The phrase, “Sloppy Craft”, the title of a recent panel discussion and a forthcoming exhibition at Portland’s Contemporary Crafts Museum, had to be checked out. Whatever could it mean? How could the Contemporary Crafts Museum have been drawn into featuring sloppiness? What kind of provocation was intended by the title? What are the implications of honoring such a concept as sloppy craft for art as well as craft? Tell me more, tell me more.
A bit of background: when I was working textiles, I regularly engaged in a “discussion” with quilters (some traditional, some contemporary) about whether the stitching work done on my textiles ( specifically in construction and quilting) should strive for perfection. I always maintained that my goal was “competence.” My attention was entirely on the image and impact (on, I maintained, the art). The craft was there only to hold it together and/or to add to the art. Hence my seams were not necessarily straight and the back of the art was decent but not flawless (I didn’t bury my threads, for example, simply tidied them). I used the quilting stitches as part of the design, which meant that they were generally not even in length and that they were heavy in places and light in others; this can make the quilted art hang wonkily, requiring heroic measures to make it perform well.
This is an example of a old piece of mine that I claim has “competent” craft:
As someone soon to be facing how to paint a large desert sky spread across a large desert panorama, I’m circling the question of the possibilities available.* The Goldwell Foundation, where I’ll be painting,locates itself physically near Beatty, Nevada, on the northwest region of the Basin and Range country, 8 miles and one mountain range from Death Valley. I’ve done lots of small studies there. Now I’m contemplating the Big One. Desultorily contemplating…..
Even if you don’t care greatly about Picasso, I recommend the Charlie Rose interview with Françoise Gilot, who lived ten years with the man. A talented artist herself, and very independent-minded, Gilot frequently discussed art with Picasso. Much of what he said about how he worked has come to us through her. For example, regarding the rather complex, high cubist paintings, he said than in the “early stages” there were almost no “references to natural forms…I painted them in afterwards.” Braque had a similar working procedure. Rather than abstract from an initial representation of a scene, these cubists–at least for a time as their approach evolved–roughly laid out their abstract, faceted spaces and forms, then filled in enough clues to suggest the subject. Those clues could appear in rather disconnected spots. I believe it was the dealer Kahnweiler who said they had developed a way to free objects, showing that they existed without showing where they were located. more… »
How do we actually look at pictures, and how does that affect what we see in them? I started thinking about this again when I read about the Kuuk Thaayorre, an Aboriginal society in northern Australia. Lera Boroditsky (mentioned previously on A&P) reports on The Edge that their language and culture describe space and spatial relationships not in body-relative terms, but in absolute, land-fixed terms (I wonder if this is true for many Aboriginal langiages). When given a sequence of picture cards (showing a banana being eaten, or other obvious process) to arrange in time order,
Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body and so on. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already (usually much better than I did), but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.
The weather is been fantastically good, so in order to give an art lesson outdoors to the kids and enjoy the sunshine, I have taken them outside in the school playground/pound area for painting.
By dipping a paintbrush in the water pound, and mixing it with soil, you can create beautiful earthy shades, pretty much the same principle as watercolour.
By breaking grass and smudge it on paper you can make a shade of green, and by using a burned wood stick you can create some chalky black. Using only these natural pigmentations from nature you can create 100% organic art on recycled paper.
I have made two organic sketches, one that I prepared at home in my back garden and another one I used for a quick demonstration how it works for the kids.
I read a post last month on Slow Muse that linked to a video of a TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I highly recommend it (and if you don’t know the TED talks, please browse among the many fascinating offerings, all under 20 minutes). Not only is Gilbert an engaging speaker, but she touches on a subject close to the heart of many artists, whether they think about it much or not: the nature of creation.
Let’s look more closely. The landscape has sharp and repetitive features. This regularity creates a structure through visual rhythm. The water is something quite different. It is a smooth flow, it is bold and bright, yet soft. Both the land and the water have motion. You might say, the water is moving and the land is still, but that is not correct. more… »