air from on high versus the cool, closed, narrow valley? Is it in contrast to the world of people/schools/order? These are the questions I have just begun to address.
The artist that I found whose work comes closest to addressing some of these ideas is Maya Lin. In Maya Lin’s book Systemic Landscapes, Richard Andrews writes:
Lin’s …works explore how our understanding of landscape is framed by our personal experience with the natural world. Such knowledge is, of necessity, fragmentary, based on relationships to particular landscapes, and leads us to recognize that we can very fully understand nature, in much the same way that we cannot completely comprehend consciousness, because we exist within it (62).
In his book Space and Place: the Perspectives of Experience , the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan suggests that the full range of feeling and thought are included in the experience of land:
Experience (of the outside world) is compounded of feeling and thought. Human feeling is not a succession of discrete sensations: rather memory and anticipation are able to wield sensory impacts into a shifting stream of experience so that we speak of a life of feeling as we do of a life of thought…both are ways of knowing (10).
What particularly intrigues me about Maya Lin is how she has systematized the landscape. In particular, her 2006 work Blue Lake Pass (Lin, 28-32) not only feels familiar to me but offers me a model that I might be able to translate into silk. I had attempted to do just that in a few pieces going into AIB. It was frustrating because I had been dependent on the frame as support for the loose cloth.
However, this fall I found ways for the silk to self-support: with sewn boxes and whorls (spirals). I now have the means to convey sections of landscape by placing the whorls inside the boxes. Furthermore, I have the color of the silk to convey the way the light affects the land. I see a lot of possibilities with this: that I can expand the 3D further with hidden structures under the silk, that I can work in a range of sizes, that I can be as simple or complex as I want, that I can be very structural or lean in the direction of feeling.
Lin, Maya, Systemic Landscapes, Seattle: Henry Art Gallery, 2006. Print.
Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: the Perspectives of Experience (Minneapolis University of Minnesota Press), 1977. Print.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Okay, what an interesting time it's been. A number of ideas relating to vision and art are just coming to the fore for me. They were precipitated by a Tim Crouch theatre event at the Boston ICA. He performed a piece in an art gallery, and the subtext was about what we see- or don't see- and the expectations we have about art and the value we attach to it. What I most enjoyed was that he would describe a visual setting or event not directly related to the piece of art he was standing next to - and he constantly asked you to "look". So I got the image of the art and then the image he was emotionally responding to - and BOTH were real. From there I began to think of images that seem very real to me that are never based on anything seen - such as an angel's wing. This related to a dream I had had about flying. I thought, why not make this dream image concrete? Later, I thought, why not make it less concrete - therefore more real? The photos show incomplete ideas - both pieces are in progress.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Over the last weeks I have been dying lots of cloth to make many whorls. I use the very soft sueded silk and roll it with the stiffer organza so it stands more upright.
I was specifically looking for how the grey worked to enhance the other colors - and also the richness of the darks working against the lights.
Unfortunately my camera is quite inaccurate in capturing the subtleness of the colors.
Last night I was really excited by a discussion at the Boston Architectural College on the Meaning of Place. I was particularly impressed by Mikyoung Kim who has done outdoor work using water and stone in "resculpting" a river that runs through Seoul. Afterwards, I began to see my work as landscape - or in a landscape. The last piece, I am using the reflective material both as some form of metal (the vertical shape) and water (the horizontal). I think of the whorls as sculptural pieces that might blow or spin in the wind.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I just had a terrific session with Heidi.
I showed her my work which, sadly, does not translate well to photography (above)
Professor Julia Scher
Personal Essay – Group 1
How did I see the world in the first years of my life? How does that bear on the art I do now? Those questions have been with me for years. I had a story about my eyes: I was born with poor muscular control of my eyes and therefore my sight was blurry. I had a condition called strabismus. My eyes wandered inward and outward. I do not remember what that was like for me. What I do remember is the startling clarity of my first scene after the corrective operation: boats on the Charles River. The sharpness of that image stood out for me, so I assumed that my earlier vision must have been blurry.
When I searched “strabismus” I found a scientific description of the condition. A.D.A.M. defines strabismus as “…a disorder in which the eyes do not line up in the same direction when focusing. Strabismus is caused by a lack of coordination between the eyes. As a result, the eyes look in different directions and do not focus at the same time on a single point…. the cause is unknown…”
I also found a lead to a recent book, Fixing My Gaze, by Susan Barry, a neurobiologist who, like me, had been diagnosed with childhood strabismus. I related to her experience when she discovered at age 20 that she did not have stereovision or stereopsis, the ability to see out of both eyes at once. Similarly, I had no idea that I had only limited ability to see 3D until age 45, when my son was tested and I could see 3D only the first few sets on the test card. I was told then that the ability to see 3D was related to eye-brain development, learned in a child’s first 5 or 7 years, and that after that critical period, the brain was set. I was now fascinated to read that Susan Barry, as a neurobiologist, chose to investigate that idea, and at age 48, after intensive vision therapy, her brain had responded and she was startled by her first experiences of 3D vision.
Through Susan Barry’s explanations of how the eye and brain work together and descriptions of her experience, I came to realize that the story I had told myself about my early years was inaccurate. Instead of seeing blurry images, which is what I see when I cross my eyes now, I then saw flat images. Barry writes about what happens with strabismus:
Since my eyes were not straight and saw different things, the binocular neurons in my brain received conflicting input. This situation set up a competition between my two eyes, and for each neuron, one or the other eye won out. Each neuron in my brain now responded to input from only one eye. This change most likely happened in the first year of my life…(11)
In my early years my world must have appeared flat. It would not have felt strange because I never knew a different way of seeing. However, it did shape my experiences. It was more difficult to be among a group of unpredictably fast moving classmates. So, as a small child, I remember I would separate myself out in the pandemonium of recess. I could not figure out how to join the fast, furious play. It felt more comfortable to watch. I became a witness: they were on one plane while I was on another. I remember as a small child when the teacher asked me why I was not playing; I did not know at the time but now it all makes sense. I was soothed to read that Susan Barry reported the same feeling as a child: that she was in a separate world, watching.
So, did I not experience 3D at all? I did not have stereovision. However, I could judge where something was relative to something else by shadows or obstruction of view; and I could sense distance as I moved through it. As I grew older, recess activity turned to organized games and I could easily join with the help of structure. With the focus on the ball, players moved in relationship to it: I could judge distances and understand the space.
I lacked stereovision – without realizing it, I was only seeing the world as flat. How did I understand a 3D world? I was fascinated to realize that this same dilemma is part of artists’ challenges as well. In her book, Vision and Art, the Biology of Seeing, Margaret Livingstone describes how artists, in particular painters, attempted to achieve 3D effects.
Livingstone points out that perhaps the first person to make note of this issue was Leonardo Da Vinci who she quotes:
It is impossible that a painting, even in which the outlines, shade, light, and color are copied to the highest perfection, can appear with the same relief as a real object in nature, unless this natural object is looked at over a long distance and with a single eye (140).
For a period of time in the18th and 19th centuries, viewers were asked to look through a small hole in a curtain to view paintings in order to achieve the 3D effect in this way (140).
Livingstone credits the Impressionists with discovering another way to suggest depth: blurriness. By avoiding sharp lines of contrast, the two separate eyes do not have the same clear edges to focus on and to interpret flatness of the painting surface. Due to the fact that the painting itself does not read as flat, the other indicators such as shading and perspective feel stronger (143).
According to Livingstone, the Impressionists and post-Impressionists also found another means of suggesting 3D. By using repetition, such as of leaves for foliage, tiny dots for atmosphere, they could fool the eyes. Repetition over a large area meant that one eye could not settle and choose one image to match with the other eye. Livingstone explains it in this way:
When we view a three-dimensional scene, objects in front or behind the plane of fixation cast images on non-corresponding points of the two retinas. The brain must decide which images in the right retina …(to) match with images in the left. Usually the brain is correct in settling on the most parsimonious explanation. Repeated patterns, however, …confuse the matching process, since the several explanations may be equally valid, and this creates an illusion of depth (146).
What fascinates me about these three artistic means for creating depth that Livingstone mentions is that they all are vividly part of my experience. Long distance viewing – perhaps least important to my art- has always come easily to me. However, my attraction to blurriness has been a strong characteristic of my work. For example, in the body of work I created to submit to AIB, I used layers of translucent silk but I never cut the edges because the shredded edges gave a soft line- a blur. The numerous lines and edges, even the tiniest pieces of color all had to have these blurry edges. The pieces of dried plant were often obscured by the silk that softened their outline, and the application of paint on the frames was loose and blended. Moreover, repetition was apparent throughout this work. I tended to invoke a loose reference to the grid, using many smaller squares. Plant material comes in with lines or spirals one after another. I noticed that the motif of repetition came up, but I wasn’t sure why. It makes sense now – that I was seeking visual dimension that was otherwise missing for me. Recently, I created embroideries of various images of lines of children, which seemed to be an abrupt departure from my previous abstract work. What I loved about the finished images was the information available from the very blurry line, and that there were repeated images, with slight variations. I had wondered about those pieces after they were done. Why was I doing illustration? In fact, I believe, I was exploring the themes that have attracted me over and over again- the blur, the repetition.
Furthermore, I now see why certain other artists intrigue me. I refer to Jessica Stockholder, who claims that she works in 2D that happens to be 3D ( qtd. in Carruthers, et al, 17-18) and to Richard Tuttle, whose 20 Floor Drawings in Amsterdam, 1988 (ICA Amsterdam, 8-48)) look like sculptures. Both of these artists are playing with the interplay between 2D and 3D in a way that I relate to intuitively.
When I set out to write this paper, I expected I would be describing my experience of blurriness in early childhood and how that recurs in my work. I had not realized that I didn’t see blurs as a child, but that I was living in a 2D world. Nor did I realize how that has informed my work ever since – that the shifts in my vision that have affected me so profoundly continue to be a driving force in my understanding the art that attracts me and the art I endeavor to create.
A.D.A.M., Strabismus: Overview, Treatment, Symptoms, Causes. Google Health, Google.com /health, n.d., Web. 15 October 2009.
Barry, Susan, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientists’ Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions, New York: Perseus: 2009, Print.
Booth, Jenny, Susan Barry, ww.week.com, n.d. Web. 15 October 2009
Carruthers, Elspeth, et al, Jessica Stockholder: Kissing the Wall, Houston: Blaffer Gallery, 2004, Print.
ICA /Amsterdam, Richard Tuttle, The Hague: Sdu Publishers, 1991, Print.
Livingstone, Margaret, Vision and Art: the biology of seeing, New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 2002, Print.
Friday, October 23, 2009
I heard Bill Irwin speak last Thursday and Janet Echelman this Wednesday. Irwin was brilliant and spoke to the question of what is art? That it is the task of each generation to answer for themselves... and then went on to describe his definition: artist is first in relationship to all that is/the endless possibility. He/she asks his/her question and has the job then of finding the tools, the means to create a response. This then gets shared with others - artists, then general public - then culture - finally, history. But all are present all the time, inseparable: possibility, artist, culture and history. Janet Echelman was less verbal. However her work was impressive: huge sky born sculpture. She began as a textile artist, so it was of particular interest to me - that she has found a way to work so large and outdoors, too.
The photos are of my tiny work. In my mind I am exploring ideas that I might make large. I also am exploring color and ways that the silk self-supports. In the first 2, I am playing the red and yellows against the varying greys.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I spent the last while dying silk in shades of gray. I wanted to have the grey as contrast to my saturated colors of previously dyed silks that I have on hand. However, the grey itself attracted me. I wanted to see how I could filter it through the gauze, so I used red embroidery thread to sew cubes with one side solid grey silk and the other sides undyed organza . However, once the cubes were complete, the shades of grey were so muted that they were tough to differentiate. Therefore I decided to remove the "lid", at which point the greys seemed to shine. The silk puffed up in a soft way that seemed to add to its allure, especially as it played off the relatively stiff sides of the boxes.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Professor Julia Scher
Comparison of 2 pieces of art – Group 1
Comparing Richard Tuttle’s The Last Light Work”
to Jessica Stockholder’s Untitled, (1993)
I am keenly interested in two artists: Richard Tuttle and Jessica Stockholder. For the purposes of this paper, I chose to compare a work by each artist that was created in the early 90s. Specifically, I am interested in how they address the issue of “frame”. Neither artist uses a frame in these pieces, but the idea is present.
Richard Tuttle’s piece, The Last Light Work (Grynsztejn 308) is actually mounted on the wall, which is not true for all his work. It is also hung at viewing level, which he also plays with in other pieces. In fact the main body of this piece is a rectangular piece of plywood attached to the wall. This 20 x 30 inch piece of red painted wood even has narrow strips of bare plywood along the top and bottom of the rectangular base, as well as another strip attached vertically about 2 inches in along the left border – all echoing the stance of a framed piece.
From there, the nod to tradition ends. On the front of the plywood base is attached another red painted rectangle made of cardboard shaped to form regular sections, then sliced in strips. This other red rectangle is mounted askew – so that its corners protrude to either side of the formally hung base. Furthermore, a wire from the twinkling Christmas lights, loosely draped beneath the top strip of bare plywood, extends down to a socket – into which there are two bright narrow 5 inch white lights mounted side by side. They are parallel, but one is distinctly higher than the other. It feels like Tuttle is echoing the traditional by placing them both upright, and then upsetting it again by their uneven horizontal relationship.
Jessica Stockholder’s unnamed piece, created in 1993 (Carruthers 49), is composed of a simple square white plastic sink basin mounted vertically on aluminum tubing. It’s as if she were displaying a painting – very upright. In fact, she does treat the piece as a painting – adding a yellow square of color onto the left of the sink. The yellow might even be a play on the idea of light that is emitted by a small light fixture sitting on the bottom edge of the sink. The yellow paint adjoins a beautiful fleshy pink that runs along the left rim of the sink, then onto the aluminum pole and outward onto an upright wooden board and a toolbox mounted sideways onto the pole. At the base of the piece is a coil of orange extension cord, mirroring the color of the toolbox. This cord connects to a black wire which rises up to the toolbox where the color black is painted across the left side of the toolbox, meeting the fleshy pink, but leaving the orange to show on the rough edges above and below. To offset the soft pink area, the front aluminum pole is painted a distinct basic blue, echoed in the wooden board behind it.
Both Tuttle and Stockholder use every day materials in their work. Tuttle’s materials could have all come from a hardware store. In this piece, Stockholder’s could have as well. Therefore, “the white cube” of the gallery, the exhibition space, also defines the work as art and “frames” it in the gallery setting by separating the works from structures for which that these materials might otherwise be used.
Jessica Stockholder (qtd. in Carruthers, et al) says,” My work assumes a white cube…” (11), while Madeleine Grynsztejn writes about Tuttle, “ the architectural container…provide(s) a “frame” and pivotal counterpoint to the works themselves.” (43)
However, each artist considers his or her idea of frame from a unique vantage point. In his piece, Tuttle uses geometry to violate the boundaries of the frame. Stockholder uses color to create pieces of pictorial formality that stand complete as if framed.
Tuttle rose to fame in the 1970s when Grynsztejn reports that many artists began to question the use of the frame (43). Among Tuttle’s first pieces were large shaped pieces of cloth that he pinned to the wall? Over the years, he has hung works near the floor, placed them apart from the wall, created them on the wall, and even re-introduced the frame, and then gone on to play with where and how the frame interacts with other parts of the piece. What Tuttle is doing in his work is questioning the dominance of how the audience sees art because of Renaissance easel painting. Grynsztejn describes it thus:
So successful was this vehicle (the Renaissance easel painting) as a form of making the world understandable…that Western culture has adapted the flat picture plane as a visual tool for all manner of…intellectual cognition, from the view out the car window …to the way we structure our inner consciousness…It is Tuttle’s ambition to create works that confound inherited ideas about what constitutes a picture plane… and to undermine its primacy (59).
In his piece, The Last Light Work, I sense that Tuttle does suggest a frame by his use of thin border strips of plywood, but the “painting” (cardboard rectangle) ignores its parameters. The lights, which in the earlier part of the last century would have been mounted to shine on the painting, are in the piece itself as well as wandering far afield, to add their own artistic statement below the attached plywood and cardboard. Tuttle comes close to the traditional picture plane, but I think he does so only in order to play with expectations and then ignore them.
Stockholder comes from a different stance. She began as a painter and continues to consider her work as paintings, which also happen to be sculptures. She says “…the gesture of placing an object in a room is not so far removed from making a gesture with a brush” (13). According to Elspeth Carruthers:
Stockholder’s work-form is strictly speaking- the picture…Her works, which can include the wall, the floor, free space, can be described at painting in the third dimension. Stockholder’s retains and profits from pictorial concepts of the abstract Modern… and is a plea for composition, rhythm, beauty…(26-27).
The lack of a formal frame in Stockholder’s work does not imply that she is refuting the concept of frame. I sense she is actually asking the viewer to find the frame in different materials: the side of the sink, and/or the edge of the aluminum supports. Once the viewer adjusts to seeing the sculpture as a painting, the colors and shapes are beautifully composed. By making the work three dimensional, it also makes me, the viewer, aware of my three dimensionality, as well.
Stockholder also uses light as a color. Like Tuttle, she includes the fixture in the piece. However, again, I think she uses the fixture for one purpose, namely, color: of the fixture, the light it emits, and the concept of the light (as symbolized by the yellow square). She includes the use of light fixture as part of the formal abstract “painting” she creates.
Richard Tuttle and Jessica Stockholder, both in the forefront of the post- Minimalist art scene in the 1990’s, created works that occasionally had similar aspects. In the 2 pieces I chose to compare for this paper, both are working with the concept of frame in untraditional ways. The appearances of the pieces – use of common materials, inclusion of light fixtures, lack of traditional frame – might suggest that they shared ideas about framing. Other than the fact that both relied on the space of the gallery to set their work apart as art, I have concluded that each artist approached their work from a personal orientation, which informed their decisions about the idea of frame: Tuttle was primarily interested in challenging the viewers concepts and expectations of the flat picture plane; Stockholder was blurring boundaries between surface and structure, so that the color defined her work, including the concept of frame.
Carruthers, Elspeth, et al, Jessica Stockholder: Kissing the Wall, Houston: Blaffer Gallery, 2004, Print.
Leinz, Gottleib, et al, Jessica Stockholder, Dusseldorf :Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, 2002. Print.
Grynsztejn, Madeleine, The Art of Richard Tuttle, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 2005.Print.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I just met with Heidi.
At the beginning of September, I had working on the Jessica Stockholder's miniatures. Even though I had made one small embroidery of children all lined up...I was surprised when I did another by how much I was intrigued by this aberrant line that the thread made on the fine silk. I have always been intrigued by the look and the idea of children lining up - that that is the first thing that is taught in school, and all the rest of school really, in some sense is about that (or in reaction to it). It was not that big a leap to cows lining up - which is what I looked at in my young years.
I then placed 3 year old me in the background - behind the cows.
Actually, the idea for hanging the piece so that the image of me seen through the cows came out of my session with Heidi. I had been playing with using common translucent plastic containers as supports for the work. Heidi suggested I put the support concern aside and really just focus on the idea(s) that I'm after. She suggested drawing and journaling to get clear ahead of time about the subject matter, especially because the embroidery is so very time-consuming.
I feel somewhat skeptical, but I'll explore that avenue. In the past, I notice that I tend to find my way by touch rather than by word or idea. It sometimes has felt like my brain can go one way, but my art is going to take me where it does. I haven't done a lot of writing specifically about my art lately though. And when I did "illustrative" art before, I did do a lot of intensive drawing in preparation.
Finally, we discussed my 2 very different directions. Heidi had just seen my show and was looking at art work on my wall and commented that it was really about color (and plants and/or spirals). She suggested that I keep that up - that I pursue both the embroidery and the color, keep both going.
Monday, September 7, 2009
After meeting with Heidi on Sept. 1, I took her advice and began to create miniature copies of Jessica Stockholder's work. I know that Europeans learn by copying the masters, but it has felt so odd for me to actually attempt to re-make her work, small.
In fact, it has been quite a educational and challenging experience - just realizing the color detail and amount of materials she uses. It also has made me hungry to do my own work. Now that I've done 3 "Stockholders," I think I'll venture into my own materials and color, hoping that I've gained some wisdom from looking so closely at her work. I've posted photos of the miniatures (sideways again. sorry)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I have spent a lot of this month all over the map and feeling profoundly lost. I blamed it on the fact that I was working without a frame and that was a real challenge for me. But I don't think that was it. Rather, I was trying to come up with products - when I realize that what I am really getting at is what matters to me. For example - I began (even in July) to use different materials. I wanted to mimic Jessica Stockholder or Sarah Sze ( just a bit). But I found that I have a very strong reaction to materials - that I am repelled by a lot of what those 2 artists use. Instead, I am magnetized to cloth or soft paper, even canvas. In the last few days I spent hours doing hand embroidery. It matters to me that the line be thread, not pencil or paint.I love how quirky it looks, but also how it feels. I hadn't realized until now how significant that is for me.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Group I –Crit Theory Response
Is Craft Beneath Art?
“You might want to check out what is happening in crafts today,” was Deb Todd Wheeler’s advice to me during her critique of my work. I cringed at the thought of my work being equated with craft. Why did I have such a low opinion of craft when I have enjoyed doing batik, needlework, sewing, knitting, pottery, and other crafts? Where did I get the notion that crafts were subordinate to art? Perhaps it had come out of my experience in art school in the 1980s. I certainly never mentioned how much I had enjoyed my years of creating batiks while I was learning the “fine art” of painting. No one dared stoop so low as to include any mention of craft in that setting. Therefore, it was no surprise to me when I read Judy Chicago’s essay on her experience of making her dinner party piece in the 1970s. Her opinion of craft mirrored my feelings on the subject. Judy Chicago’s wrote, “classically trained as an artist, I felt uneasy with my interest in decorative arts,” (qtd. in Fabrozzi 319) i.e. crafts. She goes on to further decry crafts. “It was an excruciating experience to watch enormously gifted women squander their creative talents in teacups.” (qtd. in Fabrozzi 321)
Despite my initial reaction, I took Deb Todd Wheeler’s advice and began to investigate the current craft scene, and as I read I learned more about the history of craft as well. The more I read, the more I appreciated craft. In this paper I will address how craft became viewed as inferior to art in the Renaissance, and how a wider historical view ( pre-Renaissance and post 1970s) argues against de-valuing craft. I will first explain the Renaissance ideas I am refuting before looking more closely at two historical examples of cultural shifts that resulted from craft, one from China and the other from Greece. Finally, I will look at contemporary art after the 1970s to demonstrate the ways in which the line between art and craft has become increasingly blurred.
As Tanya Herrod notes in referring to the issues between crafts people and artists, the “tension between the maker, battling materials and the cool conceptualist… has a longer history that we might imagine.” (qtd. in Britton Newell 30) However, it was during the Renaissance that artists began to separate themselves by their claim to originality. (Sennett 66) They were elevating themselves above the lowly craftsmen who worked in guilds where handed down skills were valued. (Sennett 66) Artists considered themselves self-sufficient, autonomous, and answering to an inner life compared to the craftsman, who possessed none of these qualities. The work of the artist was meant to spotlight him or herself, whereas the work of a good craftsman “was not even meant to be noticed.”(Adamson 13) Within these generalizations, of course, there were exceptions-no one has been able to duplicate the craft of a Stradivarius violin.
Before the Renaissance artists proliferated the view of craft as beneath art, craft had been held in high value—a view that dates back to earliest people. Broadly defined, craft was a learned ability which came from “…the intimate connection of hand and head” (Sennett 9) which encompassed fields as wide as wide as “bricklaying, cooking, or playing the cello,”(Sennett 9); craft involved the skill of handling a material and took dedication to learn technique. It was an artistry that was passed down through generations and evolved over long periods of time. The contributions made by craft have been profound.
An example of such a contribution rose in China during the Chou Dynasty (between 1045 and 286 BC) when chefs developed the craft of using the cleaver. Chefs learned to use this single knife to prepare food that was to be eaten with chopsticks (no sharp implements at the table). As an understanding of the use of the cleaver developed, the chefs found ways to work with greater and greater efficiency and skill. They perfected a fore arm technique that gave the greatest accuracy with the least effort. They used the least possible effort to make each cut and just as the cleaver was about to slice, the force was withdrawn. “Cleave a grain of rice thus stands for two bodily rules intimately connected: establish a baseline of minimum necessary power and learn to let go.” (Sennett 168)
This understanding of how to use the body for handling the cleaver crossed over to Japan where the same principles were used in teaching archery. The sport of archery became a major component of Zen Buddhism, and the understanding of the body was subsequently translated into tenets of Zen. What originated as an understanding of the craft of using the cleaver in China grew into a foundation of Buddhism in Japan: “…the evocation of the tranquil spirit, which should attend the moment.” (Sennett 168) Zen Buddhism continues to share its wisdom today, worldwide.
Craft also made major contributions to European culture. Circa 600 BCE, Greeks began to venture to great distances overseas and the ships needed to be able to endure long voyages. Tar covered joints proved leaky. Taking the principles from weaving of warp (vertical strands) wrapped around woof (horizontal strands), Greek shipbuilders were able to figure out how to use mortise-and-tenon joints to produce seaworthy boats. The security of a close right-angle joint held the weaver’s cloth tight as well as the ships’ wooden angles. “At first glance…it makes no sense to liken a ship to cloth. But the craftsman’s slow working through forces the logic.”(Sennett 128)
These more durable ships enabled the Greeks to establish numerous colonies. Each colony was ruled by a city and in these earliest cities the streets were laid out on a grid of right angles. The layout of many cities today reflect this ancient Greek design that originated in weaving.
With the Renaissance and the rise of the individual artist, craft was relegated to a secondary position relative to “fine art”. This lasted for centuries. However, since the 1970s, and with the arrival of performance art, sound art, installation art, and the Internet, the whole field of art has shifted. The delineations between areas have become more porous. Artists move easily between one medium and another. “In a world of seamlessly interlinked options the idea of a major artist like Francis Bacon devoting a life, day on day, to one genre, the practice of painting, has come to seem unusual, even exotic.” (Britton-Newell 29)
The traditional ways that an artist defined him or herself was according to the medium: as a painter or sculptor, etc. Because so many artists use unusual media now, all art forms are commonly referred to as work: “Whether an artist makes something from paint and canvas, metal, video tape, whether (large or small) and whether in a gallery, a city park, or on a computer screen…that thing can be called work.” (Adamson 16)
In some arenas, craft can still “carry an air of crabby conservatism…unswervingly devoted to objects.” (Adamson 168) However, in terms of the art scene itself, there are a good number of artists practicing in traditional craft areas: Sheila Pepe and Mi-Yi Sung work in crochet and knitting, Dorothy Caldwell works in cloth dying and sewing, and Anna Torma works in hand embroidery, in addition to many others. Today, the art world does not discriminate against craft as it once did.
Since researching craft, I now stand at the other end of the spectrum from where I started. No longer embarrassed at Deb Todd Wheeler’s recommendation to look into craft, I now greatly value her advice: no longer caught in the narrowness of Judy Chicago’s 1970s perspective, I find my mind has been opened up to a range of possibilities.
Adamson, Glenn, Thinking Through Craft, London: Yale University Press, 2008, Print.
Britton-Newell, Laura, Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007. Print.
Fabozzi, Paul, Artists, Critics, Context, Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002. Print.
Sennett, Richard, The Craftsman, London: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The top one is (sideways) from before I met with Heidi - and I'm leaving it alone, even though we decided it was incomplete. Instead, I've been doing a lot of quick pieces, and taking photos, even if I don't hold onto them. I bought material, and was most intrigued by the black and white because when I rip it, it shreds so wonderfully - when I position strips of it, they remind me of the kinds of rough marks on paper that a first grader might make. So I played with 2 letter words. The thicker lines appealed to me more than the thin shreds in this one (also sideways):
I liked this one more.
This one was just a chance jumble. I added color ( couldn't resist)
I want to do more with the wave. I made a number of attempts to figure out how to work this so it might extend across a much bigger space - and it lost something when I sized it up. I still want to play with that idea. I keep seeing it out from the wall, and then it gets into my complications of structural support, which I'm avoiding at this point.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I think the most exciting aspect of it for me is that it feels as if she"gets me": that the pieces of my work that she most responds to are also the ones that I felt the strongest about. (example - the green wave piece)
I also felt as if her advice to me was right on the mark. I now feel both encouraged and motivated.
After looking at my earlier work, her advice to me was to either go less or go widely more - even to go horribly overboard to the point of ruining the work. Later, she suggested that I take photos of my work as it goes along so that we can review it at many stages. She suggested that I work on value contrast, that I do pieces with black, white and gray to better understand what I'm doing.
She suggested that leave off concerns about structure (where I was getting bogged down)- to look at my work as a painting with 3D aspects but not to get sidetracked by needing to understand sculpture.
We talked about the aspect of works that appeal to me: quirky, unpredictable, fresh.
I mentioned Richard Tuttle and J. Stockholder, and Heidi introduced me to Jean Shin - who I immediately adored- and Leslie Dill, Anne Ryan and Polly Apfelbaum, who I appreciate but am less drawn to from internet images, anyway. I just was checking out Sheila Pepe ( recommended a while ago by Laurel - I was intrigued). But Jean Shin is really a hit for me.
I seem to love the simple idea done exquisitely.
So, I loved Heidi's recommendations for the next month:
1. Clean out the studio - create as many white walls as I am able and get rid of all clutter.
2. Go to a fabric store or used clothing store - find a variety of different kinds of cloth
3. Create 20 different small pieces, using translucent scrim, possibly fishing line for support, lots of overlay
4. Photograph the work as I go; make some ugly, some way too much, some minimal, at least one black and white, use grungy and beautiful cloth, stay with the formal principles of painting but let the materials take me, let myself be influenced - try to be over-influenced by artists I like (make a Richard Tuttle, Jean Shin= hard to do)
5. Keep an art journal - when I started and stopped, what I accomplished each day - set aside set hours to be in the studio so that I am sure to be there even with all the family demands.
6. Don't worry about the paper(s), just get them done and out of the way - that my art is the important part.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Explore, explore, explore for first month at least.
Push my ideas further
Be expansive and wild - go with artwork, let it take me
Familiarize myself with history and movements in the craft/art world - the intersection.
Create the lineage for the work I do (what/ who am I referencing?)
Situate my work ( with visual language and vocabulary)
How to contain without frame
Possibly go in between painting and sculpture
What excites me
Wax as stiffener? Another stiffener?
Freestanding or curtains or wire supports?
Use chunks, strips, lots and lots of stuff, ropes, collect lots of ingredients
Artists to look into:
Robert Morris (floor sweepings)
Allen Shields in the 70’s
Helen Frankenthaler (color)
- rummage through the bones of history to see what informs your practice. Everything is legit.
- create lineage to situate work - have list of influences
- “That’s been done before” = bogus comment
- your work looks like painting process but not sculpture. Let go or stretched surface
- feminist discourse dismissed “pretty work” but this work is grounded in sensuality, sensory awareness, tactility
- what if removed hard frame?
- look at Scupture 1965-75 ( Whitney Catalogue) scatter installation - not crafted, an accumulation of stuff
- your color is incredible, painterly without paint - look at Helen Frankenthaler for color
- take frame away - address issue of containment less conventionally
- tree limbs? bird’s nests? Garden Design magazine
- take road trip to Storm King
Deb Todd Wheeler:
- think of David Byrne - just lets his words come out: “Stop Making Sense”
- do away with frame
- would it work to stiffen the cloth with wax? use wax as support? would lose transparency.
- perhaps wire? or curtains? Or Japanese screens?
- or hang and let blow in the wind
- right now are looking at them in the framework of painting. Could go in between painting and sculpture - could be interesting
- book to look at : Spectacular Craft. Push the craft.
- Art 21 Site, Lee Bonticou, Ann Hamilton
- Yes, look at Maya Lin and Richard Tuttle
- Anna Marie Travers - rooms of light
- gradient important in your work. Check out Ed Ruscha
- translucent . Check out Silver See
- look up visual pleasure . Laura Mulvy (?)
- try to get huge roll of white photo paper for studio
- color: Richter, studies for Cologne
- Glenn Adamson: Thinking Through Craft
- American Craft mag.
- Richard Sennett - The Craftsmen
- size and presentation need to be more unconventional, larger
- lighting would help
- let go of the frame
- hanging installation could enhance tactile nuance and could invite participation
- perhaps include something on the floor
- exterior installation might work
- flower references too literal
- take off wall
- push your envelope, this is great place to try and fail. Bigger failure, bigger success.
- check out scientific books that study light
- how about light boxes?
- poems, videos of sunrises, explore thoroughly, including cliches
- get rid of default that I fall back on in my art
- Sheila Pepe : crochet
- gather lots of materials, garbage bags full of stuff, arrange like stage set with pullies and ropes - create worlds
- make little clusters, lots of ingredients
- steer clear of literal
- notice whatever excites you visually - aerial views...?
- use naivete of child with intelligence/absurdity of adult
- let it all in
- check out: Rachel Harrison, Susan Sze, and Jessica Stockholder
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
I wrote a draft of my residency summary and am thinking about what my crit. paper might address. I am particularly intrigued by these 2 books that I've been reading about crafts: Out of the Ordinary, Spectacular Craft (by Laurie Britton Newell) who proposes that only recently had craft moved from functional to spectacle; and Thinking Through Craft (by Glenn Adamson) which I've just begun, but I think proposes that craft traditionally was considered second fiddle to fine art, but that all that is being turned on its head now - I'll be clearer about this book as I read further.
In either case, they are really well-written and directly address my issues of the craft/ art intersection.
In addition, I've been particularly excited by the work of 3 artists:
Rachel Harrison, Susan Sze, and most of all Jessica Stockholder. In fact, as I've begun to explore how I'm going to go further with my work, it's Jessica's work that calls out to me - as if I can now see my work stepping out of the frame and bringing the paint and cloth with it.
I am not sure how the cloud theme I proposed will work. It feels like I'm letting it be very loosely in my head - that what I want to see is what my journey will be without the labels too firmly in place.
I dyed some large swaths of cloth - what a messy process. I am experimenting with some stiffeners - but so far, they really detract from the whole sensuality of the silk. So today I bought some wire. I'm looking for ways to support the cloth without the square frame I've over used.
So that is where I am at present...