Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Call to End Media Prejudice in the Arts

I know...its not quite got the same urgency as Civil Rights or Equal Rights.... but still...
How many times have I heard critics, academics, curators, collectors, dealers and yes.... even artists, for God’s sakes, publically trotting out their ignorant and insufferable belief that working in certain media is somehow lesser than another.
Critics, academics, curators, collectors and dealers: get a clue. Mediums are media. They mediate. They are the thing that’s in between the artist and the work of know, the thing that really matters? Why care if the substance is glass, ceramics, oil paint, paper, poop or bubble gum? Isn’t the entire point what’s being done with it?
I have heard that glass is a ghetto. That craft is a ghetto. I was once uninvited from a speaking gig because the painting department head heard I worked in glass (she never even bothered to look at the work)!
Is it a ghetto? Well, if we insist on making it one, I suppose so.

Here is the issue that this prejudice is based on, as I understand it: “Craft is based on technique and materials rather than intellect”. OK, so I have to ask: and that’s bad and wrong why exactly? Wait—I’ll pretend to be one of these people and answer that myself:
1. Body dysmorphia: In setting up Art versus Craft as a dichotomy of mind versus body, or brawn versus brain, the body is going to be the loser because its seen as stupid, and often disgusting. Bodies are messy and make embarrassing demands. Then they die.
2. False Idol Worship: In setting up Art versus Craft as a dichotomy of materials versus concepts the material will lose because its, well...materialistic. Material seems fetishistic; overly commodifiable and it reminds us we are greedy and using up our natural resources. Concepts don’t have that problem. They are lofty and ethereal and make us look immortal and morally righteous.
2A. More False Idol Worship: In committing one’s work to a singular branch of material knowledge (i.e. being a “glass artist” or a “clay artist” etc) one is deliberately and willfully elevating material above all else at the expense of more profound content. It is a form of misguided monomania because it is believed that the materials should fit the idea and not vice versa.
3. Class Issues: In setting up Art versus Craft as a dichotomy between process and technique versus analysis and discourse, process and technique will lose because virtuosity is seen as showing off and as a performance rather than a philosophy... Skill and labor remind us a little too much of.... slavery...either in the standard sense of horrific exploitation of others or in the sense of slavish devotion—unhealthy obsession.
4. For Artists Only: there’s more money and clout in being called an artist than a craftsperson or “glass artist” or “oven mitt maker” or whatever. See above for the reasons why.

But........what's going on here? this stuff true? NO!!!!!!!!...........wait for it......!!!...........These are all false dichotomies. Duh. We need to unify mind/body not banish them from one another. We need material and concept to cohere, not collapse. We need technique and analysis to be a dialectic, not a fight.
Marriage, peeps, not divorce. Stop gnawing your arms off trying to get away from what scares you cuz it ain’t going away!!!!! Deskill ALL YOU WANT; all it means is more outsourcing. Not to mention the loss of a BODY of knowledge that is irreplaceable and priceless.

A special word to artists working in craft media who insist on supporting these prejudices. THAT’S BAD!!!!!!!!!! STOP IT!!!!!! Have some effing pride for goodness sakes!
Militant Ornametnalists, unite! And don’t cow to these harmful and ignorant beliefs. Stand up for the gloriousness of your chosen profession and be happy and secure in the knowledge that devotion to materials and process are just as righteous a path to enlightenment as anything else. Just because monomaniacal devotion is out of fashion doesn’t mean you should apologize—if anything monomaniacal devotion is one of the surest paths to discovery, originality, and deep spiritual truths. And god help us if those are out of fashion.

As Louis Pasteur once famously said*: “There’s no such thing as applied science and pure science, just good science and bad science” So, if we must dispatch with stuff, can it just be the crap in any medium instead of, oh, say the whole category known as “Craft” or “Glass art”?
Can’t we all just get along?
*Actually, supposedly he didn’t really say this. Too bad, cuz it’s an awesome quote.