News for September 2011

i can’t expect you to understand how all these people in this video make me so happy but they do

i walked 4 miles to the library and there was a lot to look at

art vs. craft vs… a lot of stuff

My friend recently wrote a blog post in which she shared what she dreamed it would be like as an artist vs what it’s actu­ally been like.

I was in a pretty seri­ous band for many years and have a back­ground in fine arts (with a focus in paint­ing and sculp­ture) and I def­i­nitely wres­tled with some of the same issues while try­ing to fig­ure out how to actu­ally live out a cre­ative pro­fes­sion* (the ideal vs the real­ity). There are two aspects of the how-to-be-and-be-happy-and-even-be-successful-as-an-artist issue that I want to address here: art vs craft, fem­i­nism, & the cult of the ama­teur, and the cur­rent trend col­laps­ing art/craft & consumerism/consumption.

Your Mom’s a Fiber Artist**
(the art vs craft debate from 3rd wave fem­i­nism to the cult of the amateur)

In the past 8-ish years, there has been a huge main­stream resur­gence in a cat­e­gory of cre­ative activ­i­ties tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered more “craft” than Art. Knit­ting, cro­chet, sewing, etc are expe­ri­enc­ing a post-modern renais­sance where it has become cool to play with fiber (and knit­ting has pos­si­bly even jumped the shark since every­one and their mom does it). Out­side of the realm of fiber arts, activ­i­ties like paper/printing arts, jewelry/metal work­ing, home craft, and cook­ing have gained a degree of legit­i­macy that even 3rd wave fem­i­nism couldn’t have imagined.

[As an aside, it is worth doing some read­ing about the art vs craft debate (or even just on women and art in gen­eral) from the per­spec­tive of fem­i­nist writ­ers. I am not going to pre­tend that I am aca­d­e­mic enough any­more to do this topic jus­tice, but suf­fice to say that the asso­ci­a­tion of many crafts (and espe­cially fiber crafts) with women’s work/domesticity has his­tor­i­cally rel­e­gated them to a lower posi­tion in the hier­ar­chy of all-things-aesthetic, whereas fine Art-with-a-capital-A enjoys a legit­imized (and his­tor­i­cally largely male-dominated) posi­tion at the top of the aes­thetic pyramid.

Here is a poster by the Guerilla Girls and some links for your aside enjoyment.

…end aside.]

Aaaaaaaaany­ways.

Back to the explo­sion of pop­u­lar­ity and sub­se­quent main­stream legit­imiza­tion of the craft-y arts. I am cer­tainly not here to crit­i­cize the pro­lif­er­a­tion of craft-as-art-and-even-Art on the whole, but I do want to point out an unfor­tu­nate side effect: much like we have seen with music over the last 10+ years, we are in a period that J some­times likes to call “the cult of the ama­teur.” It has become incred­i­bly acces­si­ble to become a cre­ator, a maker, some­one who con­cerns them­selves with the prac­tice of aes­thet­ics. In a world where you can buy Garage­band for you iPad for $4.99, a search for knit­ting pat­terns turns up over 8.3 mil­lion results, and Urban O*tfitters has a DIY sec­tion, how do you deter­mine who is actu­ally Good? What is actu­ally Authen­tic? How is value/meaning/significance assigned to art now that the angle of par­tic­i­pa­tion has widened sig­nif­i­cantly? I don’t have the answers to these ques­tions (nor am I try­ing to sug­gest that we res­ur­rect the cult of Genius). How­ever, I think it is impor­tant to acknowl­edge that as we swing away from the myth of artist-as-special, we risk swing­ing too far to the other side, where we value the ama­teur over the pro­fes­sional, the casual over the seri­ous, the mediocre or even crappy over the skilled. And that is not a world that sup­ports and val­ues cul­tural pro­duc­tion by Artists.

Con­sum­ing Anti-Consuming
(or why Etsy is not all that it’s cracked up to be)

This brings me to my sec­ond topic. I have refrained from men­tion­ing Etsy thus far but it is obvi­ously a result of the value of hand­made enter­ing our main­stream con­scious­ness. Etsy encour­ages peo­ple to buy items from what they term small-small busi­nesses (“human-scale economies”) and places an empha­sis on author­ship and prove­nance in the items mar­keted there. In the­ory, Etsy is really, really great and I am whole­heart­edly happy that it exists and espe­cially proud of my awe­some friends who have shops here, here, and here. But (yes, I just did another “yes, but”).

Here’s my prob­lem with Etsy. It’s cool that it’s rooted in ideas about alter­na­tive economies. In prac­tice, though, I see a race to the bot­tom (after all in cap­i­tal­ism cheap­ness wins). In an effort to com­pete (or per­haps out of igno­rance about their value as cre­ators or even in spite of their value), sell­ers must suc­cumb to mar­ket pres­sure and the pre­mium for arti­san and hand­made gets thin­ner and thin­ner. Sara Mosle wrote about the false fem­i­nist fan­tasy ped­dled by Etsy two years ago. The NYT ran an arti­cle ques­tion­ing the effort required to run an Etsy busi­ness as well. Since then, I haven’t exactly seen things get bet­ter. Searches turn up a pro­lif­er­a­tion of list­ings made with ques­tion­able mate­ri­als (cheap & made in China), ques­tion­able author­ship (every­one copy­ing every­one else… owls and deer any­one?), and even ques­tion­able sell­ers (is it really a small-small busi­ness and is it really hand­made if you are clearly out­sourc­ing your labor and pro­duc­tion?). I mean, it’s not like all of Etsy is like that, but it’s def­i­nitely there as the dark under­belly of the indie com­merce machine. At the end of the day, I think that the mar­ket pres­sures you see in play on Etsy might be the undo­ing of craft-as-Art, and iron­i­cally of hand­made as a viable cre­ative pro­fes­sion. It’s very dis­ap­point­ing because it’s so tan­ta­liz­ingly Almost.

Finally, let’s not for­get that even for the best that Etsy has to offer, it’s still about CONSUMPTION. I’m going to go way out of my league here intel­lec­tu­ally and aca­d­e­m­i­cally and say that my gut reac­tion is that when Art/art/craft/Craft seeks its val­i­da­tion through con­sumerism, artists aren’t really com­ing out ahead.

It’s my bed­time but I plan to read more about this last point (this, this, and some good old marx seem like decent start­ing points), to make sure I’m not being full of sheep. Please call me out if you dis­agree, I’d love to have the con­ver­sa­tion or some links to read.

*It turns out that I became a UX designer, which was a good fit for me cre­atively, but try­ing to fig­ure out how — and whether — I wanted to “make it” as a musi­cian or a fine artist took a lot of soul searching.

 ** Dear Mom. I don’t mean this as a dig against moms.

Posted: September 13th, 2011
Categories: making
Tags: , , , , ,
Comments: 1 Comment.

i dreamed this: conspiracy in haiti

toof brushing cart

raw thoughts from burning man

writ­ten on the plane.

p.s. my hair exten­sions sur­vived just fine in case you were won­der­ing :D

Posted: September 7th, 2011
Categories: adventures, things i like
Tags: , , ,
Comments: 1 Comment.

goggles and glasses