Friday, April 1, 2011

On Making and Shopping, Craft and Art

Oh man.  The week in NYC totally defeated me.  Well, not totally, but since J was sick before we left, I got sick as soon as we got there.  Between the head cold and the freezing cold wind that descended on the city two days into our trip, it was just about all we could do to pick out restaurants close to our hotel.  As a sum total, the trip was really productive, and I got everything I went to the archive for and more, but we didn't end up doing as much sight seeing or photo-taking as I would have liked, because we were both so exhausted.

We did get to some touristy things, like the Brooklyn Art Museum, which had this awesome installation in a Beaux-Arts courtyard, in which all of the stately 19th century columns were wrapped with fabric over hoops to distort their classical proportions and lit from inside.  (More photos, including in-process photos and design sketches, at the link).  

We didn't get to the apparently awesome Armory red-and-white quilt show, because J's art major college roommate, who we were staying with, pooh-poohed it as "seizure inducing" and not real art.  Like "femininity isn't feminist" this "craft isn't real art" BS is old and tired, so why does it get dragged out by young and otherwise progressive people?  Friend was trained at the same SLAC as we were, in a radical philosophy but traditional methods art department, which I think points to the problem that craft and craft technique are still largely feminized and therefore undervalued. 

Like the awesome Japanese crocheted playground Hands Occupied (via Freshome) pointed to, installations like these show the potential in working with "craft" and domestic techniques on a monumental scale previously reserved for more high-art techniques.  Not that small-scale or homemade craft items don't stretch the boundaries of "craft" and "art," but I'm excited by these monumental installations because they expose more people to different definitions of high art.  And that's part of why I love and am excited by the craft/sewing/making community, because of the care people put into handmade items and the re-valuation of effort.  

Tiny dino provided for scale.  And yes, our house is full of toys.
Which makes shopping damn hard.  The air plant ball above, along with some art prints and another house plant, are the only things besides food which I bought in NYC, and here's why.  J has a hard time find RTW or thrifted clothes which fit him, because he's tall and lanky, and he doesn't like buying online before trying on in real life, so we did a lot of clothes shopping while we were in the city.  And despite all that shopping, I couldn't find a single thing that I wanted to buy.  Things I'd love to have, and things I'd love to make, but not buy.  I think my ideal vacation would be to take a sketchbook and camera and wander high-end clothing stores for a few days, but store owners might frown on that.  

Part of my own embrace of hand-made has been taking the fearful responsibility to say: "Yes, I made this."  I say fearful, because in making your own clothing, housewares, whatever, you are responsible not just for choosing from a limited selection for sale, but also for the details down to every last choice.  I used to agonize about wearing things I had made because all the flaws stood out to me, and because I feared being judged for having both poor taste and poor construction skills.  But there's a joy in that too.  A lot of my dissertation revolves around the idea that we all make choices about how we wish to position ourselves socially in the clothing we select, and in handmade that's taken so much further.  I find that the more involved I get in making my clothing, J's clothing, and things for our house, the more reluctant I am to buy something that isn't just right.  Part of that comes from being cheap to begin with, but more and more of my purchases are things that I can't make myself: plants, art pieces, raw materials, and consumables.  I don't know if that means moving towards handmade has reduced or just reoriented my commodity desire, but there it is.

Has your relation to handmade changed?  How has it affected your shopping?


  1. Please tell me he didn't actually say, "not real art". The only art background I have is having lived with a painter with a Master's, but even I know better than that. Ick. The taint of femininity probably had something to do with that opinion.

    I feel the same way to towards shopping for non-clothing items (mostly decorative stuff). I can't bring myself to buy something I could make, but I usually do not end up making it. It works out in the end for my wallet.

    I see making your own things as a great power. And it is also a privilege, as it isn't cheap to make your own clothing, and it requires time and space. If anyone wants to judge me for taking the time to make a dress, let them.

  2. The words "not real art" unfortunately did come out of Friend's mouth.

    I hadn't thought about the privilege aspect of sewing, but you're so right. My mother and grandmother were both a little confused and worried when I first started sewing (right when I moved away for grad school). For them, home-sewn clothes had always been necessary because they couldn't afford much growing up, so when I started sewing at the same time that I was living really on my own for the first time, they thought it was because I was having trouble making ends meet. But really, it was because I had the space without roommates for the first time to spread out. Thanks for bringing this up, I might have to think about this and do another post on it. :)