Part 5, Sample Making and Reflections on Sloppy Craft and Postdisciplinarity.

This isn’t the post I sat down to write this morning. I intended to record my next set of pleated samples, instead I have reflected on the relationship between Art and Craft. The following are observations based on my research of Sloppy Craft and Postdisciplinarity. It should be understood that I am not claiming to be ‘right’ or that I have made any definite conclusions. This post simply records my thoughts:

Making Rosettes

At first the rosettes were really tricky to form. A cylinder of paper containing the necessary folds is created, then there is a push and pull struggle as you try to collapse the structure -will it, won’t it? It is really exciting when the folds eventually contract, revealing their new form. It feels almost magical the first few times but repetition dissolves this feeling as you begin to understand how and why it happens.

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I found myself admitting that I am familiar with this chain of events, new processes fascinate me. When I see objects, my mind is trying to figure out how they are made, I am willing to investigate and try it out myself. However, process led my approach might be, once I understand how it works I am likely to lose interest and move on to the next thing that grabs my attention. Perhaps this is why I have so many unfinished projects?

I wonder if this is endemic in our modern YouTube/Pinterest society? It is possible to learn and teach yourself as many processes as you have time for. Shops like Hobbycraft and a multitude of online stores tempt us with the materials required. A lengthy apprenticeship is no longer necessary: you don’t have to dedicate the rest of your life to being a ceramist just to experience playing with clay. You don’t even have to attend a pottery class. Order a lump of air-drying clay from Amazon and a few days later it will arrive at your doorstep… We can have it all! -At little cost to both time and money. Does this make you a craftsman? -I don’t think so!!!

Does this availability of knowledge and materials create friction in the Craft world? As I have considered the art/craft debate, I have been quite shocked at the how the Craft World turns on itself. On several occasions reading Crafts Magazine and the Sloppy Craft book ¹, I noticed the derision and marginalisation of the amateur, DIY crafter. Particularly in Sandra Alfoldy’s chapter: ‘Doomed to Failure’ P79¹

Perhaps availability is central to the increased popularity of Crafts, or maybe people are seeking a therapeutic antidote to fast living, similar to the Back to the Land Movement of the 1970s? Instead of feeling happy that multitudes are experiencing the joy of creation (that Industrialisation stole from the masses) many seem to be afraid of Crafts association with the amateur, although this can be countered by the number of professionals organising community craft projects and Craftivism.

Historically, a skilled craftsman commanded a certain degree of respect and power (think of Guilds and Unions set up to protect their status), and I believe this was their right: compensation for both talent and dedication. However, what if the avant-garde decided to adopt a Sloppy aesthetic? Are they undermining traditional values? I think they are and the danger of this is that now an amateur could produce the work of a professional. No wonder Craft is turning on itself, instead of concentrating on aligning itself more positively with Art.

Maybe it is Craft’s insistence of being viewed equally to Art that has led to the unkempt aesthetic? To cutting corners? To learning only what is essential? Instead of concentrating on quality of finish, the ‘idea’ behind the crafted object becomes the focus. Perhaps ‘Conceptual Craft’ would be a more suitable term than ‘Sloppy’, this would help explain that the aesthetic is secondary to the work without implying that it is unskilled?

Forgive me if I am over simplifying but I see the difference between Art and Craft as similar to the relationship between Football and Rugby. They are the same because they are both sports and they both are played with a ball, by a team. BUT you can’t play the same! You can’t pick up the ball and run with it when you are playing football (nor can you stamp on anyone’s head!) You can’t sustain an injury on the rugby pitch and writhe around the floor in over dramatized agony. Football fans are separated for fear of violence and hooliganism; Rugby supporters from both teams sit together in civilised harmony.

Perhaps what I want to say is, instead of competing against each other Art and Craft should admit they are different games with different rules. They share similarities but they fulfil different purposes. They are perceived by the viewer in different ways. An amalgamation of football and rugby would equal an entirely different game -American Football? -and what an odd game that is! It mixes the rules of football and rugby to produce something in between (that is both and neither). American Football seems to rely on the spectacular, it’s players wear costumes are designed to make them look bigger than they are and nobody really understands the rules… Maybe it is Conceptual Art in this analogy?

 

 

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Research: What makes art have value?

Instead of very specific research into my chosen area for development (printmaking and surface manipulation), I cast my net really wide to begin with. I think I was trying to get to the bigger picture: What is Art and where do I fit in? A pretty big question, fuelled in part by my feelings of confusion about the task in hand.

Throughout MMT, as I adapted to a less refined aesthetic, I have constantly asked why something that is thrown together in minutes can be more appealing than something I have laboured over.

In my last feedback Cari challenged me by asking: What makes art have value? My immediate and instinctual answer was: time invested. She then asked: “Should time-investment in art work equate to value? if something looks more detailed or time-consuming, does that make it more expensive?”

I looked at Abstract Art, in particular Art Informel, driven by my interest in Tapies during Part 4. Here I found images created by gestural mark making that relied on the engagement with materials. Instead of the pursuit of a perfect representation, artists worked spontaneously, relying on intuition to guide their approach. In many cases, the finished products have a much less refined aesthetic and give the impression they were created quickly, they are by no means less valuable because of this. Perhaps their worth lies in the breaking of traditional values? The artists sought to express feeling and emotion, through their handling of materials, rather than to create a figurative image or a duplication of reality (mimesis).

I felt this was applicable to my own work as Cari and I had also discussed my return to a more figurative approach for many of my prints. She reminded me that prints don’t need to be ‘of’ anything in particular and provided examples of strong pattern making in my work. My love of abstraction and fiercely bold mark-making and/or colour in other people’s work seemed really incongruous with my insistence that my own work should be time consuming, figurative and perfect.

My research uncovered the term Formalism, whereby art is evaluated by visual standards alone. I discovered a really useful explanation of the Elements and Principles of art:

  • Elements: Line, shape, form, space, texture, value (lightness/darkness) and colour.
  • Principles: Balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm and unity/variety. ¹

These key features are really helpful in the discussion and analysis of art on a visual level, however, what I gained from their discovery was an insight to what it is that I actually value in an artwork. I realised that time need not be a key factor in my appreciation of a piece.

I believe that an appreciation of aesthetics is innate and universal, despite variation in taste according to location, culture or belief. People at liberty to fulfil their comfort needs will always pursue ‘beauty’. I use the term beauty to represent the product of the principles and values listed above. So whether one chooses to surround themselves with expensive object d’art, or seeks more subtle beauty in the natural environment, aesthetic judgement is what drives us.

The alternative to valuing art for its Formalist properties seems to be to consider the moral dimension. A conceptual approach seeks to intellectualise, by commenting on the social, political or philosophical issues of the moment. I think it sprang from an attempt to redefine the purpose of art, to make it relevant. Using the example provided by Cari: Tracey Emin’s tent, what is actually on display is the product of an idea. A Formalist reading would no longer be sufficient to assess what the artist is communicating.

I find Post Modernist Art very challenging, I can not judge it by the principles that I believe in. In order to communicate an idea, the artist can and often will use any means necessary: Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades, at the beginning of the 20th Century, paved the way for Warhol to use soup cans in the 1960s and for shock tactics of Emin (the YBA and many others besides in the 90s). I am fascinated by the ‘My child could have done that’ aesthetic and although I understand it is the idea and process that is to be valued, I miss the qualities of a refined piece of art.

I am really at odds with the idea that an object might not the intended outcome of an artistic exploration. How is Performance Art to be valued? As a temporal act how can it be judged? I think I am often led by process, but I use this as a means to an end. The idea that the process is a performative action, is really difficult for me to get my head around. For Example, Ann Wilson’s Wind Up, Walking the Warp left me cold. It felt like someone was trying to explain a mathematical problem or verbally give me directions: I could understand it if I really tried but it was just too effortful to attend to. Perhaps if they wrote it down or showed me visually I might understand? I felt very similarly about Alison Carlier’s audio-drawing that won the Jerwood in 2014.

In conclusion, I found that although this research slightly deviated from the brief I had set myself for Part 5 but it was hugely useful. I began to question what it is that I value in my work and that of others. Identifying my own current perspective whilst gaining a greater appreciation of the many alternative ways of looking at art will surely be useful.

I came across a great many things that I had little understanding of and found myself constantly cross referencing and looking things up. It may be that I have misunderstood or oversimplified in order to make sense of what I have learned but what I have tried to do is record my present level of comprehension. I could quite happily have pursued this line of enquiry but wondered if my next course Ideas and Processes might be a more appropriate time.

¹ https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/what-is-art/

https://teara.govt.nz/en/post-object-and-conceptual-art/page-1

http://www.tate.org.uk/art

 

 

A4; Self Assessment

DEMONSTRATION OF TECHNICAL AND VISUAL SKILLS

Printmaking felt like an extension of the drawing and painting skills that are one of my strengths, as such I think I had the technical skill to manipulate the materials, although I did struggle with the Intaglio process when printing the Collatype plates.

I used this unit as an opportunity to develop my collage skills. In the past I have really struggled with collaging and layering and have felt reluctant to ‘spoil’ work I have produced. Addressing this issue gave me the freedom to play with colour and composition in a way that I haven’t experienced before. I became much less precious about my work, experimenting with cutting and layering in a curious manner.

I think the unpredictable nature of the print and the spontaneity of the process gave me the confidence to accept imperfections, it was also much more difficult to pre-plan an outcome, I found I had to work with what I got! This builds on learning from previous units.

QUALITY OF OUTCOME:

Being experimental and taking risks means that inevitably some efforts will fail. I was much less discouraged by this than in the past and used these stumbling blocks as a chance to problem solve and find out what would work. This often led to newer more exciting ideas, for example My BIG Idea.

My sketchbook is very different, at times I found the unit chaotic and sprawling. I was often working on several ideas at once. As such my sketchbook lost some of the continuity I am used to, I found I had to organise it thematically rather than chronologically. The result is more obviously a a working document, especially when compared to my Part 3 sketchbook which was very controlled and well laid out.

My final selection has been tidily bound and looks quite professional. The overall impression I get when I look through it is that there is a variety of quirky pieces that reflect me as an individual. The question remains whether or not to add the labels I prepared?

There is some duplication of prints towards the end when I simply couldn’t choose between them. I hope I have shown enough discernment, it seemed important to show how different prints from the same plate could be!

DEMONSTRATION OF CREATIVITY:

I think Printmaking came more naturally to me than some of the other mixed media techniques I have encountered so far. This provided the temptation for me to get bogged down in the production of ‘perfect’ images, I am happy to say that I think I managed to avoid this. My choice to begin the exercises using acrylic paints, copy paper and the Gelli Plate encouraged me to concentrate on the techniques and to be experimental. I worried that more expensive materials would foster the perfectionism that I am trying to ‘grow out of’.

My tutor’s pointer to use the processes from earlier in the course to introduce surface relief was certainly instrumental in creating some of the more imaginative pieces. I used the pleating, folding, cutting, tearing and crumpling exercises from Part 1. I was pleased to be able to incorporate encapsulation with resin from Part 3, to ‘Preserve the Transient’. Adapting the collatype technique allowed me to prepare a reverential wrapping paper that drew on the themes of concealment and revelation from Part 2.

CONTEXT:

The biggest difference in my research for this unit seems to be the shift from WHAT other artists have done, to HOW they did it, which in turn leads to the question WHY. This was more deeply embedded than it might appear and ran right from the beginning of the unit where I discovered the subtractive monotypes that lie beneath some of Degas paintings right through to end where I considered the role the of Collatype Plate. My research challenged me to think beyond the print as a final product and to consider them as another stage in the process. I think this will formulate the work for Part 5. (see bottom of this post)

Cari’s challenge to write less without paring too much away, was quite a conundrum! I have done my best to be more succinct (I don’t know how she found out my word count or I could check and compare!) whilst maintaining the same level of reflection. My sketchbook is more visual and relies many on notes to support the work, however, I did still include a lot of my research it rather than on the blog.

4.2.3; Scope and Potential

Embracing Collatype Printing was actually very rewarding. I didn’t find it nearly as ‘pre-school’ as I thought! I surprised myself at the level of sophistication I was able to achieve, even though the prints had many imperfections. I believe there is a lot more that could be done both with the technique itself and the prints I have already produced.

The Prints:

I would like to experiment with adding to the prints I have made. Earlier work in Project 1 showed me the dangers of adding too much detail in the form of a heavy outline. I found this made the shapes very static and the overall print too dark:

I am hopeful that further experimentation with collage gave me the skills to avoid this happening again:

The photographs below demonstrate that adding colour to a ‘failed’ print can be effective but I still think more embellishment is required. I will be adding machine stitch.

The Abaca prints below could be adhered to another substrate in the manner of Chine Colle. I would then be interested to see how hand embroidery can be used to develop the image.

There would be little to lose from working on top of failed prints: either too light or too dark, they could be used to form the scaffold of another piece of work.

The Plates:

What excites me more than developing the prints, is the thought of using the used plates for something else…

The Cromer Pier Plate (2) has already been covered with Gesso, I intend to paint over this. I think I will find manipulating paint with a brush over the textures in my own time, easier than racing to apply sticky ink and hoping it transfers to the paper.

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The abstract plate (1), that gained the look of a Miro painting after inking has been coated with several layers of latex and scrim. I have an idea that when they are separated the latex will pull a certain amount of residual ink with it. Will I then be able to cast that? Will the ink then colour plaster (like Rachel Whiteread’s book sculptures from Part 3? I don’t know what will happen and that is what attracts me!

The construction of the Windmill plate (3) meant that many features were set in relief to achieve a clean white result on the finished print. What if this were cast? The detail would be reversed, would this change its appearance? Would this change the way it printed?

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I am reluctant to say very much more as I believe these ideas will form the basis of Part 5. I had an entirely different idea of where I was headed for Part 5 but these thoughts coupled with the discovery of contemporary artist Arlene Shechet has changed this.

Shechet has a healthy attitude toward ‘play’ and her process is really organic because of this: “You are prepared but you don’t know anything” ¹ This is exactly how I want to work in Part 5. She uses a number of materials to form her sculptures and is not tied to any particular technique, she points out: “The thing that’s unseen is sometimes way more interesting than what you want people to see” ² and I find myself in total agreement. I often find the incidental products of making as attractive as the work itself, be it the table protector, the cloths used to clean up, the stencils, the mould from a casting OR the Plates used for printing… I think I have found my way forward!

¹ and ²: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/arlene-shechet-pentimento-in-paper-short

4.2; Collatypes

If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t looking forward to making Collatype Prints. Sometimes I feel a bit like an imposter on this Mixed Media Unit, the things I feel I should get excited about just don’t ‘do’ it for me.

I spent some time looking at the work of contemporary collatype printers, particularly Laurie Rudling and I read the book Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking by Brenda Hartill and Richard Clarke¹ paying close attention to the processes of the featured artists. I found the work appealed to me much more than I thought it would. I was forced to pause and reflect on why I hadn’t expected to like this technique.

I don’t think I am alone in my reservations about Collatype as a printing method. As I researched online I found collatype devotees fiercely defending their choice of technique. The above book alludes to the fairly recent acceptability of collatype in the Art world.

I concluded, that I came to the exercise with preconceived perceptions of what to expect. Sometimes I still have to fight the voice inside that asks: ‘Why use crap off the floor, when I could draw it properly?’ I have many years of experience working in an Early Years setting, with five year olds, where we routinely play with sand, rice, glue and the like. I think I was expecting Collatypes to be similarly novice and amateurish. I certainly wasn’t expecting to discover anything new or produce anything sophisticated.

Research gave me the impetus to put my snobbery (?) to one side and approach this Project with an open mind. After all, PVA and Polyfilla are inexpensive, I had nothing to lose but was gaining the opportunity to play with textures and materials.

¹ HARTILL & CLARKE> Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking (2005) BLOOMSBURY

A4; The Selection Process (What NOT to Include?)

There were practical reasons for beginning the Selection Process at the end of Project One, rather than waiting until the end of the unit:

  • as usual I went totally overboard with the quantity I produced. I had stacks of prints to sort and quite frankly they were driving me crazy!
  • I needed some clarity regarding what I had done and what I needed to do next.
  • I found during Part 3, when I thought I had finished, sorting the work inspired further pieces that I felt were amongst my strongest.
  • I was waiting for Collagraph plate to dray and for Akua ink to arrive.

The process felt very different this time, maybe more physical? I found myself actively involved in shifting and sorting the prints. In some regards it was easier, I felt quite detached and emotionless as I rejected some prints. Others were harder to part with.

This post discusses how I decided what NOT to select

Some were clearly not good, they were easily dispatched.

Some I liked but were more reflective of the ‘old me’, they were tricky not to include!

Some were multiples (I totally over did 4.1.1 and 4.1.2) I had to find a balance between showing the learning, representing the effort and not boring everyone to tears with sunflower after sunflower! No one wants to see this:

Sometimes it was very hard to chose between similar prints. The Emin inspired back-drawings for example contained interesting elements but there was no clear front runner.

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I found it hard not to include any of the knitted stitch prints, I wanted to, simply because I liked the idea. In the end I decided no matter how good the idea was the prints just didn’t do anything for me, I found them a bit bland and safe.

Another difficulty was rejecting a print that represented a lot of work on my part. I tried long and hard to resolve back-drawing on stencil prints producing muddy images. In the detail below you can see that it was beginning to work but a poor choice of substrate (copy paper) had led to buckling. I mounted the print below, but ended up removing it.

This was also the case for the oil paint/brusho back-drawing experiments. They just don’t work, I think the reason lie in the original sketch and/or the subject. The focus of the drawing was the pattern made by the ivy leaves, yet the darkest most dominant part of the composition was the space between them. Had I used it as a negative space exercise I might have had more success. There are also colour issues with the blue/green both with the falsely intense brusho and synthetic looking straight-from-the-tube oil paint.

I really enjoyed 4.1.3 and totally threw myself into it but actually produced very little that I could use, my resolution to this was to include a lot of it in my sketchbook. I found that I used my sketchbook very differently during this unit. It was much harder to keep it chronological, my ideas became rather scattered amongst the pages. I discussed this issue with course-mate Inger, I was extremely tempted to cut it up and re-work it into some sort of order but we both agreed this would not be time well spent. In the end I decided to ‘go with the flow’ and stick things in thematically. I prefer my organised layouts in the A3 sketchbook but I think this one will show the same level of learning- in a rather more organic (chaotic) fashion- it is a working document after all.

 

A3; Response to Tutor Feedback

I have been thinking about this post for a while. By concentrating my efforts on my tutor’s Pointers for the Next Assignment from Assignment 2 feedback, I seemed to make good progress during Part 3.

Pointers for the next assignment (A2)

  • Explore the broadest potential of the materials and processes you’re exploring – be experimental with structure, scale, shape and volume, as well as pattern, texture, colour and decorative elements.
  • Push yourself to keep exploring imperfection and irregularity.
  • Avoid considering outcomes/products, focus on generating a wide range of samples which exploit the creative potential of both process and materials.
  • Emphasise experimentation over refinement

I am pleased that Cari acknowledged the range of approaches I used as I explored the potential of different moulding and casting materials. I tried really hard to break the habit of pre-planning outcomes, allowing the materials to determine what I did instead and Cari recognised this:

“The process of experimentation was thorough and logical but you’ve allowed yourself room to play.”

I did gain a much greater appreciation of the importance of being playful, which was an important lesson to learn. I find my previous hesitancy to ‘play’ quite ironic as in my day job I work in a Reception class (4-5year olds) where we are constantly extolling the virtues of learning through play! This brought to mind a quote by Kleon:

“A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them. I’ve tried to take jobs where I can learn things I can use in my work later- my library  job taught me how to do research, my Web design job taught me how to build websites, and my copywriting job taught me how to sell things with words.”¹

In other words we work with what we know, I do actually know how to play- I do it to make a living, I just hadn’t made the connection to my art work before!

For me, Part 3 was about the shift in my perspective, I feel that I changed considerably as I forced myself to challenge my preconceived notions of perfection: ‘By being less precious about the need for things to be correct or perfect, you’ve generated a really enthusiastic body of work.’ Searching for ‘imperfection and irregularity’ and indeed ’emphasising experimentation over refinement’ were central to this. I need to continue to work with these values throughout Part 4 (and beyond). Even I can see the benefit this is having on my output.

I wrote a lot! I found the process of reflection really useful and Cari seems to agree: it’s clear the questions have made you think differently about the work’ However she also noted the vast word count: ‘Your entries for part 3 alone total over 12,500 words. If each part was that long, the total for the module would be 60,000+ words.’ I feel the quantity I wrote reflects the period of introspection that ran alongside Part 3, but appreciate that I need to try to be more ‘succinct’ as she puts it.

Cari identified one the questions I asked of myself as interesting: “Am I capturing the texture of another material or am I creating a new one?” She says:

‘This interplay between what is real, what is a copy and what is completely ‘new’ is a really interesting question relating to innovation and the creative process. At what point do two materials combined lose their innate personalities to create something wholly new?’

I find this comment inspiring, I am keen to investigate it further as I progress through Part 4.

One of the things I identified as a potential stumbling block as I began Printmaking was my reluctance to layer. In the past I have often made the excuse “I can’t layer”, what I mean by this is: I can produce ‘something’ but then I don’t know what to do with it. I think this is related to my perfectionism and fear of spoiling what is already there. Cari advised:

‘If you don’t layer, you won’t know if it works or not, so you have to test it! In terms of ‘spoiling’ what you’ve done, that’s already an anxiety inducing moment! Depending on how much you like the original print, and how much time you have, you could always photograph and print out small images of the print onto which you can draw new layers to get a sense of how it might work. At least then you can feel fairly confident that the compositional arrangement will work.’

I like this safety measure, but I am really keen to build on the developments of Part 3,     (seeking out imperfection, irregularity and experimentation) by now addressing this ‘precious’ attitude I seem to have acquired over the years.

All quotes from Tutor Report 15/08/17 by Cari Morton, except ¹ KLEON A. Steal like an artist (2012) WORKMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY. P124