Know How: Workshops on the Histories of Art and Craft

Oct. 12, 2023

A&A graduate students Joe Bucciero and Elise Chagas have organized the discussion series "Know How: Workshops on the Histories of Art and Craft" to examine craft from the art historical perspective.

The series includes six workshops scheduled throughout the 2023–24 academic year.

Bucciero and Chagas explain the origins and intent of the series:

Know How derives from discussions that the two of us had last year about our respective dissertations, both of which concern art of the 1920s—in Peru (Elise) and Germany (Joe)—that, for various reasons, has mostly evaded the dominant narratives of Western modernism. Despite disparate national settings, the protagonists of our projects shared an interest in what in English would be referred to as craft (a term fashioned as artesanía in Spanish and Handwerk in German). Reconsidering the economic, social, and material bases of so-called “art” and so-called “craft,” the artists and writers on whom we focus found new ways to define their, and their work’s, broader social and political roles.

We were inspired, in particular, by an image that we included on the first version of our program’s poster. (A second version features an artwork by Amy Yao, who will give one of the workshops in the spring semester.) This first image appeared in an article by the critic and art historian Carl Einstein, published in 1922, in the influential German art magazine Das Kunstblatt. Writing about a sixteenth-century Peruvian textile, Einstein marvels at how its Andean makers interpreted the biblical scene through millenary compositional techniques. In a few short paragraphs, Einstein demonstrates a method that is at once formal and historical, not to mention responsive to the shifting languages, techniques, and personnel proper to art and craft alike. In Einstein’s reproduction of the Peruvian textile, then, we found an avatar of our mutual interest in where and why craft as manual skill and craft as cultural category intersect in art, as well as who, in different settings, adjudicates both craft’s position vis-à-vis art and the symbolic and material values of each.

With that in mind, and coupled with what we ascertained as an increase in “craft”-related scholarship and exhibitions in recent years, we invited six art historians and one artist to campus to share work that contends with the technical and historical specificities (or eccentricities) of craft. In different ways, the participants of this program resist an all-too-common impulse to romanticize or universalize craft, instead situating it—as did Einstein—within, or against, the intersecting conditions that helped to generate it. Each speaker will thus help us address our series’ key questions: Under what social, material, and art-historical conditions does craft appear? How do the motivations and manifestations of such appearances compare across geographies and periods? As art historians, what methods are at our disposal to follow artists and objects as they bridge the systems of value that separate their circulation?

We are very grateful to the Department of Art & Archaeology and the Lewis Center for the Arts for supporting this program, and to our seven participants: Julia Bryan-Wilson, Manon Gaudet, Dipti Khera, David Young Kim, Harper Montgomery, Horacio Ramos, and Amy Yao.

– Joe Bucciero and Elise Chagas 


A long conference table is lined with workshop participanys

At the first "Know How" workshop on September 13, 2023, participants discuss Harper Montgomery's presentation, “Contemporary Art and Artes Populares in Havana: Craft Theory in 1970s and 80s Latin America”  (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)