Craft Forward Symposium 2011 - The Rightly Timed Pause
Craft Forward Symposium 2011 - Sensory Craft with David Howes and Frank Wilson

Craft Forward Symposium - Keynote Critical Point, the Risk of Craft

Now that the Craft Forward Symposium is over, I sooooo.....wish that I could hear the Glenn Adamson keynote address over again. First of all, his lecture was filled with multiple levels of metaphor and symbolism. The images and ideas expressed were all revelatory.

Mike Kelley’s  "More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid" with related work, "The Wages of Sin" both 1987.

It seems surprising to me now that the images of schneebly, stuffed animals, tacky afghans, derelict buildings, shoeshine stands, and knitting would be prescient for the other lectures to come in the Conference. On Friday night, I could not have conceived that the keynote address was so thoroughly laying a foundation for the images and themes to be conveyed over the following two days of lectures. (Maybe that is what the keynote address is supposed to do, but it rarely happens.)

   Rachel Woodman
   Clare Beck at  Adrian Sassoon

Glenn Adamson definitely isn't interested in the finely crafted tour de force of craftsmanship. There wasn't one example of a shiny glass hotel lobby sculpture from SOFA to be seen. It really was about Craft Forward.

Any attempt to fully explain the lecture would be inadequate. Instead, I'd like to offer some of the ideas from Glenn Adamson's lecture to take back to your bench, loom, canvas, or studio to think about next time you make something.

Balance-scale-unbalanced Here is an example that seems really straightforward. The concept contrasts RISK and CERTAINTY.*  It is about weighing the value of "absolute risk" at one end of the scale and "absolute certainty"  at the other.

This example uses a piece of paper. The approach you use to cut the paper in half is the metaphor for risk or certainty.

Ripped-paper Ripping the paper in half is a high risk.  

To reduce the risk, you could use your hand to fold the paper before ripping it.  In which case, your hand serves as a tool (a concept in Frank Wilson's lecture on the hand).

Using a fingernail to deeply crease the paper after folding it assures a more predictable outcome (i.e. less risk).

Scissors A pair of scissors would definitely be ratcheting your "tooling" up a notch for an even more predictable cut.

Paper-cutter A paper cutter is even more precise for getting a straight cut. Again, the more precise the tool, the more predictable the outcome, lower risk, and increasing certainty.

Paper-cutting-machinery-978A guillotine, step shear, or cutting machine as used in the paper industry will further assure you of the most precise cut.

Lower risk and greater certainty of the outcome is the objective of the mass-production factory, the symbol of industry.

In this theory of risk and certainty, "risk is craft" and "manufacturing is certainty."

Every artist and maker reading this post likely understands risk very well. When you make something and know what it is going to look like and already know how to make it, that is low risk.  On the other hand, when you make something that is unlike anything you have ever made before, don't know if you have the skill or knowledge for how to make it, never saw anyone else make it before, and wonder how it will fit within your genre or field of work, that is high risk.

Jackson Pollack painting with a brush upside down Where would you fit in Craft Forward? Risk equals touch, no tooling, complete abstraction, or something different.  Find a new way or use tools wrong (or at least not as intended), such as Jackson Pollack dripping paint from the handle of a paintbrush rather than the bristles.

High-risk work is defined as experimental, adaptive, and free of conventional restraints.  Are you experimenting with unpredictable methods or outcomes such as in working with fire, bodies painting canvas, or pissing on metal?

Where do you fit in this Craft Forward?

Your comments are welcome, especially if you went to the Craft Forward Symposium. There were many issues raised in Glenn Adamson's lecture, and I only discussed one aspect of the many possible options.

I learned something about myself, too. Now I know why I have always resisted buying a paper cutter.

Here is one more example from Glenn Adamson's lecture.

Grinling-Gibbonss-Cravat--001 To the left is a photo of Grinling Gibbons's Cravat (1890) Photograph: Victoria and Albert Museum images. It is a finely crafted tour de force carving in wood that looks convincingly like fine hand-made lace. The high-risk objective for the artist was could he make wood look like lace.

Mcqueen_gold_boot copy At the opposite extreme, to the right, is a photo of a boot by Alexander McQueen, a fashion designer. The heels and soles are based on the work of Grinling Gibbons. The boot is an imitation of craft. It is not handmade, the heels were cast. The apparent risk is fake because it is manufactured.

Wim-delvoye-14243_1410 A further irony is shown in this third image from Glenn Adamson's lecture.  This is a Wim Delvoye concrete mixer hand carved in mahogany wood to look like a manufactured object. Wim Delvoye outsourced the actual carving to highly skilled laborers (in Indonesia, I think?) as a critique of highly skilled work. Once it was back in the gallery…the carvers were making knick-knack knock-offs of his full-scale concrete truck as tourist souvenirs in Indonesia.  The tourist souvenirs are not authorized artwork, but very ironic, perhaps irony upon irony.

There is so much that could be said about the labor of the anonymous craftsperson, but I will let someone else add to the dialog.


51ttLEmm8XL._SL500_AA300_Background about the speaker Glenn Adamson can be found in a previous post.

Of the two recent books by Glenn Adamson, several people told me that The Craft Reader is much more "rewarding" to read, than Thinking Through Craft.

The craft reader

FUTURE OPPORTUNITY: Glenn Adamson will be the Keynote Speaker at the upcoming SNAG Conference in Seattle. His lecture is first thing Friday morning, May 27.

In addition, Glenn Adamson, SNAG Conference Keynote speaker, and Lola Brooks, a conference presenter, will be our guests during the informal “Brown Bag Lunch Discussion” as part of "The Smaller Conference Experience."

NOTE* On the Crafthaus discussion group for the Craft Forward posts, Sondra Sherman pointed out that David Pye is an author of the concept of RISK and CERTAINTY. (I was trying to keep my post short and skipped a whole section of Glenn Adamson's lecture.)

For readers interested in more information here are a couple of books by David Pye. 

 The Nature and Aesthetics
 of Design
by David Pye.

David PyeNature
   The Nature and Art of
by David Pye









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This post was updated on February 1, 2022, to provide current links.