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Here’s something I hadn’t thought of

“Because art is notoriously difficult to talk about ([Clifford] Geertz, [Local Knowledge,] 1983), much art talk is really craft talk.” From a Firstmonday article on children learning photography. What do you think? Discuss.


  1. Roger wrote:

    1. No distinction between “art” and “craft” is sustainable, even heuristically. All craft is potentially art, and all art is necessarily technical.

    2. John Berger (in the essay “Understanding a Photograph”) argues that photography is not art, and it’s a good thing too, since “art” functions now as a form of valuable-because-scarce commodity:

    “And this implies the death of painting and sculpture because property, as it once was not, is now inevitably opposed to all other values. People believe in property, but in essence they only believe in the illusion of protection which property gives. All works of fine art, whatever their content, whatever the sensibility of an individual spectator, must now be reckoned as no more than props for the confidence of the world spirit of conservatism.”

    He continues:

    “Our mistake has been to categorize things as art by considering certain phases of the process of creation. But logically this can make all man-made objects art. It is more useful to categorize art by what has become its social function. It functions as property. Accordingly, photographs are mostly outside the category.”

    3. Thus, art is easy to talk about! Since what one presumably wishes to capture under the heading “art” is the contemplative encounter with the crafted products of other people’s labor, and since we are all creative beings, there’s no need for a boundary restricting the discussion of the aesthetic experience to people with a particular kind of expertise or training.

    Why feel that talking about “craft” is outside the boundaries of the discussion of art? What else would one possibly be discussing?

    Saturday, October 25, 2003 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  2. gus wrote:

    I started to note that Geertz was the guy who (I have been told) mis-adapted the linguistic concept of “deep structure” for anthropological purposes, and was also the man who brought us the classic analysis of the cockfight as genuinely being about penises (which I actually read). Then I realized that didn’t really tell me anything about who Geertz was, and I didn’t know anything more about how he related to the kinds of postmodern theories Roger talks about. So I googled “Clifford Geertz modernism” and found a Chico State professor’s syllabus ( ) which suggested Geertz was a key figure in the development of contemporary culture theory. And I don’t know anything about how this relates to the ideas Roger is talking about either. And then I realized that what Roger was reacting to was the whole statement, not just the bit that was quoting Geertz, who may well have been saying something closer to what Roger was saying because that’s a very short summation of an idea and for all I know it’s been taken out of context.

    The only conclusion I ‘m informed enough to come to is that Roger has now disassembled my prompt, leaving the community reading the blog with no room to come to a mutual understanding and define its own terms in doing so.

    A cultural studies student is like the dog who comes out to play kickball with the neighborhood kids and bites the ball and deflates it. I’m taking my flat ball and going home now.

    Saturday, October 25, 2003 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  3. neil wrote:

    In my opinion, any execution of craft that renders a new truth of its medium is art.

    Any argument about “art” might therefore limit itself to the question of what constitutes truth.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2003 at 9:26 am | Permalink

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