Week 3 – Art – Craft – Research?

Irving Penn – Small trades

 A Couple of Notes:

Practices project – At least a blog a week documenting your daily practising.
Projection work shop today with Glen Alexander @ 12pm.
Guest Lecture next week with Gail – make sure you’ve done a bit of research/reading/listening on her work.


Art , Craft and Research?

Today I’ll be talking to and struggling with the relation between Art, Craft and Research…
Its an open question how and if they are related and I actually do need your help to think their relation through. Certainly –  craft and research obviously both have some relevance to, and can serve, to animate art practice. However other questions emerge. Is art a form of research? Is that what distinguishes it from craft? Does all art require craft? Is there any relation at all between craft and research?

I think the process of trying to diagram and think through these relationships is useful even if we don’t arrive at any conclusive answers.

there is a lot of content here and I’ll be throwing around a lot of theory to try and complicate and explore this relation… take what you can use and try and mine the rest for what is useful – that is perhaps the key point here – if its not useful… if its not animating something.. if its not making you think/feel then leave it behind.

I’m still not sure a there is a three way relation but it certainly makes me think

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 5.55.54 pm
Divide into groups, talk through and make a Venn Diagram of this relation. If a Venn diagram doesn’t work for you I’m happy for you to be creative..

Some examples of Venn diagrams…

Greatest Venn Ever from https://inspirationalgeek.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/best-venn-diagram-ever/


Lucas Ihlein’s Art/Activism/Academia Venn from https://dancepracticeasresearch2014.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/lucazoid-socially-engaged-art-in-a-venn-diagram/










In Richard Sennett’s 2008 book The Craftsman (although this seems to be a gendered word, I will use it for its historical meanings and association), he defines craftsmanship as:

‘A basic human impulse: the desire to do a job well for its own sake’

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman

Sennett expands this impulse to all sorts of practices: ‘occupation, profession, religion’ and ‘way of life’, including music, healthcare system, parenting, computer programming, and investment banking.

Human computers in a large-scale tabulating operation, circa 1920. This scene captures a typical hierarchy of calculation workers.

‘All craftsmanship is quality-driven work; Plato formulated this aim as the area, the standard of excellence, implicitly in any act: the aspiration for quality will drive a craftsman to improve, to get better rather than get by.’ (24)

According to Plato ‘craftsmen are all poets..they are not called poets, they have different names’ – he worried that these different names and indeed different skills kept people form understanding what they shared. The unity between skill and community had weakened. Practical skills still sustained the ongoing life of the city but were not generally honoured for doing so.

Consider this environment…

Art Workers in Dafen, China

or this

Workers allegedly in a Foxconn Factory

Is it possible to be driven by pursuit of of the quality of work alone in these environments?
If not – why not – is it about the work itself, the environment, the produce/product?
What is about these things that potentially erodes that potential (try and dig down… be specific)?

List them?

Sennett’s task in The Craftsmen is to reassert this unity by reconciling these two images of work…his notion is that work could be better and that the work would be better if we could do so…

Sennett’s project is to reconcile the two images of people at work:

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-1416

Sennet looks at two images or models for the human at work..

Animal laborans:

• absorbed in the process of making (amoral)
• labour
• routine
• work as an end in itself
• asks ‘how?’

Leonardo’s Sketches

Homo faber

• thinker
• ‘the judge of material labour and practice’
• asks ‘why’

Rodin’s The Thinker

Where does the work of Researcher, Artist, Craftsman fit in the above models?

Sennett’s project is to restore dignity to the image of the craftsmen by challenging the inherent assumptions of this dichotomy and its implications.

The between art and craft divide supports these dichotomies:

• Theory — Practice
• Knowledge — Know-how
• Formal knowledge — Tacit knowledge
• Head — Hand
• Mind — Body
• Art — craft
• Education — Training
• Research — Skills development

depiction of the royal bakery from an engraving in the tomb of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings



Consider: Jonas Mekas’s discussion of the relationship between a ‘personal’ form of film making (his diaristic films) and the ‘professional’ cinema of Hollywood presents an interesting discussion concerning craft, art, and professionalism:

A good professional is a good craftsman who knows how to build a house exactly like his father used to build it; or make a wheel, or bake good bread, or make good wine, cheese or anything else. I admire crafts people, they are true professionals. But I hate experimenters who destroy our bread and our dwelling places and wine and yoghurt and everything they touch because they want to improve on what has been tested by hundred of generations. But, of course, what I say here about professionals has nothing to do with art. Artists are never professional craftsmen because gods have propelled them and possessed them in order to expand human possibilities, of what they now call human potential. They are in the front lines where they meet all the bullets and bayonets. And no past lessons, no professionalism will save them: they have to invent new technologies and new forms in order to record new sensibilities and now emerging content and help to form that content. The crafts people, the professionals, the more they remain faithful to the past, the more useful they are to humanity.


Do you agree with Mekas’s statement?
If an artist is not a professional what are they?
Where is the role of innovation in Mekas’s view of craft practices?
Do you need to ammend your Venn diagram? – if so do so. (and keep doing so)

Today we are going to challenge a lot of these dichotomies and the assumptions that they support. 

We are going to try and address why they have becomes pervasive and how we might benefit as media art practitioners by escaping or routing round them… and how we might do so…

We’ll start with Sennett who argues against this clear-cut division between art and craft. His view is that both art and work are the embodiment of ideas. In fact if there is a theme today its a question of where the fabric of ideas is woven and what of?

History of craft

• Classical myth of Hephaestus: god of craftsmen
• Craft as not merely tool-usage, but civilising skills
• Ancient Greek word for craftsman: demioergos — public, productive
• Craft as skilled work carried out for the public good
• Skills are interlinked with community

Sculptor’s Workshop. c. 1416, commissioned by the Arte dei Maestri di Pietra e Legname from Nanni di Banco for the base of the guild niche at Orsanmichele

The mediaeval guild system.

• To protect and sustain different types of skilled works and the transmission of knowledge in these areas
• the 3-tier system: Apprentice – Journeyman – Master
• Apprentice (about 7 years), presentation of chef d’oeuvre
• Journeyman (5 to 10 years), presentation of chef d’oeuvre élevé
• Master, membership to the guild
• Examples today:

Germany’s regulation on its craft sector
Bachelor, Master, and Doctorate degrees in education
Graduate student, post-Doc, and Professorship in academia

Where does the contemporary vision of the artist fit it here?
What apprenticeship will you serve? How does the university fit in here?

The workshop

A luthier’s workshop


• home of the craftsman
• mediaeval workshop housed the master’s biological family and his artisan family
• a productive space where work is done face-to-face
• Rhythm of work
• Gestures of work


Sennett argues that the lone figure of the struggling artist undermines the value of the workshop as a collaborative space of ‘immanent critique’ and sharing of ideas…My experience is that the term workshop in the title of this course is nearly entirely metaphorical….

How can we rescue the idea of the workshop in the digital age?
Is it important to?
Is it possible?

In what practical ways might we return re-energise  the values and value of the workshop in this class?

The Enlightenment

The fall of the guilds.
The rise of the artist.
The marginalisation of work from the vision that created.
The ‘placing under erasure’ of the workshop in the service of exalting an individual.


Consider ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproducibility’ essay by Walter Benjamin:

• handwerk – craft handiwork, created by hand, textures, analogous, indexical
• kunstwerk/ art work with unique authorship,
• kraftswerk – power work, evolved with technologies, democratic, available to all

The essay tells a story of change. It is not a gloomy tale that yearns for the past, but rather it is a positive proposal to rescue experience through new forms of art in the technological present. In the essay, Benjamin traces the transformation of Handwerk (artisan labour) into Kunstwerk (artwork), as Esther Leslie notes, ‘from craft to art, from unauthored object to authored valuable’. She writes, ‘But Benjamin’s essay also senses possibilities for a post-bourgeois object, a non-auratic multiple, prefigured in photography and film. This technical multiple does not squash out authentic experience but translates it into object-forms and forms of experience appropriate for a modern age’. This ‘post-bourgeois object’ and ‘non-auratic multiple’ is arrived at by transforming Kunstwerk into Kraftwerk. The meaning of the German word Kraft is power. This power lies in the potential for a new tactility that was lost with a shift form Handwerk to Kunstwerk. For Benjamin the democratisation of the means of (re)production promises an era of newly ‘tactile’ engagement with art/media/technology. He cites our engagement with popular cinema – distracted and absorbed by the tactility of the form itself as a nascent sign of what is to come.

The influential philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon similarly argued for a coming shift but for Simondon this shift was promised by the rise of information networks that would alter the very fabric of work liberating the worker from the factory and the weight and determinations of the industrial machine … for Simondon the factory would give way to the lab, the worker would become a technician allowing a new found potential for individuation and autonomy in production.

Sennett argues, like both Simondon and Sennett in their different ways, that to speak of craftsmanship is not a nostalgic longing for a pre-industrial age. Rather, it is about learning to use the machines of our own time as craftsmen instead of consumers; to understand the connection between what we use and what we make.

Perhaps media art can be defined this way;

As an desire to explore the possible connection between what we use and what we make?

For Simondon the question is more fundamental – we must understand the connection between what we use, what we make, and who we are or will become.. the question is not whether we are Homo Faber or Animal Laborens – or both – but whether our ecology, our machines, our technologies, our institutions will allow us function as Homo Faber and/or Animal Laborens and so to use our faculties effectively…

At the centre of all these things there seems to be a Question Concerning Technology – or perhaps more specifically a question of the relation between the ideas, technologies and bodies.

Models, Signs and Making.

We saw that Sennet began with an address of that distinction. And Jo has directed us to that fact that this distinction between the one who asks How? and the one who ask ‘Why?’ supports a whole bunch of other cultural and discursive distinctions;

• Theory — Practice
• Knowledge — Know-how
• Formal knowledge — Tacit knowledge
• Head — Hand
• Mind — Body
• Art — craft
• Education — Training
• Research — Skills development

Foucault Lecturing

Even in this course we rehearse a lot of these distinctions – You come to this course expecting it to be about practice … a workshop .. and so not about theory, more focussed on Skills Development than Research…more on the Hand than the Head.. The University/Tafe distinction is largely based on this divide..a divide that this course has largely attempted to bridge… You might ask yourselves how it has and why..

Tafe Automotive Workshop

Our real challenge though is to fight through all that institutional, cultural, and discursive baggage and to approach an understanding that we are always in the midst of a ‘material thinking’ – we are always thinking through the materials we have at hand – in front of us.

Sennett’s demand that we understand the relation between what we use and what we make thus extends to the language and concepts we use as much as to the chisel or the computers we use.
Concepts have concrete effects: Uni/Tafe approach to film?? Does it shape who you might become? What you might produce? What that form will look like in 100 years when you grandchildren choose a course?

Sennet’s Art/Craft.

Sennett’s research project illuminate the socio-historic and semantic mechanics of the model.

By showing that this model is a historical construct he opens the way for different models to emerge… in his case a recentering of the value of craft.

Sennet’s is research aimed not at finding a ‘truth’ per se… but opening the possibility for different futures to emerge that were otherwise marginalised by that existing model and it material effects. What is Sennet’s craft? Is it material – does it have material effects?

What are the implications?

For me – and for a growing array of thinkers and practitioners especially in Media and the Arts …. the difference between thinking through creative practice and thinking through theory is only a difference in kind…they are both pursuing the production/realisation of something that wasn’t there before – and they both have very material effects…

In this section I’m going to throw some theories around that might suggest why…but feel free to take them for what they are worth…ideas with there own material tendencies.

Material Thinking

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve given you three readings. 

The first was from Richard Sennet’s The Craftsmen and was about the difference between art & craft…and Sennet identified another idea lurking beneath the question of their difference…a question of Autonomy…or more specifically a question of

‘autonomy as a drive from within that impels us to work in an expressive way by ourselves’  – 

Should you be practicing right now?

He identifies the notion and mythos of the autonomous Artist as a historical construct – not entirely well founded – but nonetheless one with real concrete (not always productive) effects on the practice and social positioning of art and artist.

He eventually comes to the question of Agency beyond autonomy:

 ‘art has one guiding dominant agent, craft has a collective agent’ 

Cellini’s Salt Cellar 1543

This feels unsatisfactory to me… particularly given my practice as a musician and most recently as a theorist working with groups of artists. But I’m interested to see what you think?

does  ‘art has one guiding dominant agent, craft has a collective agent’ 

Earlier in the piece Sennet describes Cellini’s Salt Dish as Compared to Salisbury Cathedral … the first a work of individual art – the second of collective craft – in the former he identifies a shocking newness that he attributes to the incorporation of metal work and drawing. 

This seems a point apart form his comment on autonomy…is there some ‘truth’ (read: potential) lying behind these two.. what might it be?

In the latter he states the ‘DNA’ of the building was embedded in the original structure and that ‘each event in building practice became absorbed in the fabric of instructing and regulating the next generation’ (71)

Perhaps we can think of this ‘growing’ evolving building as developing within and of a particular model …. what Sennet is calling the DNA of the building… there is little doubt that there can be innovation here – but its innovation within the trajectory of an established field and a particular milieu..development with a particular paradigm…without much critical reflection or thought to the outside ? Certainly one could conjecture that there is no opening onto the ‘outside’ of that DNA in the latter – the foundation of the building was established all that remained to discover was ‘how?’- via a gradual development of craft.

Salisbury Cathedral care of Wikimedia

Comparing the Salisbury Cathedral to Cellini’s Salt Cellar he Sennett writes;

‘The result is a striking building, a distinctive building embodying innovations in construction, but it is not original in the sense that Cellini’s salt cellar is; an amazing blow, a painting in pure gold…..the ‘secret of ‘originality here is that the two dimensional practice drawing has been transferred to the three dimensions of gold..’


So here – at least – the distinction between art and craft seems to involve a ‘splicing’ of DNA in the production of a genetic hybrid… Cellini’s Salt Cellar is original, is art, because of this opening onto an outside in a way that the Cathedral is not….

Salisbury Cathedral.

Discussion – Conceptual Speed Dating.

Have a reread of that section on agency….

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 7.50.01 pm

Do you agree with Sennet about this distinction between art and craft? Is the distinction about Individual Agency?

Can it be reduced to that ‘genetic splicing’ of different techniques and why?

Chuck Close?

Does this model of the Art as opening onto an ‘outside’ or as a ‘genetic hybrid’ help us understand/inform that three way relation between craft, art and research … is craft a form of viable research from the perspective of art practice – why and how?

Material Thinking(Feeling)

Sennett discusses how the term “‘Originality’ traces its origins back to one greek word ‘poeisis’ which Plato and others used to mean something where before there was nothing’

Sennett writes that;

‘Originality is a marker of time; it denotes the sudden appearance of something where before there was nothing, and because suddenly comes into existence, it arouses in us emotions of wonder and awe’

In the short section of Paul Carter’s Material Thinking he challenges the distinction between art making and research/critique/theory. He also uses research to dismantle an assumed model – here between the Rational and Poetic.

Paul Carter’s Excellent Material Thinking

Which is to suggest that it isn’t necessarily about telling us about how something is as much as it engineers or modulates a particular relation to something…about the past perhaps…but it is alway a making/remaking of the past in the service of a potential future.

Theory doesn’t happen in a void – it is in itself generative… Carter’s suggestion is that rationalist critique is generative of its own industry (academia?!) – its is parasitic on the art/subject…. it is “about” rather than “of” them.

Both these readings highlight the greek word Poesis – Sennet describes its use by the greeks as referring to ‘the sudden appearance of something where before there was nothing’

Carter defines it as signifying ‘creative making in general. It also gives us our word for poetry’ (9)

For Carter its is the Poetic -that proves the ‘gene splicing technology’ for realising that opening onto an outside that Sennet found in Cellini’s Salt Cellar in connecting Drawing and Metal Working.

In terms strikingly similar to Sennett’s on the originality of art in that piece he writes that if;

‘research implies finding something that was not there before then, it ought to be obvious that it involves imagination. If it is claimed that it what is found was always there (and merely lost), still an act of creative remembering occurs….As a method of materialising ideas, research is unavoidably creative’ (7)

Carter cites the 18th Century Neapolitan Philosopher Giambattista Vico’s (who is famous for the Dictum ‘truth itself is made’) grouping of memory, imagination and invention;”

‘Vico understoood that reasoning is poetic ..he defined ingegno, wit or invention, as ‘the faculty that  connects disparate and diverse things …. An acute wit penetrates more quickly and unite diverse things, just as two lines joined at the point of an angle below 90 degrees.’ Myths materilaise abstract ideas with their vivid figures of speech , The artist  through a capacity ‘to perceive analogies existing between matters far apart and apparently, most dissimilar, mythpoetically creates ‘poetic wisdom’’.

There seems to me a startling connection here with Sennet’s depiction of art that involves some genetic splicing of the DNA of established fields or techniques…. or more abstractly an opening onto a difference that makes a difference….an outside of existing craft/technique/models etc..

Carter’s thesis here is that when research becomes overly rational it becomes ‘about’ creative work rather than ‘of’ it… He states that;

‘Visually, aurally, or kinaesthetically engaging art that can be paraphrased has failed to communicate its own materiality.’

Same image new materiality

He argues on page 6-7 that art should be its own best ‘sign’;

‘As it moves between studio and society, the work of art proposes a social relation; it doesn’t invent a new sign for an already existing concept’ (7)

The paper develops this with reference to critic artist Robert Morris’s definition of art-making as a particular kind of behaviour (deliberately framed to rescue art from the commentators and critics);

‘a complex of interactions involving factors of bodily possibility, the nature of materials and physical laws, the temporal dimensions of process and perception, as well as the resultant static images’

Lets have a look at that section in detail;

Defined as process ‘the artificiality of media-based distinctions (painting ,sculpture, dance) falls away. This also applies to the distinction between the officially designated ‘creative arts’ and the adjacent disciplines of architecture and design. Identifying research with process, and both with invention, they all at their best produce knowledge that as, [philosopher] Serres put it, expands ‘ Irregularly, from the local to the global ; a knowledge that ‘pulsates, dances, trembles, vibrates, scintillates like a curtain of flames’; that establishes a ground that ‘will found local inventions to come’

if all this seems a bit vague and aphoristic (theoretical jazz fingers) then what about this final point from Carter; turn to page (10)

‘The language of creative research is related to the goal of material thinking, and both look beyond the making process to the local reinvention of social relations’

‘This is a typical error of artist and plastic-makers generally: called upon to talk about what they do , they rationalise its internal logic  instead of gauging its social effect. Rather than account for the work as a structure for reinventing human relations, they explain the ideas behind the work.’

‘To record it, then is not to write about art but to write of creative research, to document the making of a new social relation through a concomitant act of production’

Perhaps also this is a way of measuring the value of the research we do in relation to our practice ‘ how well does it document, animate, suggest the possibility of a new social relation?

Material Thinking – Conceptual Speed Dating.

It feels to me  – given Carters positioning of research as ‘materialising ideas’ that is ‘unavoidably creative’  – demands we revisit our diagrams about the Art/Research/Craft nexus change we should add to our triangle network diagram…that arrow between art and research needs over-scoring…

How does it effect our Venn diagram or does it? And what about the relation to craft? Is its position changed in this redrafting of the relation between art and research? (Hint: I have no idea)

Once again does interesting art demand research?

Does interesting research demand an engagement with material? Why?

What different kinds of/approaches to research might serve our Art practice/The development of Art Practice and how?

What do you make of the definition of art as by definition proposing a social relation is this what distinguishes art, research and craft…. add to your venn diagram?

How does or how might your media art practice be thought this way? How? Does it help at all?

Media Ecologies.

Eco ears

In the courses third reading – Jussi Parrika’s Media Ecologies and Imaginary Media: Transversal Expansions, Contractions and Foldings he develops a notion of how we might engage with media and perhaps approach media research and art form an expanded viewpoint that places a considerations of process and relationality as central.

Lets have a look at some specific sections of this really interesting paper..

It also provides quite a different – perhaps more concrete perspective on what it might mean to think, and how we might pursue, media art as a vehicle for ‘proposing a new social relation’

although here the idea extends beyond the social to include our material ecologies more generally…. that is Parrika asks us to think ‘ecologically’ about our processes and the materials with which they are realised….

Here art is that which realises new potential (potential futures) and so this paper provides a nice summation of all those previous points..particularly for those engaged in the media arts

Jo Laws Autumn Almanac

Jo Laws Autumn Almanac

Read the sections:

Contract/Transduct on page 35.



Eco-Media as Cross-Talk on 37-38


Media Ecologies – Conceptual Speed Dating/Group Think.

Find some interesting and hopefully useful points in these sections of the text? Why are they interesting and how might they inform your approach to art/media research and practice?

Some potential talking points;

Diagram all the ways your favourite medium operates as ‘an environment of relations that in which time space and agency emerge’..

How can you think your practice or your favourite practice or those of your favourite artist as the ‘creation of a new space-time’? (Parikka 35) Think in terms of process… what are metals are you placing on hand, how do they affect a way of thinking/acting/relating?

Parikka introduces the notion of ‘Cross-Talking’ as an art and research method? What forces does your practice, favourite medium, favourite artist/maker ‘contract’ (employ) or ‘transduct’ how does this modulation of forces act as a ‘catalyst for potentials’? Think about light,time,perception,affect….

Talking/blogging about your practice

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 8.21.38 pm

Take a look at these three art projects which involve practice (and blogging):

Barbara Campbell’s 1001 Nights Cast. (http://1001.net.au/)

Lucas Ihlein’s Bon Scott Blog ( http://www.bonscottblog.com/about/#what)

Jo Law’s http://www.photonicsmedia.net/about-autumn

Image form Lucas Ihlein’s Bon Scott Blog

What is the relation between practice and research in these example?

What is the relation between process and outcome here?

How is process being employed and to what end?

Think simply about you practice project- you might use think of the blog itself as the outcome for your practices project – the outcome is six weeks of documented research-creation and reflection on practising.

Its a way of charting and reflecting on your ‘journey’ over six weeks of practise. Hopefully interesting questions will arise as a function of you engaging and documenting a daily practise.

Heroes and Contemporaries.

James Turrell’s ‘Raemer Pink White’ 1969 http://www.nga.gov.au/JamesTurrell/Images/1200/213128.jpg

1. Do you have a hero or influence in the field you identify with?
2. Describe his/her practice.
3. Describe how his/ her practice is situated in the larger field.
4. How are the ideas about proposing ‘new social relations’ or ‘ecological relations’ or ‘opening onto an outside’ relevant to their work? Are they pioneers in what they do? Do their works provide the foundation for certain ways of thinking or working?

5.  What are his/ her skills?
6. Has he/ she come up with interesting or innovative ideas in his/ her field? How? What was there process as best as you can ‘read’ it.
7. Why is he/ she your hero? What are the qualities you admire most in your hero? or even your field. It can be someone whose craft and works you respect.)

Write a brief biography of your hero/contemporary and describe his/ her practice. Answer the following questions:

• What materials do they work with?
• What are the ideas they work with?
• What are their influences?
• What are their working methods?
• What is the ‘shape’ of their practice?
• What is their contribution?

Practices project

• What is your practices project?
• What is the goal?
• What are the rules/ parameters? (Enabling constraints – if it doesn’t have any lets build some in)
• What research are you engaged in?
• What skills are you gaining, building, honing, or refining?

Further to this, write down some practical guidelines/ rules for your project

1. What is to be achieved every day?
2. What are the milestones/ interim points of evaluation? What kind of measures?
3. How will you build on the experience of this everyday practice? How will your skills develop?


Consult with mat/group on practices project