The Artistic Craft_Artisanato_2012

Huycke, D., 2012, "The Artistic Craft", Artisanato, Genk/ Hasselt: MAD-faculty, Turnhout: WEB, 14-16, translation: Campana Translations


Partly re-worked and put together text from the doctoral thesis: Re-Thinking Granulation: The Metamorphic Ornament. Doctorate in the Visual Arts, Catholic University Louvain, University Hasselt, 2005-2010, not published.


In spite of the close bond and the incessant dialogue of the craft-artist with his material and associated extensive technical knowledge seen as an essential characteristic of arts and craft, currently an opposing view dominates this field – that an excessive immersion into traditional methods and media could slow down artistic innovation and limit the possibilities of expression. In a recent article in Crafts Glenn Adamson states that the lack of technical finesse in an object in some ways implies the presence of a concept and that currently one can see amateurism as an artistic necessity.[1] From this, one could infer, unfairly, that an excess of technical finesse could imply a lack of content and concept. This feeling has existed for a long time among contemporary craft arts and during the last decades, has caused many contemporary craft artists to strive for freedom from the obligatory knowledge of traditional materials and techniques in order to create objects in a purer conceptual way in which the idea plays the most important role (Vessby, 2005:31).[2] This leads to materials and techniques losing their status as inspiration and now mainly serving only for the realization of the concept. Before appearing in the arts & crafts this vision was connected to conceptual art, such as the visual arts from the nineteen sixties – and even in the work of Duchamp (1887-1968). In spite of this scepticism and this rebellious attitude to knowledge and the use of traditional techniques, materials and processes, a large number of artists today seek new ways to work with traditional media while remaining mainly free of tradition. From this strive for a ‘fitting’ and adapted use of the old techniques a search has arisen for metaphors, for the inherent qualities of the medium, for a new expressive potential and another visual language. This new artistic language or scope should have a broad spectrum of parameters[3] to search and draw upon, through which new relationships and insights can develop when the traditional and known expressive powers are lacking in possibilities. After all, it is an illusion to think that our knowledge is already complete and that the expressive possibilities of age-old techniques and processes are exhausted.

Against this background, between 2005 and 2010, I developed a practice oriented doctoral research into the visual arts, The Metamorphic Ornament – Re-Thinking Granulation, which brought granulation, one of the oldest and most evocative decoration techniques in the history of the goldsmith’s art, into question from an artistic point of view. The main subject of research was not the granulation itself, but the transformation process, using techniques and concepts from one discipline, the art of the goldsmith, implemented in another, sculptural silversmithing. Two specific assumptions arose from the knowledge that granulation is mainly found as a decoration technique on jewellery and is only rarely used in a constructive manner. From the first question, arose a quest for the constructive possibilities of granulation in sculptural silver work, so that the granule - the original ornament – would lose its primary decorative function of providing visual pleasure and become the essential building block of the work. This leads on to make granulation at the same time the texture, structure and architectural support of the object. Besides this first premise, there was a second question of more substance and, within this context, a quest started for the expressive possibilities of granulation in sculptural silver work.

Through this method, granulation itself becomes both subject and concept, allowing the artist to transcend the purely technical aspect and bringing out a poetic dimension. The primary driving force behind the artistic vigour of this research being materials and techniques both technically and in content, it is possible to frame the basic principle within the broad outlines of the theory of contemporary art and craft. The term ‘arts & crafts’ can be used to indicate various content. On one hand, the term means a collection of medium-specific disciplines, objects or a specific movement in visual arts, with particular characteristics and qualities. On the other hand, there is a view that assumes that the crafts are not as much a movement or a particular class of objects, implemented using certain techniques and materials but rather an attitude or an ingredient. In the last view the premise is of a method of doing things that are not exclusive to one domain but exist in several disciplines within the visual and sculptural arts. The crafts are in this sense are rather a dynamic, an attitude that is free in the cultural landscape and as such may be relevant for visual artists, architects, designers, philosophers as well as for craftsmen. The British art critic Tanya Harrod prefers to use the term craftedness rather than craft.[4]

Sensing the limits of the possibilities of material and process and the urge to stretch these limits as far as possible in order to master the materials both physically and intellectually, is a phenomena found in the history of each craft – the more difficult and more obstinate the material, the greater the victory. Obviously, it is necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the materials and techniques used in order to discover and evaluate their limits.[5] This discipline is essential so that the most difficult techniques and processes can be performed without any problem, leaving the mind free to concentrate on the more intellectual, abstract and conceptual problems, such as artistic expression. Thorough knowledge of technique and material is at the same time problematic because in this context it can sometimes be an enemy rather than an ally. The research discussed here shows in contrast that it is only possible to become free of the need for knowledge and to develop work that transcends the medium, when knowledge of materials and techniques is so extensive that the idea controls the material and technique and not vice versa.

[1] Adamson, Glenn, “When Craft gets Sloppy”, Crafts, 211 (2008), 36-41.

[2] Vessby, Malin, “The handling of Materials”, Love Jönsson, Love, red., Craft in Dialogue: Six Views on a Practice in Change, Stockholm: Craft in Dialogue/IASPIS, 2005: 31.

[3] Parameters such as, materials, colour, technique, historical context, etc. can within this context be compared with the words of a language and the new connections and understandings of the existing parameters can be seen as new sentences. The artistic scope is then the language itself. Research ensures that these connections and insights can be recognized and made explicit, which is of course crucial, because the better one knows the language, the more interesting the story will be.

[4]Harrod, Tanya, “Technological Enchantment”, Laurie Britton Newell, red., Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft, Londen: V&A Publications and the Craft Council, 2007: 29-37.

[5]Gombrich, Ernst Hans, The Sense of Order, 2de uitgave, Londen, New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 2002 (1979): 65-66.