20 April 2007

Craft at the Cutting Edge


National Museum of Scotland

A group of us recently visited ‘The Cutting Edge’ exhibition at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, a major craft exhibition showcasing some of the best crafts practitioners in Scotland.

Our visiting group comprised of craft practitioners, researchers and educators and we arrived full of expectation and excitement as this exhibition, by its very title, promised to present the freshness of crafts practice. It promised new, ambitious, daring crafts and we felt sure it would ‘wow’ us with cutting edge practice, reflecting the breadth of craft that we know is definitely ‘out there’ in Scotland. The ‘Cutting Edge’ Exhibition (still showing until 26th April) has also come at a time when Craft and issues concerning Craft are being discussed with increasing frequency, raising public awareness outside the ‘recognised’ crafts arena. Therefore the timing of this exhibition is perfect.

The foreword to the exhibition states, “the cutting edge clearly demonstrates the wealth of well designed, beautiful and brilliantly made objects in modern day Scotland” (Aitken et al., 2007), and there were some pieces that clearly fitted this description, balancing innovation with aesthetic integrity. But, here comes the gripe, overall there seemed to be a ‘much as before‘ feeling, and the potential value of craft as ‘cutting edge’ seemed to be lacking spark. Therefore I think this exhibition raises pertinent questions about craft practitioners time, in particular the necessary time needed to develop new ideas and concepts whilst under pressure to make a living. Craft practitioners know how difficult it is to balance skilled making, thinking and aesthetic reasoning with earning and striking a balance is often difficult. The Cutting Edge also raises questions regarding the future of crafts and crafts practitioners and how and what this balance should be in the future. Investment, is surely the key….isn’t it?

17 April 2007

The Legacy of William Morris

Todays Guardian features an article on the shortsightedness of the London Borough of Walthamstow who are threatening the William Morris Gallery with closure. Cost cutting is given as the reason for wanting to cut back opening hours and remove the keeper and his team from their jobs. There is an online petition to save the Gallery which already has more than 5700 signatures at http://www.keepourmuseumsopen.org.uk

The main thrust of the Guardian piece is why doesn't the council get how significant a resource this is! Jonathan Glancey does an excellent job of making these elected members in no doubt of the legacy of William Morris and why the saving of the gallery is so important. In particular he highlights how Morris was responsible for resurrecting any number of craft skills. Certainly much of the art & craft education that is available today is part of the legacy of Morris and people such as John Ruskin. I have never visited the William Morris Gallery although it has for some time been on my list of places to visit. I also have friends who live in Walthamstow and a visit to the Gallery would also provide me with an opportunity to catch up with them.

While Local Government in Canada and the USA are recognising the importance of arts provision in regenerating deprived inner city areas (See previous post), our local politicians appear to lack the imagination and the vision. On 3 May 2007, there will be local government elections in England, local government and Scottish Parliamentary elections in Scotland, and National Assembly elections in Wales. We should all be asking what the priorities are for the arts and crafts in particular - placing the issues high on the political agenda.

Morris himself believed that the political arena was one of the key ways of uniting art & society, ensuring that beauty was an everyday part of life and that all men had access to creating beauty through their labour. These values are as relevant today as they were then if not more so. We need politicians who can see the significance of this and provide the investment necessary to build on Morris's legacy.