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What's Wrong With Modern Art: Why Crafting is the "New Art"

Updated on August 29, 2009

Those Whippersnapper Artists: An "Art These Days" Rant

The art world has been going through a transition in the last few decades. It's become increasingly esoteric. Whatever else it is, art is supposed to be conceptual now, and the "artist's statement" has become necessary for a successful installation. The art itself seems secondary...and so does the artist's skills with his or her hands, sensitivity with his or her eyes, or any kind of applied design sense.

I have no problem with art being partially in the brain. It's just that it's a sensory thing, too. Always was, always will be. So a visual artist should have to display some sensory skill...ideally, through creating something with his or her hands...feet...elbows...computer mouse...camera controls...whatever....

And what's almost worse, art these days (can't you just hear an old geezer creaking out, "The problem with youth these days...") no longer has to have any aesthetic appeal to get displayed. It's not created to be enjoyed. Art can be unappealing and boring and still it gets praised to high heaven.

In the olden days--way back when--you know, then--the time before now--even ugly art had to have something redeeming. It had to appeal aesthetically to the senses and carry some design element that grabbed you and didn't let go. Oh, sure, the work might have made you wrinkle your nose in surprise or horror, but it didn't make you yawn. So much of art that I see these days has lost touch with aesthetics. That, well, sucks.

And art is relegated to the untouchable. I've got Russian philosophy backing me up, too. Leo Tolstoy would have a field day with what art has become over the last century...how it's become the privilege of the wealthy, the collector or the intellectual. He thought beauty overrated (that's where he and I differ), but he believed in art permeating the very air we breathe. A joke that makes someone laugh out loud is as much art as the most sophisticated concert performance. I'm in Tolstoy's camp.

All this I know. And yet for every single one of these sins, I'm one of the worst offenders. I focus too much on interpreting art and not enough on enjoying it. I keep the art I most like stored away in a closet because I haven't gotten around to getting it framed, and that's where it's safest. That's what rankles most of all. I just hate it when my own mind does an et tu, Brute.

Crafting is Not Pure, Either

Even crafts these days seem to require a "crafter's statement" if the crafter is to be taken seriously. We just don't trust our subjectivity anymore. We need to be told "it's art" for it to be art, because we buy into the notion that the idea, not the substance, constitutes a work of art.

But remember that an idea cannot be communicated successfully without substance. A genius idea that never comes to full and effective execution is not art, because it was never communicated successfully to someone else besides the artist.  It's just someone talking to himself, and what fun is that?

And yet, somehow a piece of craftwork that moves somebody into a sense of wonder or other emotion is true art, whether or not you can intellectualize why or what it's "trying to say."

What Makes Something Art? Try Crafting...

OK, Tolstoy did say, "Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced." He wasn't saying that handicrafts aren't art, though. He meant that art is not located in the physical object. It's in the communication of emotion.

But since we're speaking of handicrafts...have you noticed that crafting is experiencing a popular resurgence? This is because crafts are replacing what the now-highfalutin art used to be (way back in those idyllic days of yore, I mean): something omnipresent, accessible, tangible, beautiful, symbolic, and meaningful--and most definitely not reserved for tours, museums or exhibits.

That craftwork is functional too is a characteristic of the type of art that crafts are, but doesn't negate that they are, indeed, true art.

And crafting isn't accessible to everyone. The needle crafts, pottery and other decorative arts, jewelry making, and all the rest of the hands-on craftwork activities are expensive. They take a kind of specialized knowledge that used to be taught down the generations and in apprenticeships...but that's now available only on a limited basis to those who are new to the crafts.

In Technology, My Son, Art Will Be Redeemed

There is a bright star on the horizon. I think the Internet and modern technology may be our savior when we do collectively remember how to do "hands-on" stuff again.

People learn how to do crafts online. I learned how to make jewelry and how to knit, not in classes, or from any old expert, but exclusively online. Even someone with merely a computer, photo editing software, design sense and creativity can create a beautiful or emotionally appealing graphic.

So much of the old expertise--that which hasn't gone away  altogether, at least--has been captured online, if shallowly.  Because we've broken with traditional ways to teach and learn crafts, we experiment.  We make things in new ways. This can be bad, but it can also mark new directions and exciting shifts.

I'm not one who reveres technology--far from it.  But I can see the visual arts are trying to move away from the intellectual sphere and back into the daily sphere where they can be enjoyed every moment, and it's largely doing so because of the Internet.

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    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 

      9 years ago

      I'm thinking like you - craft IS art - and you express it well as being in the "daily sphere" I didn't read this blog before I wrote mine or I probably wouldn't have gone ahead with it, but I'm glad there are others who are thinking this way - I think there's room in the world for everything we call art = I just like the way crafts are being reinterpreted to include new materials and forms. And now that I've discovered blogs I'm convinced there's a craft involved there too!

    working

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