June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

While waiting for my order of books, which I lodged last week with the efficient and very friendly local bookshop, I picked up ‘thinking through craft’ by Glenn Adamson.

The first chapter, called ‘Supplemental’, is an exposition of the ideas on art of Theodor Adorno set out in his ‘Aesthetic Theory‘. Adorno believed, according to Adamson, that art, if it could be held separate from what Adorno saw as the ‘dehumanising conditions of advanced capitalism’, could offer a base for critique of the culture industry. Art needed to remain detached and uncorrupted in order to achieve ‘a truly free arena of discourse’. Adorno concluded that , ‘Art must turn against itself’. As Adamson says, ‘Art’s continuous subject for critique is art itself. It must constantly struggle with its own being…always carrying within itself the implication of its own undoing…the ferment of its own abolition’. As a consequence of art’s necessary autonomy, it will ‘inevitably frustrate the expectations of unsympathetic audiences. To put it bluntly, avant garde art really is elitist and difficult to understand… [and] Adorno insisted on the necessity of that fact’.

This dialogue sets up the rest of the chapter, which discusses craft’s relationship to art through the notion of the supplemental, something necessary to another ‘original’ entity but nonetheless considered to be extraneous to it – for example, a musical score to the music it records. Adamson says that craft, ‘is always essential to the end in view, but in achieving that end, it disappears.’ Whatever the function of the craft at hand it ‘draws no attention to itself…lies beneath notice, allowing other qualities to assert themselves in their fullness’. Within the field of craft ‘technique is cheap’ and is a means of describing a form well.

I like this notion of craft in relation to pottery. It is not detached from everyday life, it is not an intellectual experience caught up in its own self-regard. It is supplemental in the sense that it has a function and purpose, a job to do; and that job is to be the vessel in which food or drink is served, or flowers displayed. At the moment of delivering its greatest energy, in use, it should disappear and what remains is the food, the company, the spirit.

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