Sunday, 20 April 2008

Interview with Rosy Greenlees, Part 2: The C Word’s comments

The Gold Standard
‘All the big names have been recipients of those grants,’ asserts Greenlees, defending the good name of development grants. She appears certain that the brightest and best are nurtured by through Crafts Council selection procedures. I don’t share her optimism. I can’t speak for other craft disciplines, but on Planet Ceramics, ‘the best’ has not been nurtured, only the safest. You only have to look at the pillars of the ceramics establishment, Barrett Marsden and Galerie Besson, and to a lesser extent, the CAA and you’ll see what I mean. Meretricious Modernism meets Kitchen Sink, and most of it, in the case of the first two anyway, stupefyingly dull. We can hardly be surprised that those in receipt of all the financial and practical support at the Crafts Council’s disposal, to say nothing of the networking among social peers, have had relatively unobstructed career paths. This has nothing whatever to do with quality or interest inherent in the work. It has, however, had a devastatingly negative effect on the development of the discipline. You could argue that this is more about ceramics’ own persistent and destructive hegemonic practices than it is about the Crafts Council; the relevant question here perhaps is: how do you influence the way these ‘standards’ are constituted?

Dispersal and Dilution
It’s entirely possible that the Crafts Council’s ‘dispersal programme’, if we can call it that, will in fact make its influence on the lives of makers much more dilute and this may turn out to be a great relief. Do we really want to have our creative lives dominated by what, at worst, could turn out to be the propaganda machines of the Ministry of Craft, our very own Politburo? If their assessments of the ‘gold standard’ and ‘innovation’ turn out to be as suffocatingly tedious and reactionary as they have been in the past, then dispersal and dilution would amount to no great loss.

And finally….
Geting involved in Spark Plug is undoubtedly the best way to influence craft discourses in the wider exhibitions world and is an important part of how craft is mediated, and ‘got’, not least by curators who, in the main, don’t ‘get’ craft at all. For all makers, mid or early career, if your practice isn’t recognised as ‘gold’ or ‘innovative’, or if it’s just too experimental or interdisciplinary, the Arts Council, your local authority (if you’re very lucky indeed), sundry other obscure charities, foundations and trusts that can be persuaded to fund individuals, and possibly academia, if you can inveigle your way into it somehow, are the sources of funding and support we need to turn to.
The new Crafts Council feels different from the old, but I don’t know that it has really changed its attitudes. And I have a horrible feeling it may not have done, not least because those who curate and select grant recipients and so forth are likely to be the same old dinosaurs. I still have some reservations about the endless parade demands and exclusion-clauses which infest the Development Grant application procedure. It looks like a mine field to me and must put a great many people off applying. It is inescapable that if you close down your entry pool so much at such an early stage, you will end up with a compromised final selection simply because the process has filtered out some of the best applicants who didn’t conform precisely to all the demands.
With Greenlees at the helm, I am pretty confident that goals with be achieved. The problem for makers to solve is whether or not those goals are really what we want. When there’s a ministry, one needs a union, or similar. That’ll be the Craft Potters Association then! No seriously, we do need to organise, a little bit, if we are going to ensure those goals aren’t just ministerial flatulence trying to imitate the ‘white heat of technology’, which is what relentless thud of government-approved‘innovation’ sounds like sometimes.

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