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Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

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Choosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint

544 pages
7 heures
May 15, 2009


Choosing Craft explores the history and practice of American craft through the words of influential artists whose lives, work, and ideas have shaped the field. Editors Vicki Halper and Diane Douglas construct an anecdotal narrative that examines the post-World War II development of modern craft, which came of age alongside modernist painting and sculpture and was greatly influenced by them as well as by traditional and industrial practices.

The anthology is organized according to four activities that ground a professional life in craft--inspiration, training, economics, and philosophy. Halper and Douglas mined a wide variety of sources for their material, including artists' published writings, letters, journal entries, exhibition statements, lecture notes, and oral histories. The detailed record they amassed reveals craft's dynamic relationships with painting, sculpture, design, industry, folk and ethnic traditions, hobby craft, and political and social movements. Collectively, these reflections form a social history of craft.

Choosing Craft ultimately offers artists' writings and recollections as vital and vivid data that deserve widespread study as a primary resource for those interested in the American art form.

May 15, 2009

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Choosing Craft - The University of North Carolina Press

Choosing Craft

Choosing Craft



The University of North Carolina Press
Chapel Hill

© 2009 The University of North Carolina Press

All rights reserved

Manufactured in the United States of America

Designed by Richard Hendel

Set in TheSerif types by Tseng Information Systems, Inc.

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.

The University of North Carolina Press has been a member of the Green Press Initiative since 2003.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Choosing craft : the artist’s viewpoint / edited by Vicki Halper and Diane Douglas.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-8078-3119-9 (cloth : alk. paper)

1. Handicraft—United States—History. 2. Artisans—United States—Anecdotes. I. Halper, Vicki. II. Douglas, Diane, 1951-TT23.C56 2009

745.5—dc22     2008043772

13 12 11 10 09 5 4 3 2 1






Anni Albers, 1944

George Nakashima, 1953

Marguerite Wildenhain, 1959

Mary Caroline (M. C.) Richards, 1962

Val Cushing, James McKinnell,

Daniel Rhodes, and Robert Turner, 1966

Paul Manners, 1978

Miriam Schapiro, 1980

Arthur Espenet (Art) Carpenter, 1982

Scott Burton, 1987

Robert Kehlmann, 1988

Joyce Scott, 1995

Bruce Metcalf, 2002

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, 2005


Darrell Adams, 1992

Nora Naranjo-Morse, 1994

Diego Romero, 1994

Mark Lindquist, 2001

Sonya Y. S. Clark, 2004

Robert Ebendorf, 2004

Mary Lee Bendolph, 2006


George Nakashima, 1953, 1981

Albert Paley, 1982

Mary Lee Hu, 1985

Paul Marioni, 1985

Nick Cave, 1989

Ann Hamilton, 1990

Warren Seelig, 1992

Erika Ayala Stefanutti and Gary Griffin, 1994

Michael Lucero, 1996 58

Lesley Dill, 2000

Bruce Metcalf, 2000

Dorothy Gill Barnes, 2003

Sheila Hicks, 2004

Gerhardt Knodel, 2004



Tage Frid, 1975

Paul Soldner, 1978

Warren MacKenzie, 1981

Richard Marquis, 1995

Fritz Dreisbach, 2004

Tom Joyce, 2004


Harvey Littleton, 1963

Marguerite Wildenhain, 1973

Wendell Castle, 1981

Lillian Elliott, 1989

Angela Fina, 1989–90

Stephen DeStaebler, 1994

Arline Fisch, 2001

Harvey Littleton, 2001


Dale Chihuly and Lewis (Buster) Simpson, 1972

Margret Craver, 1982

Albert Paley, 1982

Judy Kensley McKie, 1986

Richard Notkin, 1998

Gyöngy Laky, 1998–99

Arline Fisch, 2001

L. Brent Kington, 2001

Fritz Dreisbach, 2004

Gerry Williams, 2004

Sabrina Gschwandtner, 2007



Charles M. Harder, 1945

Edith Heath, 1957, 1990–92, 1994

Jack Lenor Larsen, 1971

John Lewis, 1978

Helena Hernmarck, 1987

Norma Minkowitz, 1987

Byron Temple, 1987

Margaret De Patta, 1989

Richard Marquis, 1989

Sheila Hicks, 2004


Marguerite Wildenhain, 1957

Arline Fisch, 1981

Henry Halem, 1982–83

Alphonse Mattia, 1985

Francis Whitaker, 1986

Donald Friedlich, 1988

Nora Naranjo-Morse, 1992

Betty Woodman, 1998

Jun Kaneko, 2000

Fritz Dreisbach, 2004


Dorothy Liebes, 1947, 1960

Charles Ormond Eames Jr., 1957

Jack Lenor Larsen, 1958

Kay Sekimachi, 1963

John Prip, 1964

Bill Brown, 1980

Ed Rossbach, 1982

Katherine Westphal, 1984

Daniel Owen (Dan) Dailey, 1989

Lillian Elliott, 1989

Arline Fisch, 2001

Robert Ebendorf, 2004



Marguerite Wildenhain, 1953

Charles Ormond Eames Jr., 1957

Peter Voulkos, 1957

Richard Artschwager, 1965

Claes Oldenburg, 1965

Robert Arneson, 1974

James Krenov, 1975

John Mason, 1977

Howard Kottler, 1977, 1978

John McQueen, 1978

Ed Rossbach, undated

Wayne Higby, 1982

David Huchthausen, 1984

Wendell Castle, 1985

Stanley Lechtzin, 1988

Mike Kelley, 1991

Arline Fisch, 1994

Rosemary Apple Blossom Lonewolf, 1996

Richard Notkin, 1997

Betty Woodman, 1998

Mark Hewitt, 2000

Michael James, 2003

Josiah McElheny, 2004


Ed Rossbach, 1973

Robert Kehlmann, 1979

Judy Chicago, 1979, 1980

James Melchert, 1980

Katherine Westphal, 1984

Susan Kingsley, 1987

Keith A. Lewis, 1991

Lou Cabeen, 1993

Garth Johnson, 2000

Tom Joyce, 2004

Liz Collins, Sabrina Gschwandtner, Cat Mazza, and Allison Smith, 2008



Choosing Craft is an assemblage of artists’ words describing their lives, work, ideas, and values as they relate to the history and practice of craft in the United States. It is an anecdotal narrative, thematically arranged, that examines the post–World War II development of modern craft, which came of age beside modernist painting and sculpture and was seminally influenced by them as well as by traditional and industrial practices.

As an art discipline, craft has been poorly documented in academic and critical journals and texts and largely omitted from the art-historical canon. Reasons for this marginalization are many.¹ The nature of craftwork—its historical associations with artisanal labor; folk, ethnic, and communal traditions; and the anonymous production, often by women, of items for domestic use—distanced it from many core values and protagonists of high modernism. Given the general disinterest of the mainstream art establishment, craft scholarship—historical documentation, critique, and theory—developed as a separate track in insular contexts driven primarily by practitioners themselves.

Makers’ letters, reports from craft conferences, articles in medium-specific periodicals, lecture notes, and oral histories constitute the primary documentary record of modern craft history. We targeted these materials as the foundation and research focus for this book. Our purpose is to present artists’ writings and recollections as vital and vivid data that deserve widespread study as a primary resource for craft scholarship.

Following the lead of these artist-constructed sources, we listened as makers argued, theorized, wondered, and rhapsodized about craft. Our method was open-ended and inclusive in examining their motives, training, work habits, markets, and diverse networks of association. What emerged from this investigation to become the organizing structure of this anthology was a picture of craft as cultural labor drawn from individual artists’ experiences and opinions. This perspective differs from many other artists-on-art books, which often exclude matters of lifestyle and economics in favor of a narrower focus on aesthetics alone.


We concentrated on the post–World War II period because of the availability of printed materials and interviews and the huge growth of the studio craft movement in that era. The war sets the historical context for the anthology. It prompted the emigration to the United States of influential artists, particularly refugees from Nazi Germany, such as Anni Albers and Marguerite Wildenhain, whose education, employment, and lives were threatened by the Holocaust. American veterans returning from European and Asian fronts, such as Peter Voulkos, brought personal knowledge of other cultures and were able to enter university arts programs without concern about cost or parental disapproval thanks to tuition provided by the G.I. Bill. Conscientious objectors such as Paul Soldner and Robert Turner, who had refused to fight in the war, and Japanese American internees such as George Nakashima joined with others who were dismayed at the slaughter and opposed to the growing corporate influence in American economics. They swelled the ranks of makers who viewed a life in the crafts as an alternative to social conformity and traditional careers.

Those who chose craft after World War II entered an international art world soon to be dominated for the first time by American artists rather than Parisians. Abstract expressionist, or New York school, painters, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, strongly influenced the aesthetics of Peter Voulkos and his followers. Energized by developments in the art world, Rose Slivka, the influential writer and editor in chief of Craft Horizons magazine from 1959 to 1979, promoted a shift away from traditional craft forms, skills, and techniques toward a vision of craft that emphasized innovation and individual expression. She championed Voulkos’s work with the same zeal and heroic claims that Clement Greenberg used in promoting the American abstract painters.

Slivka’s view of craft as sculpture introduced a debate that would pervade teaching, criticism, and marketing for the remainder of the twentieth century. Makers, critics, and historians splintered into fractious subgroups over the questions What is craft? and Is it art? At the extremes, traditional practitioners opposed innovators, producers resented academics, professionals were split from hobbyists, and industrial designers were banned.

The social ferment of the 1960s and 1970s, expressed in the civil rights movement, hippie counterculture, and Vietnam War protests, reinforced the post–World War II attraction of craft production as an antiestablishment activity. Choosing craft was a way of choosing to live off the grid in relation to the dominant capitalist culture. This identification of craft with the counterculture waned as the century progressed. Makers became more entrepreneurial about marketing, and commercial outlets (particularly galleries and craft fairs) proliferated. Craft was more frequently exhibited and collected in nonspecialized art museums, further diminishing the isolation of the field.

The political and aesthetic alignments of craft and postmodern art became increasingly clear in the late twentieth century. The marginalization of craft outside the art establishment was illustrative of feminists’ critiques of the exclusion of women from the art-historical canon and disdain of the domestic as a valid subject for making art. So, too, craft’s roots in ethnic and traditional communities connected it to artists’ critiques arising from multiculturalism and their interrogation of labor practices and globalization.

The twenty-first century heralded a rapprochement between the industrial design community and the craft establishment, which began again to embrace artist-designed, mass-produced objects. Important institutions that once featured the word craft in their titles changed their names to reflect openness to other arts and to industry—for example, the American Craft Museum in New York became the Museum of Arts and Design (2002) and the California College of Arts and Crafts became the California College of the Arts (2003). These movements toward hybridization signaled a reversal of the previous generation’s urge to separate craft from other art practices. Choosing Craft was compiled within this pluralistic context.


We began our research with a targeted list of about 100 artists whom we deemed to be important and influential to the field. This list grew to more than 150 makers after consultation with other historians and through leads we encountered in our research. We attempted to locate writings and interviews for each of the targeted artists; we neither conducted interviews ourselves nor transcribed materials that existed solely on audio tape or film. Whenever possible, we tried to find sources contemporaneous with the events described.

Choosing Craft does not offer a linear history recording the flow of people and events that shaped the field. Organized by cultural topics rather than chronology, it focuses instead on dominant themes—inspiration, educational opportunities, working conditions, and philosophical tensions—that shaped and continue to shape the field. A noteworthy finding of our research is that so many fundamental questions about craft are recurrent. Concerns about technique and technology, ornamentation and utility, tradition and innovation are not the proving ground or battleground for any single generation. Our approach highlights the emergence and resurgence of these central themes and tensions throughout the period without attempting to resolve conflicts or ambiguities about craft’s definition or disciplinary borders—for example, distinctions between craft, design, and fine art. Our editorial perspective, grounded in the field of cultural studies, identifies a web of networks rather than one essential character for craft. It examines craft’s multiple roots in and ongoing relationships with painting and sculpture, design, industry, folk and ethnic traditions, hobby craft, and political and social movements.²

More than 100 different makers are represented in Choosing Craft, some with multiple entries. Our primary criterion for selection was pertinent content and vivid words, with wide allowances made for the difference between written texts, which are reviewed and edited, and transcribed interviews, which may have the hesitations, repetitions, and colloquialisms of informal conversation. We have attempted to do justice to the broad range of craft contexts and to represent a spectrum of artists whose training and cultures differ. Included are the words of teachers and students, masters and apprentices, designers and producers, Native Americans and immigrants, the status quo and the disaffected. Recognized leaders in the field are featured along with artists not traditionally associated with craft.

Our choices of terminology support this philosophical perspective. The designators artists and makers are used generically and interchangeably to describe the variety of participants included in the text. We also use potter or metalsmith, for example, when applicable. We deliberately do not use the terms artisan and craftsman to avoid implying categorical distinctions between craft, design, and art.


Choosing Craft is organized according to four seminal activities that ground a professional life in the crafts. Each is explored in depth as a part in the anthology. The first and most elemental activity is the commitment to pursue craft as a vocation, which is described in part 1, Choosing Craft. The chapters in this first part articulate the values, inspirations, and experiences that attract artists to their professions.

Getting an Education, the second part, explores the varied ways artists learned their craft in the aftermath of World War II, when there were few prescribed paths to guide their efforts. The find-it-yourself and do-it-yourself nature of training for the postwar generation profoundly influenced the character and structure of craft education in subsequent decades, resonating with the counterculture ethos of the 1960s and 1970s. The entrepreneurial spirit that initiated new academic institutions and programs also stimulated options in nonacademic training. These include artists’ support groups and communities of practice—for example, shared work sites, annual conferences, sales and marketing networks, and virtual communication exchanges—which have remained a distinctive and influential feature of craft education to this day.

Making a Living, part 3, looks at the economics of craft, featuring artists who produce one-of-a-kind and limited-edition objects along with those who design mass-produced goods for others. They sell their art through fairs, galleries, department stores, and wholesalers. There is enormous diversity in their professional roles, with many artists supplementing their positions as sole practitioners in order to design or produce for industry. At play are considerations of income, creative vision, affiliation, tolerance (or, in some cases, hunger) for risk, and preference for working alone or with others.

In Confronting Craft, the anthology’s final part, artists reflect on the definition and boundaries of craft as a discipline and its relationship with the culture as a whole. Here makers accept or reject traditional constraints and open themselves to new influences and challenges. Spirited philosophical, cultural, and political confrontations highlight artists as agents of change who make or break rules and as individuals confronting established networks of power.

Choosing Craft demonstrates that the impulses to learn, make, and theorize about craft have always been, and remain, complicated and multifaceted.³ Craft absorbs and affects many art practices. Its history in modern America is intertwined with industrial, cultural, and intellectual history. That is why we believe it is best studied through an interdisciplinary approach. We hope that Choosing Craft promotes broader recognition and study of craft within the larger narrative of American art and cultural history.


All entries are chronological within each chapter; each chapter starts anew with the postwar years. However, because many entries are reminiscences, which are dated by the time of writing or recording rather than the years being referenced, the chronology is not always strict.

In editing the entries, we use standard ellipses (three or four dots) to indicate where a phrase or sentence has been omitted or where an interviewer’s interjection or question was left out because of irrelevance to the flow of the artist’s thought. An entire line of dots is used to indicate longer excluded passages.


1. See James H. Sanders, Moving Beyond the Binary, in Objects and Meaning: New Perspectives on Art and Craft, edited by M. Anna Fariello and Paula Owen (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2004), 88–103.

2. Many art critics and historians have recognized craft’s polyglot nature and argued for research and analysis of the field informed by material culture studies, social history, and cultural studies. The following scholars and their ideas have been especially influential for us: John Michael Vlatch, The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978); Arthur Danto, Furniture as Art, Nation, April 23, 1990, 571–75; Cheryl White, The Voices of Craft, Art-week 27 (November 1996): 12–17; Paula Owen, Labels, Lingo, and Legacy: Crafts at a Crossroads, in Fariello and Owen, Objects and Meaning, 24–35; Glenn Adamson and Edward Ned Cooke Jr., Conference Preview, American Craft Council News and Views 1, no. 2 (2006): 8–11; and Edward S. Cooke Jr., Modern Craft and the American Experience, American Art 21, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 2–9. Glen Adamson’s excellent Thinking through Craft (Oxford: Berg, 2007) was published as this book went to press.

3. See Katy Kline, introduction to Subversive Crafts (Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology List Visual Arts Center, 1993); Paul Greenhalgh, Craft and Modernity, in Exploring Contemporary Craft: History, Theory and Critical Writing, edited by Jean Johnson (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2002), 43, 118; and Lesley Jackson, Craft Wars, 16 Icon (October 2004), .


Choosing Craft was conceived at a 2003 gathering of artists, curators, and academics at the University of North Carolina’s Center for Craft, Creativity and Design (CCCD). The purpose of the colloquium was to delineate the scope and contents of the first college textbook documenting the history of American studio craft and promoting its inclusion in the larger narrative of American art. The authors, who were present at this meeting, additionally proposed a complementary anthology, Choosing Craft, that would provide artists’ perspectives on craft history.

The University of North Carolina Press agreed to publish the anthology and be the conduit for grants. The Windgate Foundation, whose support of scholarship in the crafts is unexcelled, provided funds for research, rights and reproductions, and manuscript preparation. Matching grants were given by the National Endowment for the Arts and the CCCD. In addition, the Smithsonian American Art Museum awarded a James Renwick Senior Fellowship to Vicki Halper for research at the Archives of American Art, the nation’s largest repository of artists’ papers. We are endlessly grateful to the funders and UNC Press for their support.

We are deeply appreciative of those who have encouraged this project, given us advice, critiqued our results, located materials, and granted permissions.

For the provision of essential support, we thank the participants of the 2003 gathering at the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, which inspired Choosing Craft, and Dian Magie, the center’s remarkable director; Charles Grench, senior editor at the University of North Carolina Press, who shepherded this project to completion and oversaw its funding and the readers whose insightful suggestions improved our work; Jennifer Mills, our indispensable research associate; Petra Siemion, who transcribed entries and prepared the manuscript; and Peggy Weiss, who helped with artists’ biographies.

For advice, recommendations, referrals, and criticism, we are indebted to

Glenn Adamson, head of graduate studies, Victoria and Albert Museum

Susan Tabor Avila, artist

Jim Baker, director, Anderson Ranch

Bruce Bernstein, assistant director for cultural resources, National Museum of the American Indian

Garth Clark, ceramics historian and former director, Garth Clark Gallery

Stephen A. Clerico, administrative assistant, Furniture Society of America

Edward S. Cooke Jr., Charles F. Montgomery Professor of American Decorative Arts, Yale University

Susan Cummins, director, Rotasa Foundation

Andrew Glasgow, executive director, Furniture Society of America

Amelia Goerlitz, fellowship program administrator, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Tony Hepburn, former artist-in-residence and head of the Ceramics Department, Cranbrook Academy of Art

Patricia Hickman, professor emeritus of art, University of Hawaii

Jane Milosch, former curator, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Liza Kirwin, curator of manuscripts, Archives of American Art

Albert LeCoff, director, The Wood Turning Center

Patricia Malarcher, editor, Surface Design Journal

Rick Mastelli, artist, editor, and principal, Image & Word

Lydia Matthews, associate dean of educational programs, associate professor, The New School

Paula Owen, president, Southwest School of Art and Craft

Bruce Pepich, director, Racine Art Museum

Beth Sellars, independent curator

Patterson Sims, director, Montclair Art Museum

JoAnn Stabb, lecturer emerita of design, University of California, Davis

Davira Taragin, director of exhibitions and programs, Racine Art Museum

Karen Tsujimoto, senior curator of art, Oakland Museum of California

Katherine Westphal, artist

For stewardship of source materials and attentive help, we are beholden to librarians and archivists nationwide, in particular

Columbia University, rare book and manuscript librarians

Gail Bardhan and Elizabeth Hylen, Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass

Elizabeth Gulacsy, Scholes Library, Alfred University

Wendy Hurlock, Archives of American Art

Amanda Jacobs, Archives of California Art

Seattle Public Library, periodicals division staff

Gerald Stone, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

David Shuford, American Craft Council library

For assistance in locating photographs, we thank

Josh DeWeese, former resident director, Archie Bray Foundation

Kate Elliott, Elliott Brown Gallery

Arline Fisch, professor emerita of art, San Diego State University

Michael James, professor, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Sam Jornlin, Voulkos & Co. Catalogue Project

Ree Kaneko, cofounder, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art

Robert Kehlmann, artist

Stuart Kestenbaum, director, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Susan Kingsley, artist

Frank Lloyd and Paul Rand, Frank Lloyd Gallery

John McQueen, artist

Michele Rogers, director, Bartow History Center

Peter Russo, program coordinator, Dieu Donné Papermill

Holly Sabin, Perimeter Gallery

Jay Stewart, trustee, Brian and Edith Heath Trust

Katherine Westphal, artist

For love and support, we treasure our families. Our heartfelt thanks to Gerry, Steve, David, and Ari.

Above all, we thank the artists who are the inspiration for this book.

Note: All attempts have been made to contact copyright holders to the materials reproduced in Choosing Craft. We apologize to any copyright holders we have been unable to locate or have inadvertently missed and ask that they contact the University of North Carolina Press.

Choosing Craft

Part 1: Choosing Craft

Pursuing a career in crafts in the United States after World War II was a personal choice. Gender, family, or ethnic heritage might influence a maker’s profession but seldom mandated it. Instead Americans entered the crafts through diverse, sometimes unpredictable routes. In the chapters in part 1, three paths into the field are explored: a desire to have a career that is compatible with one’s values, particularly opposition to a militarist or consumerist society; the influence of childhood experience and ancestry; and the lure of one of the traditional craft materials—clay, metal, fiber, wood, and glass. These paths are not mutually exclusive.

Chapter 1: Integrating Art and Life

The notion that making craft is an answer to society’s ills and a route to spiritual and moral health has been prominent since the British arts and crafts movement of the Victorian era. In reaction to the Industrial Revolution, which they linked to the degradation of the work force, English theorists John Ruskin, William Morris, and others advocated a return to handcraft. They believed such a return would promote the integrity and moral health of workers and the culture as a whole.

After World War II, many who chose to pursue craft professionally reiterated notions that personal and societal well-being was only possible outside the military-industrial complex and the corporate world. Crafts became a vocation that reinforced an ideal vision of society without moral compromise.

World War II looms over midcentury makers. Anni Albers and Marguerite Wildenhain, both refugees from Nazi Germany, see the discipline and self-direction of craft as a source of social integrity and an antidote to cultural chaos. Robert Turner, a conscientious objector during that war, notes that he and his colleagues were more concerned with a simple, independent way of life than with the objects they produced. His use of the word integration to define a value-centered life can be compared with M. C. Richards’s term centering, which refers less to lifestyle than to a psychological state conducive to personal growth.

In the 1960s and 1970s craft also became a way of affirming links to gender, class, and ethnicity. Still antiestablishment, makers whose intent was overtly political changed the language and content of craft by including implied or overt commentary on social issues in the objects they created. Miriam Schapiro and other feminists, for example, embraced craft as a way to identify with the history and culture of women. They associated craft with decorativeness, domesticity, small scale, and intensity of labor—characteristics rejected in abstract expressionist painting, among other movements acclaimed by the art world establishment of the era. In recent years, with the growth of identity politics initiated by the women’s movement, Joyce Scott links craft with her social class and Consuelo Underwood with her ethnic heritage.

The discussion of craft as a political tool continues in more theoretical, less personal terms, in chapter 11, Critiquing Culture.

Anni Albers in her studio at Black Mountain College, 1941. (Photo by Alex [Bill] Reed, courtesy of The North Carolina State Archives, © 2006 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York)

ANNI ALBERS (b. 1899 in Berlin; d. 1994 in Orange, Connecticut) was Bauhaus-trained and director of its weaving workshop in Dessau and Berlin between 1930 and 1933. In 1933 Albers and her husband, the painter Josef Albers, left Nazi Germany to teach at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, where she was an assistant professor of art from 1933 to 1949.

Albers published this impassioned prescription for a renewed world in Design magazine in 1944, soon after the German surrender in World War II. She denigrates academic studies and proposes the creative arts, particularly craft, as the route to fostering courageous, antiauthoritarian, and disciplined individuals.

Our world goes to pieces, we have to rebuild our world. We investigate and worry and analyze and forget that the new comes about through exuberance and not through a defined deficiency. We have to find our strength rather than our weakness. Out of the chaos of collapse we can save the lasting: we still have our right or wrong, the absolute of our inner voice—we still know beauty, freedom, happiness .… unexplained and unquestioned.

Intuition saves us examination.

We have to gather our constructive energies and concentrate on the little we know, the few remaining constants. But do we know how to build? Education meant to prepare us. But how much of education is concerned with doing and how much with recording? How much of it with productive speculation and how much with repeating? Research work and engineering work, when they are creative, are too specialized to give any general basis of constructive attitude. We neglect a training in experimenting and doing; we feel safer as spectators.

We rather collect than construct.

We have to learn to respond to conditions productively. We cannot master them but we can be guided by them. Limitation from the outside can stimulate our inventiveness rather than confine it. We need such flexibility of reaction in times of crisis. Too much of our education provides instead of prepares and thus loses its serving role and tends to become an end in itself. We are proud of knowledge and forget that facts only give reflected light.

Education in general means to us academic education, which becomes synonymous with an unproductive one. If we want to learn to do, to form, we have to turn to art work, and more specifically to craft work as part of it. Here learning and teaching are directed toward the development of our general capacity to form. They are directed toward the training of our sense of organization, our constructive thinking, our inventiveness and imagination, our sense of balance in form—toward the apprehension of principles such as tension and dynamic .… the long list of faculties which finally culminate in a creative art, or, more specifically in a world of art. On the basis of a creative attitude we can then add necessary information, the specialized studies. Art work deals with the problem of a piece of art, but more, it teaches the process of all creating, the shaping out of the shapeless. We learn from it, that no picture exists before it is done, no form before it is shaped. The conception of a work gives only its temper, not its consistency. Things take shape in material and in the process of working it, and no imagination is great enough to know before they are done what they will be like.

We come to know in art work that we do not clearly know where we will arrive in our work, although we set the compass, our vision; that we are led, in going along, by material and work process. We have plans and blueprints, a shorthand of material and its treatment, but the finished work is still a surprise. We learn to listen to voices: to the yes or no of our material, our tools, our time. We come to know that only when we feel guided by them our work takes on form and meaning, that we are misled when we follow only our will. All great deeds have been achieved under a sense of guidance.

We learn courage from art work. We have to go where no one was before us. We are alone and we are responsible for our actions. Our solitariness takes on religious character. This is a matter of my conscience and me.

We learn to dare to make a choice, to be independent; there is no authority to be questioned. In art work there is no established conception of work; any decision is our own, any judgment. Still, there is one right opinion as to quality of a work of art, spontaneous and indisputable—one of our absolutes. There is a final agreement upon it, of those initiated, no matter how much personal taste or trends of the time influence the judgment.

In making our choice we develop a standpoint. How much of today’s confusion is brought about through not knowing where we stand, through the inability to relate experiences directly to us. In art work any experience is immediate. We have to apply what we absorb to our work of the moment. We cannot postpone the use of what we learn. Much of our education today prepares us for a later day, a day that never comes. Knowing for later is not knowing at all.

We learn to trust our intuition. No explaining and no analyzing can help us recognize an art problem or solve it, if thinking is our only relation to it. We have to rely on inner awareness. We can develop awareness, and clear thoughts may help us cultivate it, but the essence of understanding art is more immediate than any thinking about it. Too much emphasis is given today in our general education to intellectual training. An overemphasis of intellectual work suggests an understanding on a ground which is not the ground of our own experiences. It transposes understanding into assumed experiences which can be right but may be wrong. Our valuation in school and university is almost entirely a valuation of intellectuality. The inarticulateness of the artistic person is interpreted easily as a lack of intelligence while it is rather an intelligence expressing itself in other means than words.

Our intellectual training affects our analytic—art work our synthetic ability. We are used to thinking of art work as developing taste or a sense for beauty if not as training artists. We think more of its aesthetic qualities than its constructive ones. But the constructive forces are the ones we will need today and tomorrow. We will have to construct, not analyze or decorate.

That field of art which is the least academic, the least fortified by authority, will be best fitted to prepare for constructive process. The fine arts have accumulated much dignity. The crafts? They have had a long rest. Industry overran them. We need too much too quickly for any handwork to keep up with. The crafts retreated, a defeated minority. We do not depend on their products now, but we need again their contact with material and their slow process of forming. The fine arts have specialized on a few materials today, oilpaints, watercolors, clay, bronze—mostly obedient materials. But any material is good enough for art work. The crafts, too, limited themselves; they kept to woodwork, weaving, etc. But their materials are less easily subordinated. The struggle with a rugged material teaches us best a constructive discipline.

Resistance is one of the factors necessary to make us realize the characteristics of our medium and make us question our work procedure. We have to parry the material and adjust our plans to those of this opponent. When experimenting, we are forced into flexibility of reaction to it—we have to use imagination and be inventive.

We learn patience and endurance in following through a piece of work. We learn to respect material in working it. Formed things and thoughts live a life of their own, they radiate a meaning. They need a clear form to give a clear meaning. Making something become real and take its place in actuality adds to our feeling of usefulness and security. Learning to form makes us understand all forming. This is not the understanding or misunderstanding we arrive at through the amateur explaining to the amateur—appreciating—this is the fundamental knowing.

The difficult problems are the fundamental problems; simplicity stands at the end, not at the beginning of a work. If education can lead us to elementary seeing, away from too much and too complex information, to the quietness of vision, and discipline of forming, it again may prepare us for the task ahead, working for today and tomorrow.

Source: Anni Albers, One Aspect of Art Work, Design 46, no. 4 (December 1944): 21–22, reprinted in Selected Writings on Design (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2001). © 2001 Anni Albers. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

GEORGE NAKASHIMA (b. 1905 in Spokane, Washington; d. 1990 in New Hope, Pennsylvania), an architect by training, learned fine cabinetry while interned during World War II. After his release in 1943, Nakashima settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where he established a workshop aimed at restoring a standard of excellence that he felt had been sacrificed in the drive toward commercial production of furniture.

Greatly influenced by Asian philosophy, Nakashima became a lifelong advocate for peace. In opposition to a society he views as materialistic, egoistic, and warmongering, he posits, in the typescript of a public lecture delivered in 1953, a decentralized culture in which design and handwork are integral to quiet, communal spirituality. (See also page 44.)

It seems to me that one of the most important aspects of design is integration: not only the relationship of design to the processes of manufacture, but to life itself and the creation of an environment. Design is not a free-wheeling object in space but must relate to its conditions. In a deeper sense, it is a question of the spirit and the aspirations and inspirations that are the avenue to spiritual expression. This again tempers the environment as men must, and civilizations must express themselves.

One of the greatest pitfalls at the present is the precious attitude of design for its own sake—really only a modernized version of that nineteenth century frivolity art for art’s sake. The trivial and sensation-seeking search for novelty without sufficient relationship to its purpose .… is the selfish expression of the ego. Such design cannot help man toward a better life through ordering our world and its activities.

In relationship to the environment we seek, there seems to be a choice we must make: the search for the still waters or riding the main currents of our times. Peace, tranquility, quiet—or stimulation, excitements, trivial and restless activity. This choice is perhaps final.

The first and obvious one is the expression of our age, the urban, the intellectual, the proud, the beast of prey. The second, in juxtaposition, represents decentralization, the humble and poor in spirit, the worker, the legions who mope the streets, those who find the quiet monastic pools.…

For me there was but one choice: to protest against much that is of our age, accepting some of it, and to live creatively to that end. We must render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and today, Caesar is face to face with us on our doorstep.

Once the decision is made, the forms take shape. Truth is difficult to place in form. It is much easier to be clever, but we must have honesty to have a truly satisfactory environment.

As a short personal history, I would like to mention an education in this country and in France in architecture,

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