Posts Tagged ‘consumeristic’

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.

Best of 2009 #30: Advertising

The best adver­tis­ing of this year (or any year) is no adver­tis­ing.

Posted: December 30th, 2009
Categories: Daily
Tags: , ,
Comments: No Comments.