art as an intrinsically non-inclusive practice

One thing we in the ceramics studio has been constantly reminded of is that ceramics is considered inferior because it is craft and not art. We are constantly being reminded of not only how the material arts are looked down upon in our school, but also how the art world as a whole is unfair.

Yesterday, when I finally got to going to the grad office to borrow some theses to look at (not borrow as checking out the thing, but as reading some library-use-only item on the spot). While most of these theses just made me even more worried and depressed, I did notice a couple of books in the bibliographies that I might find useful: One of them was Glenn Adamson’s (2007) Thinking through craft.

So I didn’t even wait until I got back home or to the studio; I just took out my computer on the spot and searched our library catalogue: The OCAD library has it, but it was checked out, so I immediately tried the public library instead, and found that both North York Central and Toronto Reference have a copy.

According to Adamson (p. 39), the defining characteristic of art, according to art critic Clement Greenberg, is “opticality”, that is, art exists to be looked at. This “opticality” is, in a way, seen as a condition for “autonomy” (i.e., the quality that a piece of artwork can be isolated from its environment and exist by itself, devoid of context), first proposed by the Marxist (gasp) Theodor Adorno (pp. 9ff) that is so prized in the modern art world.

(Obviously, anyone coming from math or translation would be immediately suspicious of anything that alleges itself to be self-sufficient or autonomous from all context. In our world such things don’t exist and cannot possibly exist. But let’s ignore that for now.)

Ignoring the fact that Adamson described Greenberg’s idea as “counter-intuitive” (p. 41) and mentioned that it has been attacked ever since it was proposed, an assumed primacy for “opticality” does seem to explain why the material arts are looked down upon. This would explain why anything two-dimensional would be more highly-prized, as if any technique used for two-dimensional work must be more difficult (this is not my observation, but a paraphrase of RT’s observation when we, the studio regulars, were discussing Project 31 in the studio), as if any two-dimensional work must be more valuable than three-dimensional work.

But this also brings us back to the only art course in my program that we had at the start of our second year (or even farther back, in first-year foundations, if anyone still remembers that one reading we were required to read): that is, can art be inclusive?

If opticality is of paramount importance, art can never be inclusive, or at least art centred solely around opticality can never be inclusive. If we aim for inclusivity in art, the primacy of opticality must be dethroned.