Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Some wee excerpts from my dissertation. Jan 2011

Having put-off opening the digital copy of my dissertation since handing it in 4 weeks ago, I decided tonight that it was time. The concepts I looked at within my dissertation ('The Inclusion of Craft Practices In Contemporary Artwork') build up some of the layers of thinking that guide my studio work, which is why I am posting them here. However, to avoid re-reading/re-working my dissertation, I am simply cutting and pasting in a few of the early key theoretical passages for this post. They now appear one after the other without any visual seams to distinguish them, like some type of linguistic patchwork. 

The division between fine art and craft in the United Kingdom and North America before and during the 18th century devalued craft whilst associating fine art with the privileged faculties of the mind. In The Philosophy of Art, Stephen Davies writes that a cultural historian would describe that art objects should be understood as “ends in themselves [whose] value lies within them, not in benefits and applications that come with their effects.”[1] Contrastingly, craft objects hold a cultural value intrinsically tied to their purpose. Through this distinction craft objects such as ceramics or textiles were perceived to lack the autonomous quality reserved for art objects.
Formalist theories of art focus on the form of a painting or sculpture and its aesthetic qualities, and also de-value craft. Immanuel Kant’s ‘disinterestedness’, which is a purely aesthetic judgement of beauty, was highly influential to this way of thinking. To be determined as universally beautiful or fine art, an object must be judged with ‘disinterestedness’ - with no concern for its functional attributes.[2] Craft objects are typically designed for a purpose subsequently they cannot be judged with disinterestedness and are excluded from the category of fine art.
Carolyn Korsmeyer examines how post-18th century thinking has aligned craft to the feminine, she evaluates the ways the art and craft divide particularly affected women. Korsmeyer writes:

“The things that have come to be designated ‘women’s work,’ such as domestic decorations and needlework, are all included under the craft label.”[3]
Although Korsmeyer does not deny that traditionally there have been both male and female craft practitioners, she observes that artistic practices aligned particularly to femininity (needlework, quilt making, knitting etc.) were marginalised to craft.
Korsmeyer, like Davies, also discusses the issue that functionality creates for craft practitioners. Highlighting the expressive restrictions this places on the artist she writes:

“Craft is always subject to the requirements of what is being made. A blanket is no good unless it is warm and large enough for a bed; a cup is useless if it doesn’t hold liquid.”[4]
Since feminine practices were often limited to the creation of useful objects, practical requirements constricted their practice and in turn defined their work as craft. Korsmeyer concludes that the limitation of women’s activities, in both the art world and wider society, combined with the theories of art previously discussed, made it difficult for women to find a place within the artistic sphere. Females often remained the amateur or hobbyist rather than the privileged artisan or professional.[5]
Simone de Beauvoir wrote extensively of women’s position as ‘other’ in society by examining the cultural ideals of femininity that formed restrictions on women socially, politically, educationally, economically and expressively. De Beauvoir demonstrates the effect of social values and discriminations used to define woman as ‘other’ when she describes woman’s understanding of the world and her own capability:

 “Woman herself recognises that the world is masculine on the whole… Shut up in her flesh, her home, she sees herself as passive before these gods with human faces who set goals and establish values.”[6]
De Beauvoir understood that women were trapped by their circumstances unable to transcend into the public world or fulfill their own subjectivity as men could. She writes that this situation was created and maintained through control:

“History has shown us that men have always kept in their hands all concrete powers; since the earliest days of the patriarchate they have thought best to keep woman in a state of dependence; their codes of law have been set up against her; and thus she has been definitely established as the Other.”[7]
Since men were able to keep hold of this control, women’s situation was defined for them and their status within society could not be easily altered. Through this, women’s position as ‘other’ to male patriarchal society parallels the de-privileged position of (feminine) craft as ‘other’ to art.

[1]            Davies, S, The Philosophy of Art, (2006) p 5
[2]            Kant, I, The Critique of Judgement, (1999) p 42- 50  
[3]            Korsmeyer, C. Gender and Aesthetics, (2004) p 33
[4]            Korsmeyer, C. Gender and Aesthetics, (1991) p 32
[5]            Ibid, Chapter 3, Amateurs and Professionals
[6]            De Beauvoir, S. Second Sex, (1997) p 609
[7]            Ibid, p 172

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