Thursday, 14 December 2017

Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition

I was interested to see the exhibition of work by the finalists of the Woman’s Hour Craft prize at the V&A Museum last week. The well-deserved winner was Phoebe Cummings with her beautiful unfired clay fountain which is designed to dissolve as the show progresses; the image shows a detail from it. However, looking at the exhibition got me thinking again about the difference between craft and art. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to define both terms.

Various crafts are represented in the exhibition for sure, Laura Ellen Bacon’s woven structures and Celia Pym’s darning for example, but Laura admits to never having woven a basket and you wouldn’t ask Celia to invisible darn anything. As far as I’m concerned both are artists who use their craft skills to produce work that reflects movement and narrative, respectively. Of the ceramicists in the show, Alison Britton makes containers that are functional but speak of containment, Neil Brownsword highlights the loss of industrial ceramic skills by making and discarding clay flowers, and Phoebe Cummings deals with the ephemeral. Andrea Walsh initially studied fine art and developed the idea of a vessel into her glass boxes, which are sculptural and jewel like. Emma Woffenden also combines sculpture and glass to create strangely distorted figures while Laura Youngson Coll makes intricate biological sculptures (see the picture above). Of the jewellers in the exhibition, Lin Cheung acknowledges her ideas-based approach while Romilly Saumarez Smith gives antique finds a new life and narrative by turning them into jewellery. The other two exhibitors, Caren Hartley who makes bespoke bicycles, and Peter Marigold who initially studied sculpture but now makes what can loosely be described as furniture, seem to be more traditional craftspeople rather than fine artists.

It seems to me that most of these pieces combine craft and fine art. Does this signify the elision of the line between craftspeople and fine artists? Are most craftspeople now using their skills to produce work with conceptual ideas behind it? I doubt they are, as a visit to any gallery would show. Should we welcome this merging of art and craft? Do these definitions and categories matter anyway? Should we just enjoy the work whether it is art, craft or a combination? Food for thought!

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