Every spring the American Craft Council makes its way to down to the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta for its annual craft show. Featuring the work of over 230 artists from all around the country, the council champions this three-day weekend as, “Craft like you’ve never seen before.” With this endorsement, my awareness of the heavily juried application process, and a couple NCECA conferences under my belt, I had high hopes that this would be an encouraging and, dare I say, inspiring experience. I was sorely disappointed.
The conference center was hemorrhaging cute, kitschy, folksy, craft with a capital “C.” Drab monochromatic patchworks of felted ponchos, that looked suspiciously like cat hair, draped over stacks of exhausted coat hangers. Aisle after aisle was dominated by booths of jewelry, twinkling for the attention of all the white-haired attendees. British potter and Turner Prize winner, Grayson Perry’s criticism of the craft world being a place for women in “dangly earrings” rang obnoxiously true. The overall appeal of the show seemed to be toward the creation and maintenance of a Ms. Frizzle aesthetic as a kooky art teacher. But I’m not here to judge the people. I am here to talk about the art. The problem is I had an extremely hard time determining where the art was exactly. Was it in Tara Locklear’s bold graphic necklaces made from recycled skateboards? Maybe it was in James Borden’s spindly wooden clock sculptures? Metal, wood, and fiber all blurred together in designs that felt excessive and elaborate just for the sake of being so. The beloved Bauhaus phrase of “form follows function” was apparently tossed out with the wood chips.
My home turf of ceramics fell into a similar trap, as I walked past the same glazes and forms I have seen a hundred times over. Floating blues splashing into rusty reds on cylindrical bacon cookers were all lined up for your ultimate pork cooking pleasure. Paveen Chunhaswasdikul’s whistle mugs and ringing wine goblets, although spirited and impeccably crafted, felt gimmicky. This bizarre amalgamation of high and low craft was epitomized with an entire booth of dopey eyed stuffed animal puppets and recycled metal lawn art of dogs playing mini-golf. Needless to say, I was grateful for the scotch bar located directly in the middle of the pavilion, where I could sip and take in the visual chaos. I stood there heartbroken and partially embarrassed for craft. Was this truly the world that I had been striving so hard to be a part of? Did I still want to take on the label as an advocate for craft?
Perhaps these weren’t “my people,” but there is no denying the affordability, accessibility, and relatability of craft. In many ways, I believe it is a gateway into the art world. People know what to do with craft. You can wear it, sit in it, and eat off of it. Craft serves us and is forever linked to function, which means there will always be a need for it somewhere in our lives. But art demands more, less complex forms and more complex thought. With art, we ask what does it mean, instead of what does it do? Above all else, my time at the American Craft Council Show made me confront my own artistic pedigree and biases. It all felt like a wholesome distraction from what is really happening in the world. But what did I expect from heartfelt little sculptures of cats tucking in their kittens goodnight?