Feb 16, 2010

CAA Conference Wrap-Up: Critical Craft Forum

The CAA (College Art Association) conference was one of the most intense few days of my academic career. It was one eye-opening/enraging panel after another. In addition to hearing about some important publications and projects I had an opportunity to meet some of my academic heroes.

On day one of the conference I dragged myself out of bed for the Critical Craft Forum moderated by Namita Gupta Wiggers, Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, where she leads the exhibition, collection and education programs. The forum started at 7:30am so I expected a sparsely populated room but soon the room was two-thirds full. The forum allowed artists, critics, and art historians working in the field of craft to introduce themselves and raise issues affecting their field. There was clear divide in the room between people who came from institutions or practices that supported a broader definition of craft and those that are still fighting the tired out battle of "art vs craft."

Attendees discussed upcoming publications and projects. Susan Faxson, of the Addison Gallery of American Art, discussed her difficulties in compiling a retrospective on Shelia Hicks. Other researchers echoed her hardships and the question of researching the history objects that function in a domestic setting was raised. Joan Livingston of SAIC, said that for her publication she had to create new avenues of research. Namita then raised the question,"Is there a cannon of craft?"

The discussion of "art vs craft" was breached several times at the forum but each time it caused some attendees to roll their eyes. This division becomes a way to "other" the field of craft and while this conversation will probably never end. This debate is really a question of institutional hierarchy. I'm not interested in this conflict anymore. In Thinking Through Craft, Glenn Adamson describes craft as an attitude towards making and I think that accurately describes the my practice and the approach of my colleagues at SAIC.

Sharing an Adamson-esc approach was Maria Elena Buszek from the Kansas City Art Institute. She mentioned her forthcoming book Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art. Her publication will soon be the critical manual for the contemporary craft community. Evey time she spoke at the forum I wanted to high-five her.

As the forum concluded Namita discussed creating an online community for discussing new approaches to craft and a continuation of the issues raised in the forum. After a general consensus Namita decided to start the Critical Craft Forum on Facebook. She recorded the entire session and will soon full post a full report there.

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