Garth Clark in top form

I heartily recommend that you listen to Garth Clark’s lecture at Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft. It’s typically witty, droll, informed and sharply polemical. He takes Glenn Adamson’s line that 20th century craft went astray by trying to dress itself up as visual arts.

Like all good conservative critics, Clark polices the social boundaries for empty aspirationalism, in this case craftspersons who envy the attention given to those in the visual arts. He argues that craft should accept its position outside the art world, even suggesting that the American Craft Council should move out of New York to a more modest location such as… Portland (received with great applause by his audience, naturally).

Clark blames the academic world for falsely propping up the pretensions of craft. He contrasts this with the world of design which has managed to survive on its on in the marketplace. However, he doesn’t mention the deluge of marketing associated with design, which creates an even less critical environment.

More seriously, as he is castigating the upstarts, Clark ignores the politics of craft as a critique of modernity. This has gained considerable momentum in recent years with movements such as ‘renegade craft’ in the USA. As a champion of the market, I’d be very interested to know what Clark’s view of the most recent financial crisis is.

While he and Adamson have made good points about the inherent differences between craft and visual art, I think dialogue between the two is important for craft to sustain its message. Let’s hope Portland keeps the argument open.

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