Monday, February 15, 2010

Michael Shanks on Craft versus Fine Art

I recently came upon this passage about the relationship of 'craft' to 'fine art,' by Stanford archaeologist Michael Shanks, who was the keynote speaker at the 2009 SJSU Art History Symposium. This is transcribed from Shanks' paper on "The Craft of Archaeology" from 1996.

Craft is the intention of a unified practice–hand, heart and mind combined in critique and affirmation, a harnessing of pleasure to learning. Craft is opposed to alienated labour, the separation of working from what is produced, to a division of labour which separates reasoning from execution (as in management and workers for example) and divides tasks in the making of something (as in a factory production line). It denies the separation of reasoned decision and execution, the freeman and the slave, the philosopher and the artisan. Craft involves a rediscovery of subjugated knowledges, recovering practices made marginal in the rationalized organization of productive routine. These knowledges are to do with the affective involvement of the body in the things we do: people's experience of themselves in a sensuous understanding of materials lived and worked with. Such forms of knowledge are know-how and may be subjugated, concrete and sensuous, rather than public, abstract and intellectual, but they do not involve a primitivist reliance on the 'natural'; craft may legitimately draw on any technology relevant to its purpose.

Shanks then proceeds to discuss how the practice of archaeology is itself a craft. But, as it pertains to the frequent discussions in art school about the division between art and craft, this paragraph is more useful than anything I have come across previously.

This discussion of the separation of "reasoned decision and execution" was particularly salient to me when I came across it the other day, because my own absence from my fabrication/ shop facilities has forced me to separate decision from execution in my own work. While I have designed many projects that I would probably never have conceived back in California, most will have to wait until I get home to be realized.

As my last blog entry discussed, having a substantial stretch of time to work for the first time since graduate school has taught me a lot about how I work, and my parameters. And my numerous forays into the realm of "what can I make without my woodshop" taught me one thing for sure: although I loved it at twelve, I am no longer cut out to use watercolour. All the watercolour materials I brought with me occupied valuable suitcase space and precious pounds, for naught!

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