Book review link: The Craft Reader

In the October 11, 2010 issue of The Nation, the magazine’s art critic Barry Schwabsky (recent and worthy successor to Arthur Danto) provides a thought-provoking review of the book “The Craft Reader” (Glenn Adamson, ed. Berg, 2009), which itself takes a particularly expansive, interdisciplinary, and eclectic approach–materially, topically, and theoretically–to craft. Recently, he notes, a number of institutions have removed the term “craft” from their names, while corners of the fine art world have witnessed a return of interest in craftsmanship and the laboriousness of the handmade after generations of conceptual or virtual (now often digital) artworks. (Benjamin hovers in the air but so does Marx, among other obvious geists). Adamson is the head of graduate studies and deputy head of research at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The volume is geared not only to presenting a history of the heavily-policed boundaries between the craft object, the industrial object, and the art object, but also to providing fodder for challenging such boundaries today–in theory as well as in practice (practice being a key concept in the book’s cross-cultural take on craft production).
Into this already promising mix, Schwabsky drops (but does not develop) his own provocative notion of the “good-enough object” (which riffs on the “good-enough mother” from psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott, who thought a lot about objects). He suggests that we shift our analytical focus away from aesthetic regimes of cultural and financial value that seek to identify ideal terms of recognition and inclusion, and toward an approach to objects that highlights the kind of work that they do–and that they allow people to do as makers and consumers and users of them–as a practical, spontaneous matter. Although he doesn’t come and out say it as such, Schwabsky advocates a material culture approach to handmade objects and the various kinds of sociocultural, economic, and political fields through which they circulate, whether we call them craft, design, art, or otherwise.

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