[Clayart] the art scene

Snail Scott claywork at flying-snail.com
Fri Sep 27 13:37:43 EDT 2019

> On Sep 24, 2019, at 12:56 PM, Gregg Lindsley <gerrg42 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ...if you are after making art, it seems to me you are after fame and maybe
> money. all things of the ego.  Look at me! aren't i great!  Good art is
> ego-less... 

Hi, Gregg! Just to be contrarian again...

I make art. The art I make requires craft in order to be properly executed, but it is not, in and of itself, primarily a craft object. It is not better than a craft object, it is simply different. If I were after fame, I would make YouTube videos of my cat. If I were after money, I would get an honest full-time job doing almost anything else at all. I don’t do it to feed my ego, although I probably need a fairly strong one to have persisted all this time, through good years and lean, continuing to do the thing that drives me to get out of bed every morning anyway, in the face of everything that tells me to be sensible and give it up.

Good art can, I suspect, be quite egotistical - I think about Durer’s series of self-portraits through the years. They are not ‘craft’ as we use the term, though they are finely crafted, and they speak to us as art because we see the person within them: the bold but uncertain young student; the ambitious upstart who still seems to be ‘fronting’ a bit while he presents himself as he wants to be seen; the mature professional whose dignified confidence seems authentic but still seen through the lens of his own manufactured self-image. We respond to it not because it is existentially perfect, but because see ourselves in it, with our own virtues and flaws: hope, fear, skill, ambition, egotism. It’s like a slow-moving Twitter-feed of selfies. And it’s still art. 

Self-abnegation alone doesn’t make something into art, and it absence doesn’t destroy it unless it undermines the merits of the artwork itself. And those merits can shift with time and a new audience. 

> ...it appears, it attracts, and it has duration. It needs no
> introduction or explanation, and it is instantly recognizable, sometimes
> centuries after completion…

Sometimes, that ‘centuries after completion’ speaks to the universal truths of the object: its message, its aesthetics, or its craftsmanship. But many objects change through time. A 'universally' held truth may fall away to new mores. As a non-Christian, I admire the skill and beauty of the Ghent altarpiece, but its theological message is present solely through intellectual study, not devout faith. A religious work lacking in the craftsmanship and aesthetics of Van Eyck might seem entirely devoid of merit beyond its sense of sincerity - a quality that does not require art to be conveyed. Culture and audience change. We no longer give a ‘free pass’ to depictions of naked women on the grounds that if the ancients did it, it must be an elevated and virtuous endeavor. Rather, many seem more like cheesecake pinups behind a peeling veneer of respectability. Renderings of Great Men of Deeds now smack of authoritarian whitewashing, even as the charming condescension toward Asian and African art now seems sadly misguided.

Craft, at least, has the convenient property of seldom carrying specific content.  A pot remains a pot, even as its precise function is lost to history. But if function is intrinsic to the purpose of a craft object, has something crucial not been lost nonetheless?

Snail Scott
claywork at flying-snail.com

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