Emmanuel Boos, Cobblestones, 2009 - 2011

What's the Difference?

David Trigg

‘Craft, art, and design are words heavily laden with cultural baggage. For me, they all connote the profound engagement with materials and process that is central to creativity. Through this engagement form, function, and meaning are made tangible. It is time to move beyond the limitations of terminologies that fragment and separate our appreciation of creative actions, and consider the “behaviours of making” that practitioners share.’ — David Revere McFadden, Chief Curator and Vice-President, Museum of Arts and Design, New York

What’s the difference between a maker and an artist? After visiting the inaugural Jerwood Makers Open exhibition, currently showing at the Jerwood Arts, one may conclude the answer to be not very much.

When I was studying fine art there was an attitude amongst my peers (myself included) that the applied arts (ceramics, textiles, glass etc) were somehow inferior to fine art. We were the ‘serious’ artists, engaged in a rigorous intellectual discourse, whereas the applied arts were without significant meaning or consequence, to be viewed merely as decoration or to fulfil some utilitarian function. Thankfully, I have since repented of this snobbery and come to realise that the line dividing the fine and applied arts is far more blurry than I’d ever imagined (remember when the potter Grayson Perry was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003?).

This is certainly the case with the Jerwood Makers Open. Consider the work of Keith Harrison for instance; despite working in the context of ceramics, his gargantuan sound system, Float, straddles the fields of installation, sound art and performance. In fact, if I’d seen this anywhere else I doubt I’d have guessed it was by an applied artist. Emmanuel Boos, the other ceramicist here, may take a more traditional approach but his glazed porcelain cobblestones and hanging works seem to be as much a celebration of form and material as the work of any number of contemporary sculptors. The same is true for glass artist Heike Brachlow, whose stunning balancing glass sculptures could easily be seen alongside the work of so called ‘fine artists’ working in glass (Josiah McElheny, Lino Tagliapietra and even Dan Graham spring to mind). Indeed, the last two editions of the Venice Biennale have included the Glasstress exhibition, which explores the use of glass in contemporary art. The other maker here is Farah Bandookwala, who despite working as a jewellery maker, has used the Jerwood opportunity to move into the field of sculpture, using her experimental, cutting-edge techniques to create interactive works that could sit comfortably in any number of contemporary art galleries.

So what then are these makers making? Is it art, craft or something else? How should we categorise such practice? The term ‘maker’ it seems is just as vague as the term ‘artist’. Is it simply a case of the context in which works are made and shown or does it lie ultimately with the intention of the artists themselves?