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Smithsonian Craft Show


Jim Kelso

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Guest DFogg

Good luck at the show Jim, enjoy the cherry blossoms.

 

Looking over the show a question comes to me. Why is it that so many of the crafts are struggling toward the non-functional? If one wants to be an artist then it would make sense to do art, but this trend of form without function seems quite pointless to me. Maybe someone could enlighten this backyard craftsman who is still rooted in tradition.

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Flowering trees. What a novel idea. I can't wait. We won't see leaves here for another six weeks.

 

My favorite work at these shows is usually the most utilitarian(which seriously narrows the field),

such as Mary Jackson's baskets.

A vase that could hold flowers or a basket or box that could hold something. My other favorites would be something like Janel's that doesn't pretend to utility. I also don't "get" chairs that aren't comfortable, teapots that don't pour, etc. Give me a bowl(like those that Janel's husband Will makes) that I'll use every day that is beautiful, functional and infused with the makers longtime, hard-earned experience.

 

I think it's an imbalance of our culture to have to constantly strive for the dramatically "new".

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The selection of the exhibitors has much to do with the experiences of the jurors. Looking for the finest work among thousands of images, determining whose work might be unique artistically and expertly crafted while not being derivative, is very challenging.

 

The top national, indoor shows are populated with artist/craftsmen who are pushing the boundaries of creativity and excellence. Museums are beginning to comprehend this movement as worthy of museum gallery recognition, a shift from the bias which recognized only the "Fine Arts".

 

There are still many craftsmen making excellent hand made work, whose work may be found in more regional shows. These folks may be choosing to not pay the annual fees for non-acceptance to the big three or five. When 1200 to 2000 apply to a show which has 125-200 exhibitors, the odds are not very good for acceptance.

 

As the show composition is determined, attention to the boundary pushing work creates a movement in the art/craft world. Collectors encourage growth in the artists and those who continue to thrive will influence the work of others.

 

In my home state, there are many craftspeople making excellent work where form and function are both important. Perhaps we do not see them at the national shows because they do not need or want to be there, having chosen a successful path that does not need the stresses of traveling and the indoor show environment.

 

If one looks to the top national indoor shows to define the state of craft in America, one will not see the whole picture. Art/Craft, Craft as Art, what ever one might try to distill into a description, is only a portion of the creativity of the artists and craftspeople of the United States. We will never have a chance to see it all if we only look at a few shows. The biggies get the most press, so that is what we see. Have a look instead at the Minnesota Crafts Festival, or the Dubuque, Iowa Craft Show, or the arts displays at the state fairs (a weird assortment for sure!), or the street art fairs in your community. There are thousands of shows. Who knows how many people are making things with their hands, whose work is loved and lived with once it comes home with someone.

 

Some of the artists at the big shows have work rooted deeply in tradition, and we respond to that work with respect. Other artists experiences are rooted in the modern American movements where there is a little knowledge of a lot of traditions which is shaken up, blended and formed in expressive and unique ways. It happened in the fine arts in painting and sculpture. It happens in the traditional crafts as well. We are American. We have not the generations of tradition in the crafts to draw upon from our families, so those who choose to learn from the world's traditional ways will help preserve that knowledge with an American flavor. Those who seek to use a creative spirit unbounded by traditional training will create something entirely different.

 

To be able to move forward sometimes, I need to accept the knowledge that there are so many kinds of people in the world, so many ways of artistic expression, and so much of everything, and then let it be and walk on, perhaps with blinders on. I can't explain it all, I won't be able to understand it all, or even try to. Someone else will enjoy what I do not. That is OK. I am just glad that enough people like what I do and that I am able to continue doing what I love doing! I am grateful to those who preserve traditional skills. It is the balancing point for it all.

 

Well, my thoughts are disintegrating as time move along. Thanks for writing guys.

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Darnnit! I'll be in Washington two weekends before :rolleyes: . Cherry blossoms, but no crafts. Does the Renwick Gallery (which I think has works from some of the TCP members :) ) have a fair amount on display at any time?

 

Don- I'm with you on what you've said. Not wanting to get drawn into an art vs craft debate though.

I will say that it's clear there are two divergent paths- functional craft and art craft.

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Hi Doug. Sorry I'll miss you. The Renwick has rotating exhibitions. I can't seem to find what's in the lower gallery. There's a Caitlin painting show in the "Grand Salon". Have you been to the Freer-Sackler? Usually something wonderful there. Have fun.

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Guest DFogg

Sorry for steering into a hackneyed debate, but I am naive in these matters.

 

As an outsider craftsman it is hard to understand the thinking behind the craft system. People are inured to style and fashion, but I see a great disservice being done to the young people who are genuinely attracted to the crafts. Without a sense of the history and with no apparent appreciation for skill, what foundation is laid to build on?

 

I have no interest in the art vs craft debate, but I am deeply concerned about the crafts.

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I agree, Don, that the issue goes beyond the art/craft debate. I think the current situation is the result of several post WW2 trends. In the 50s and 60s there was a trend by very competent, trained craftsmen toward producing work that was more personal and "artistic". Nothing wrong with that: they had learned their chops, in the case of potters either from European or Japanese teachers and had the basis from which to work from. This artistic work slowly became the ideal, however, especially in the academic world, with less emphasis on basic skills and workmanship. I think in general, post war, there has been a striving toward glamour and self-referencing work in the arts along with a belief that art is evolutionary: clasicism, leading to romanticism, on to impressionism, then to modernism, post-modernism, and on and on. I don't think art really works like that at all. That sort of evolutionary context puts so much emphasis on "what's the next big thing?" rather than just producing work that is sincere, heartfelt and well made. The glamour aspect is fueled by galleries eager to find, promote and exploit the latest wunderkind. The art world malaise naturally filters down to the craft world which sadly feels it has to be recognized by the art world to be legitimized.

 

I'm not saying that craft cannot be art. To me it's a useless question, asked mostly by people writing about, not making, work. I'm also not going to criticize anyone making something with their hands and making a living out of it. This all speaks to bigger issues of what our society values.

 

You've hit a sensitive vein here. I agree that the sadest part is that there is less and less direction

for a young person eager to receive training.

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It's interesting that in a rapidly globalizing world, as a young craftsman / artist, although there is suport and critique availblae through forums like this, I am essentially on my own. there are very few structures that help craftsmen interact with each other in the real world. My sircumstances are different than many as I live in an impovrished largely rural province with a population smaller than most american midsized cities. But i persive that as our nations push for the globalization of trade and corpratization of the production of goods, the arts and the crafts become increasingly something left to the fring individual who is willing to step outside the norms of society to make a living. We become almost annacronisms in this changing world...

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Jim- I'll definitely be heading to the Freer. Not sure what's on, but there's always something to please. There's a Northwest Coast tribes exhibit at the new Native American Museum which I'll try to get to. Lots of powerful carving, I'm hoping.

 

Have a great time at your exhibit!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I am returned from the Smithsonian show. It was a good show for me and mixed for everyone as usual. Good crowd. I was pleasantly surprised with the work. Not over balanced with geometric design and primary colors.

 

I had the chance to go to both the Freer/Sackler to see the Hokusai show and the Museum of the American Indian where they had an exhibit of NW Coast art from Wasington State to Alaska. Both exhibits were fantastic and jazzed my creative and motivational juices. The craft shows are so draining in general that the inspiration from the museums was very welcome.

 

I had no idea of the depth and breadth of Hokusai's painting and thought that he was primarily a woodblock printer. Some of the paintings brought waves of emotion. He obviously had deep insights into nature and humanity.

 

The NW Coast exhibit was also very moving. I had 25 minutes before the craft show on Sunday. I was one of the first in line and went in right at 10:00am and hustled up to the exhibit so was mostly alone. Having grown up in Washington State and lived in the Puget Sound area for ten years I felt(and still feel) a deep connection to the land there and the Native art early on. There was a time when I practiced some of the formline design and seriously considered immersing myself in that art form. It never felt quite appropriate somehow though, and in retrospect, I think it was the right choice not to. Nonetheless, I find that work very powerful and evocotive of the landscape and their connection with it. I was able to go back later for another hour.

 

Here are two bits of Hokusai paintings. I'll try to locate photos of some others.

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post-4-1146141449.jpg

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  • 1 year later...

It is that time of year again!

Smithsonian Craft Show

April 10-13, 2008

 

I will be showing my work there this spring! The event is earlier than other years, and it is likely that I will see the cherry blossoms, for real! I have always missed them, but have seriously enjoyed the tiny Japanese maple leaves as they emerge in the later part of the month.

 

Janel

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Thanks for the link to the page Mike, and Jim, that is great news to learn. I really hope that I will be able to see the collection! It may be the only stop, well, there are at least a handful of others as long as I am there... oh dear, there goes an extra work day if I want to take in a fraction of what is in DC I'd like to see.

 

Janel

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