thoughts about Glenn Adamson’s “Thinking through craft”

I just finished reading Glenn Adamson’s (2007) Thinking through craft. I started reading it to find material for my thesis, and I ended up completely disappointed.

Yes, disappointed, but no, it was not a futile exercise, because it taught me two things.

First, Adamson has managed to show me the irrelevancy of the so-called avant garde; he has managed to show me that art criticism is essentially just the biased opinions of a few individuals completely disconnected from the non-art world and nothing more. And secondly, he has managed to make me “get” feminist art, at least in a way: According to how he described it, feminist art can totally be reframed in racial terms and still be completely valid. Art criticism, as Adamson has described it, is absurdly sexist and racially biased. And if Adamson has also managed to show it as irrelevant, I don’t feel sorry at all to be left out of an irrelevant discussion.

Adamson also shows a complete ignorance of basic design terminology or the realities of design. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t get “craft” (as Ric Grefé said during AIGA Pivot’s post-conference, we must not give up our craft, or we lose our specialness), and perhaps that’s also why all the other avant-garde high art critics also don’t get “craft”. They have no right to critique it, if their irrelevant babblings can even be called critique.

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.


When Danica finished her thesis three days ago and the three of us in the studio went out, she mentioned GradEx was next week. I thought that was soon but I didn’t realize what that implies for me.

The thing is, the nominal deadline for submission to Empty Bowls is just three weeks away, while the actual event is just half a week after that, and I have not even submitted a draft of my ethics proposal

For this to be part of my thesis MRP I will need to get approval in less than three weeks.

I am doomed.

Why we should start thinking about a GMail exit strategy

I love GMail, or at least used to. But I think we should start thinking about dumping GMail in favour of something else—I don’t know what that thing is, but we must move.

GMail’s appeal is its accurate spam filtering, and that any spam you still get is just put into a special Spam folder instead of being rejected outright. Or so they claim, or so are things used to be. As I found out a few years ago, GMail actually does email blacklisting (in a particularly clueless way, I might add) and worse, GMail’s spam filtering accuracy has been dropping significantly since a few months ago, almost as if Google is trying to make its spam prediction as unreliable as their automatic labels—as if Google’s true goal were to provide buggy, unreliable software.

How bad is it? Two days ago a whopping 31 pieces of legitimate email were erroneously marked as “phishing” (not just “spam”), and it takes almost 100 clicks to tell Google that these are neither phishing nor spam; all the while the actual number of spams received two days ago was in fact zero. You can see why I often don’t bother using the Mark as non-phishing command any more, and increasingly I don’t even bother pushing the Non-spam button any more. Marking them non-spam or non-phishing is getting too time consuming and the act doesn’t seem to actually achieve anything; Google still screws up at least a dozen times a day, every single day.

Worse, today I checked my spam folder and noticed something that not only is clearly legitimate, but that I had manually applied a tag to it. Which means that when I saw the mail two days ago it was in my inbox, but today it has mysteriously been moved to the “spam” box.

Read this: Your spam box is just another inbox. It is possible to receive dozens of legitimate—even important—emails in your so-called spam box. I have received email from the government in my “spam” box, some even marked as “phishing”.

Read this: Having received an email in your inbox is no guarantee that it will stay in your inbox. Neither is tagging it. Nor is archiving it. Anything can suddenly be retroactively considered spam, even phishing, all on the whims of mighty but flimsy Google.

GMail is my main email provider, my university has switched to GMail a few years ago, and a professional organization I belong to has switched to GMail a few months ago; but I think relying on GMail is increasingly a mistake that we will have to correct soon. GMail has become far too unreliable even for personal use; we must find a GMail exit strategy before all our important emails disappear into the so-called spam box.

you never know what comes in handy when

I never expected my work on Cadmium would one day come in handy for my thesis MRP, but I just realized the question of how to lay out Cadmium was exactly the same problem as how to lay out the questionnaire needed for my thesis MRP.

And the funny thing is that I don’t even need to build a prototype to test whether the thickness will work, because I already know: The issue of Cadmium that I designed is my prototype, with precisely the thickness that I need to test. The only difference is that I’m now doing it half size; that’s all.

i just realized i should not have thrown away my many failed casts

Earlier today I mentioned to Martha (the one who’s doing the plates) that things aren’t looking good for me because I’m having too many rejects. (“I don’t know. Maybe I’m trying to do something that’s really hard.”) And what did she say? She’s having lots of rejects too. “This is ceramics,” she quipped.

But throwing isn’t like this. I’ve never had so many rejects when I throw and I can even reclaim the clay if a piece turns out to be a reject, so long as it hasn’t been fired. But for my thesis MRP I find the number of failed casts simply staggering. I was mentioning to Danielle (I think) yesterday that I was starting to worry about running out of slip, even though I have been using the studio’s giant bucket of reclaimed slip instead of my own. At this rate I will very soon use up all the slip in there.

So a couple of hours ago a thought suddenly came upon me: What if I translated those damaged casts back into print? I even did a mental rundown of what I would do to the failed cast I was holding.

But obviously, I didn’t think too much about it, because right afterwards I just threw that failed cast into the trash can.

Then while I was on my way home I suddenly realized I should not have thrown away any of those casts because they can be repurposed as an installation. And—imagine my surprise—that would even be a very “32 Pigeons” installation.

Martha thought I was in Sculpture and Installation. I guess there’s a reason. Or maybe it was Martha’s guess that was what got my idea going.

we aren’t even making our own exhibits

I had always thought we’d have no place at the Grad Ex. So imagine my surprise a few days ago when I got an email from our Associate Dean that our work will be featured at the Grad Ex this year.

But what caveat: Only some of us will have our work shown; not everyone’s work.

And an additional caveat I got from today’s email: Only for those who can make it to finish in June.

(So I’m out, but I am so far behind I was hesistant to believe I could have anything by Grad Ex in the first place, so this was not a terrible shocker.)

While these were all bad news to me, the worst news (for me) in today’s email was the part that reads “If you could please provide these details to me by Friday end of day, so that we can get this to our Graphic Designer by early next week?”

When I read we’re going to be part of Grad Ex I thought we’ll be designing our own exhibits, or at least our own posters. I was revelling at the mere possibility that some of us will be doing some happy graphic design (or maybe even environmental graphic design). How sad, how disappointing that we won’t even be doing this design ourselves, for the few of us that will even make it there.

A dream (yes, I actually remembered this...)

It’s 9:05am and I just woke up from a dream. Not exactly a nightmare but not a pleasant thing. The dream went like this before I woke up:

I was at school working (never mind the building in the dream didn’t actually look like any building in OCAD) while there was going to be a ticketed event of some kind going on, then I went out of the building for a break of some kind. When I was going to get back in I found that the doors were already locked. It was like 6:50pm and it was also Thursday in the dream. (Or maybe Wednesday, I don’t remember any more.) (The event had not started yet. It was going to start at 7pm or so.) And it was extended hours also in the dream. So I was shocked.

I was not exactly angry but definitely wanted to complain, so I sort of started walking around the building and trying to remember how to spell security’s Twitter handle; I also wanted to text a friend to open the doors for me but I wasn’t sure who was inside. (Obviously I still had a flip phone in the dream.) And while I was looking around I saw below me (remember, I mentioned the campus in the dream didn’t actually look like OCAD, I was on a terrace of some kind looking at some sort of wide stairs going down leading to an entrance below me. This doesn’t exist in OCAD. More like some sort of civic building or maybe some university in Hong Kong.) trying to walk towards the stairs leading to the building and the students below me found the entire edge of the building locked with a glass wall.

As they turned around (presumably giving up and leaving) a back door to the building next to me opened. (As I mentioned this didn’t look like OCAD. It was a white building instead of a building with a glass wall.) I ran towards the door and got in, and yelled to the students at the entrance that Security had already locked the doors but they didn’t seem to get what I was saying from their blank looks (probably because they also didn’t expect this so they thought I was crazy). I ran up the stairs and saw another group of students working on some sort of a flattish piece of installation (never mind it was still inside the stairwell and that one of the students was Bing :) and I again yelled at them The doors has been locked. Everyone don’t get out.

Then I continued running up the stairs trying to think about how to tweet a complaint or somehow write one. Then I reached the floor I wanted to reach and opened the door. (Yes, a single door. Weird. And never mind it was the wrong building. Maybe the OCAD in my dream finally built tunnels between its buildings.) It was a grand interior (remember, the campus I saw in the dream didn’t look like OCAD. It looked more like the lobby of a big convention centre or maybe UW’s new student centre.) with a ceiling that’s at least two storeys high with huge floor-to-floor glass walls looking at the pretty sky outside….

Then I woke up. I was dazed for a few seconds, then I looked at the clock. It was 9:05.

Not early. But not exactly too late, I suppose.

fourth test mould

It looks like a ball tool is not the best choice for carving into plaster, simply because you can’t carve into plaster with a ball; you need a knife of some kind. At this point it looks like a small drill bit might actually do it, though whether this is true won’t be known until 2 days later when I make a test cast.

And while doing a pilot “drill” with the needle tool looks like an attractive idea, it looks like it’s a really bad idea because when you hear that reassuring “pop” sound the needle has already gone too far into the plaster. So how do I do the pilot drill with something else? I’m not too sure. And I don’t really like the idea of making more and more test moulds. I don’t have time. I won’t have access to the shops very soon.

random fantastical thought

A random fantastical thought literally just came upon me a few minutes ago: When I was in the studio earlier today I briefly contemplated making some slipcast bowls, so what if I went further and merged my thesis MRP with Empty Bowls?

I really don’t know how feasible that would be: This seems to be a lot of work for a “small scale experiment”, and there will probably be a ton of problems doing this for thesis MRP. But this will actually be a very “32 Pigeons” thing to do (that is, “any work we do must be in response to a real art call”), which is actually kind of cool—but odd, since 32 Pigeons has not been active for almost a year already.

Maybe the simple slipcast bowls will be the real “small scale experiment” (and if that works out I will attempt “blocking and casing” and then carving into the mould), and if that works out I’ll propose merging my thesis MRP with Empty Bowls.


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