Joy and Power

Art / Craft
High / Low

by Ann MacGillivray

Women artists
recognize the
of craft that
has been
relegated to
the decorative
and domestic.

Is it art? The enduring question has been asked since the Renaissance, when, explains Parker and Pollack in their book Old Mistresses, high art began to take place in the academies and decorative art was relegated to craft workshops. The academies eventually banned women from learning in their patriarchal halls claiming they could not be exposed to nude models; but as history has shown the truth was a much more complex matter.

The divorce between the creative forms of art and craft became complete in the mid-nineteenth century and thus was established the hierarchy in the arts. This division endured with few exceptions until recent times; only the last two decades have seen some breakdown of the structure. As the history of women artists is recorded, reasons for the art/ craft division have come to light in such books as Lucy Lippard's From the Centre and Get the Message, and Hess/Bakers' Art and Sexual Politics.

The result of these studies and the evolution from the patriarchal titled "modernist" to the "post-modernist" period has brought change. The once insignificant has become significant and slowly the art/craft quandary is recognized as a matter of culture. Feminism has exposed the prejudiced historical concept that one form of creativity is less valuable than another.

Women artists recognize the importance of craft that has been relegated to the decorative and domestic. Their art has slowly been raised from the floor to the walls, taken from the home/studio and placed alongside "high" art in the gallery context. As with other issues under patriarchal constraint, the change is taking years to achieve. We are fighting battles in all arenas that still discriminate against women and their art: gallery and museum spaces, art colleges, grant agencies, and in the public domain.

This discrimination lends itself well to continued division by the capitalists. Mass production of crafts by Third World artisans, mostly women in the textile trade, is only one example of discrimination for imperialistic profits. High art at high prices is still the code entrenched by a large number of male executors and consumers. The calculated promotion of ethnic values and goods encourages a desire for the more intriguing "high" art and incites a fantasy that can be satisfied with affordable "decorative" art products.

Est-ce que c'est de l'art? On se pose cette question depuis le Renaissance, époque à laquelle l'«art» et l'«artisant» étaient respectivement séparés en académies et en ateliers. Ce n'est que dans les deux dernières décennies que la situation a quelque peu changé. Les féministes ont mis en évidence le concept erroné selon lequel une forme de créativité a moins de valeur qu'une autre.

Les artisans du Tiers-Monde, que comptent surtout des femmes travaillant dans l'industrie textile, ont également pâti de cette discrimination et ont été exploités. Toutefois, on accorde de plus en plus de valeur aux oeuvres d'art que les femmes créent. La question qui se pose à l'heure actuelle est de savoir si nous voulons vraiment être reconnues par des personnes dont l'échelle des valeurs nous est étrangère.

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