Prompter: Rebecca Peebles
The art of craft – what are we really talking about? Basically, art and craft were popularly separate until this century’s insistence on using craft and its colloquially unrefined mediums and processes to convey concepts, protest extrinsic norms and achieve creative vision way outside of the modern-art-era-box. Art as defined by the masses and, for better or for worse, the spenders, now definitely includes craft techniques — fiber, ceramics, wood, metal and glass media manipulated for decoration or utilization. However shaky, craft achieves high-art status regularly now – obvious with just one visit to the power-house Art Basel’s website where images of craft-based media illustrate core components of the home-page.
Contemporary conversation regarding craft is no longer so focused on the relevance of craft as art, but one can certainly argue that craft is still on a lower pedestal and less valued. The artist residency program, Arquetopia shares my concern about lip-service regarding value recognition for historically marginalized craft (this parallels historically marginalized people valuation) as it describes the “fantasy performance of mutual exchange and reciprocity, and cooperation becom[ing] co-optation and appropriation ” (Buick (2018) via Arquetopia, 2020). The residency program calls into focus issues of colonization and conquest – whether hard power (ie: Spanish conquistadors) or soft power (ie: tourism). It sounds like a tangent at first, but eventually it is obvious that a culture’s craft is not only perceived as different/unfamiliar by the colonizer/tourist but is also shaped, co-opted and demanded in ways that often do not acknowledge the culture and craft’s intrinsic values and profundity.
Colonization’s perpetual othering starts with the labeling of “savages” and the enslavement (capitalization) of people and continues to haunt us in the present despite our supposed enlightenment in the modern era. Artist Andre Jackson, in his craft-based artwork and related writings, claims craft media as representative of otherness in art. Much like the feminists of the 50s and 60s claimed the gendered media of “women’s work” as a soapbox and a megaphone for communicating female legitimacy, artists today are using craft media to claim the variability, diversity and intersectionality of personhood expressed through creative practice. So now, “museums and academics over the last decade have paid renewed attention to art practices engaging with craft, propelled by a delayed recognition of the work of multiple artists neither white, male nor heterosexual, whose work made the art/craft categories obsolete” (Gotti, 2022) and we have a new politically founded focus in the art world — representation.
As long as our society’s norm posits that there are people who are not seen, heard and attended to with equity, there will be lack of representation and equal valuation in every category of society including the art world. Though the soulful, touched qualities of much of modern craft based art were often more profound and deeply connected to the human experience than “high art’s” derivative specialness (read: inflated valuation), the drive to maintain power structures negates art’s primary cause – expressing the ineffable, inner human experience. There is some hope for continued evolution of the art world’s integrity, as we are seeing more shows like Sanford Bigger’s “Codeswitch” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in 2020, the Denver Art Museum’s “Desert Rider” exhibit and, Justin Favela’s “Vistas in Color” at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Having subscribed to or having been subject to the propaganda of colonizer/capitalizer, contemporary craft artists and aesthetic thinkers must now courageously put their hands and hearts back into the work of defining Art. Because there is a personal nature and daily utility embedded in the work, because intersectionality and integrity of the whole self are recognized as pillars of health on a personal and cultural level, because crafting connects us to our present and prima materia as part of this living planet, Craft is the radical antecedent to Art regardless of any collective belief system. So the question I pose now is, how do today’s wealthy art collectors (read: art-institution-influencers) and art institutions orient their power to support integrity and true value of the human experience? I will boldly answer: through the intersection and alchemy of art with craft – meeting and collaborating with the makers, making craft with their own hands, using crafted items daily and collecting craft art.
Arquetopia (2020). The End of the Grand Tour? Virtual Symposium on Artist Residencies: Future, Place and State. https://www.arquetopia.org/virtual-symposium-the-end-of-the-grand-tour
Sanford Biggers (2020). Codeswitch at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (Virtual tour).
Justin Favela (2023). Sharing about Vistas in Color at Botanic Gardens
Sofia Gotti (2022). Equally Present Temporalities: Craft and the Contemporary at the Museo del Barro, Paraguay, The Journal of Modern Craft, 15:3, 313-329, DOI: 10.1080/17496772.2022.2127056
André Jackson (2017). Self Identification Through Intersectionality: Turning Inward to Center, Normalize and Validate My Existence. Master Thesis, Savannah College of Art and Design. (PDF available)
And paper presentation to the American Textile Society (2020)
Jolene K Rickard, Tuskarora (2020). Plenary Address to the Textile Society of America.
About the Prompter
Rebecca Peebles is HOL SUM, another way of saying “wholesome,” and is all about self integration through creative, contemplative practice. Extending beyond her artworks and wearable art, she hosts intimate events, workshops, and exhibitions and curates personal collections under the name Home Safe Projects. Formerly, Rebecca founded and ran GroundSwell Gallery (2011-2014) with Danette Montoya. As of 2004, Rebecca lives and works in Denver, CO and is originally from Richmond, VA.
Early in her art career, Rebecca realized her art practice and dedication to her craft techniques is a form of contemplative practice. Setting about making with intention has grown into crafting weavings, sculpture, beadwork and sometimes drawings or paintings as dedications of merit for the natural heroism of human being.
“My wish is for those who wear my beadwork or collect my art to see and connect with their own true story and embody that truth with a sense of self respect and gratitude for their unique life journey.” Rebecca’s own hardships and joys are reflected in her art. She believes that her contemplative based artwork are projections of self-compassion that can be shared empathically with others. Merit for life’s gross, chaotic unpredictable reality is the kind of merit that is often under-recognized, but HOL SUM is about extending care and gratitude to the whole person’s heroic journey throughout the spectrum of life’s awesome intensities.
When it comes to workshops and sharing contemplative craft with others, Rebecca finds joy in the process and is described as “next level patient” with learners. Home Safe workshops aim to create access to individuals’ own creative flow while initiating and fostering creativity as a personal practice of mental health and healing.