The Ascension Of Craft


Visiting an art gallery with a friend today, I had an interesting realization. It was the Georgia O’Keeffe show at the AGO here in Toronto and in truth, we were a bit disappointed. But that’s another story.

What I did notice particularly was O’Keeffe’s craftsmanship in her paintings, and the one lacquered bronze sculpture they had on display. She was a master craftswoman in more than one medium.

She was able to achieve gradients, textures, and intensities of colour that were spectacular feats of creativity as well as craftsmanship.

There was also a huge blow-up of a portrait of O’Keeffe by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, that may have been the best thing in the show.

Stieglitz himself was a master craftsman. You had to be to produce such photographs in his time. He must have been a master of cameras, exposure, lighting, film development, print making and whatever else.

Keeping in mind that these wonderful images, oil paintings and photographs, were made a hundred years ago helps us to understand what their world was like and why such craftsmanship was necessary.

The End Of Craftsmanship?

I mentioned to my friend that in today’s world, with today’s gadgets, we were able to do all of these things without having to know any craft.

I can make a perfect gradient in any shape, colour or direction by clicking on a few buttons on my iPad. There is no smell of turpentine in my art studio and I never wait for anything to dry.

I make paintings on my iPad without any regard for stretching canvas, mixing paints, painting ‘fat’ over ‘thin’, solvents, drying time, or any of the issues that concern a painter in oils.

And almost anybody you know can take a picture and share it with the world in seconds, without any craft except pressing a virtual button on their phone.

At first I thought that this was the end of craft and something to be regretted. But, as always, this turned out to be only part of another story.

On reflection, I realized that there is a kind of craft involved in getting the images I want using these new technologies. It’s not that easy.

The issues involve resolution, file size, moving between file types and platforms, learning various apps and programs. Not to mention various other technologies that underlie all of these; operating systems, WiFi, social media, the Cloud… (/does anybody really know what the Cloud is?/)

Craft Is Moving Beyond The Physical

As I pondered the requirements of modern image making, it occurred to me that a big difference was that today’s knowledge or craftsmanship was not based on physical things like the crafts of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz.

We are not working with physical things like oil paints or trays full of developing chemicals. We are working with ideas and tools that are not part of the physical world.

They are digital, virtual, electromagnetic realities. This is our craft now.

We are no longer focused merely on manipulating physical things to express our creativity. We have added a layer and can now create by manipulating non-physical things.

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