BACKGROUND: Whenever I see Garth Clark, I can't help but think of his controversial and thought-provoking presentation that he gave for the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon titled, “How Envy Killed the Crafts.” You can find a link to the podcast here. The lecture has been published and can be purchased HERE. I highly recommend that you read this earlier lecture which has instigated a huge international debate on the future of craft.
After a slow start with a preface about his lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, he charged right into his content with an amazing voice. Though he was obviously reading his notes, he spoke slowly and carefully enough that the audience could follow his train of thought.
I don't agree with everything he had to say but it was great to listen to this level of conviction and credibility. I do wish that he had offered us a handout or shown an outline on the screen. This would be extremely helpful when you want to follow a train of thought closely. I understand that ACC will be offering a podcast of the lectures from the Conference. Definitely listen to his lecture!
Some ideas presented include:
Craft is a vast political, anti-industry, aesthetic movement and it's time for it to be a new era of social movement. This idea resonated with the previous lectures during the Conference. He continued...Craft from the 20th century was a rank and file, trickle-down structure. From 1980 to 1995 it was the Palace of Versailles with high prices, obsessive craftsmanship, excess, and pretension. Ironically, Garth Clark is one of the individuals that profited the most from the strong prices and escalating market as a Gallery owner (with a big "G") in New York City.
The craft of the 21st century is non-partisan and building from the bottom up as a result of the Internet. Clark suggested that we should go back to the cottage industry roots of craft culture supported by Aileen Osborn Webb - hence the term "cottage" in the revised title.
In both of the previous examples, he speculates that Art/Craft is a barometer or expressive indicator of society's values. No argument there, but it is interesting that a man of his introspection and intelligence sees this as a revelation.
At this point, Clark is enamored by movements and communities such as Burning Man where people of all strata and professions (including from outside the arts community) make art for no monetary exchange. (It is again ironic that Garth Clark thinks that Burning Man is a new movement since it has been around for at least 20 years. Guess he was too busy making money to look at art that was free.) Sorry Garth, just couldn't help myself...guess this blogging thing is breaking down my inhibitions.
Clark asserted that the government should support the arts with new programs at the Federal level since the states have no money. He continued about how unfortunate it is that a $16 billion profession (referring to the crafts world at large) has never had a lobbying arm or professional structure for job training or apprenticeships. This becomes a more urgent issue as so many colleges are reconsidering whether their craft programs belong in an academic institution.
Garth did suggest that if academic programs could reorient their direction and title to "Material Studies" that this would be a more effective umbrella for craft media and technology. Sounds like a great idea.
WHAT QUESTIONS WERE ASKED AND ANSWERED? For the first time in the whole conference, the questions were right on target and actually inspired further dialog from Garth. The audience was HOT! It was magic. Unfortunately, the questions were rather vague and I couldn't figure out what they were asking before the person sat down and Garth started talking. But take my word for it, this was a dialog that could have gone on for hours.
He was asked why he criticizes the craft movement for its weak direction and materialistic attitude when he was making tons of money as an 'art dealer.' That is a good question!
It really is too bad he couldn't be a better advocate for change and make money at the same time...lots of people do "speak with their actions, and walk the talk."
WHAT DID I LEARN? Maybe Garth Clark should go to Washington D.C. He knows how to talk with a "silver tongue".
LIFESTYLE OR LIVELIHOOD? Garth Clark obviously made a great livelihood from the arts and crafts. It sounds like he now has an amazing lifestyle with his partner in Santa Fe with lots of dinnerware sets....(my personal passion). Hope he invites me over for dinner.
SUMMARY: Garth Clark is a great speaker. It would be marvelous to talk with him over dinner with a group of articulate individuals to advocate for change within the crafts.
I do take a small offense that he thinks that anyone who makes art or craft for money, especially at higher price points, lacks integrity or sincerity. I think that an artist or maker can sell their work without "selling out."
I do not agree with Clark's assertion that it is the government's responsibility to support the arts with new programs with government funding. I do agree that the arts organizations of all media, all strata, all agendas need to join together in one political movement like the Milk Advisory Board, California Raisin, the beef industry, Almond growers, or Wisconsin Cheese, just to name a few. Without a lobbying arm and political advocacy, we will never have even the modest laws that can help artists and the arts community.
READ any one of Garth Clark's multiple books.
Please feel welcome to add your observations, content, or questions in the comments area. The conversation started at the Conference will only continue if you decide to participate.
Wendy Rosen has composed a personal Opinion piece about the Garth Clark lecture. CLICK HERE.
This post was updated on January 3, 2022, to provide current links.