When Art and Crafts Turn Into Something Ugly

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During my ten years living in Mexico, the aspect of my life there that was most of interest to me was the Mexican visual arts. There were basically three categories to be encountered: pre-Columbian archeology, traditional handicrafts, and salon art.  I know of no other country where all three of these categories were equally salient in terms of potentially grabbing the interest of the public.  I must confess that I was less interested in pre-Columbian archeology than the other two, if only because the pre-Columbian artifacts were made centuries ago during a period of time that seems very remote to me personally in the present.

In the cases of both the handicrafts and the salon art, the creators are either present now or else their deaths occurred close enough to the present such that one could access something about their lives, about who they were as people.  However, there is usually a sharp difference in the significance one attaches to knowing who created a handicraft and who created a work of salon art.  A handicraft is done in a tribal style. The individual touches of expression therefore are usually somewhat limited.  The work is usually considered a part of a collective imprint.  The truth is that most of the time, people aren’t interested in who created a handicraft.  On the other hand, a work of salon art is created on the basis of an artist’s unique style.  It is created as an individual imprint by an individual artist.  Knowing who is the creator of a work of salon art can be very important in determining the value of the work.

Now the line between handicraft and salon art sometimes blurs as with certain well-known individual Southwest American Indian potters whose work sells for way more than the average anonymous Southwest American Indian potters.  But this is the exceptional situation.  Basically, handicrafts and salon art fill very different purposes. Handicrafts provide grounding to a culture by physically uniting a people through a common aesthetic.  The individual craftsperson submerges himself and his creation in the larger culture through the use of certain materials commonly used in the culture and through leaving an imprint that embodies commonly used designs and symbols and shapes that are typical of that culture.

Salon art can embody a general flavor of a culture, but there are usually no formal patterns, no typical materials that are used that identify it with certainty as belonging to a particular culture.  On the contrary, a salon artist is not necessarily interested in immersing himself in the patterns of folk art.  A Mexican salon artist can choose images of Mexico as the subject matter of his art. But doing etchings or oil paintings is not the foundation of any Mexican handicraft that I am aware of.

Rather than use his art as a vehicle to get a kind of experiential grounding, a salon artist is much more interested in using his art as a vehicle for self-definition and self-coherence.  Self-definition in terms of the borders of who he is, and self-coherence in terms of the nature of, the unique content of who he is.  

Now granted there are a certain number of people in modern technological society who actively enjoy collecting traditional handicrafts.  I must confess that when I lived in Mexico City, I was one of them.  I collected ceremonial masks, purses made of woven fibers, wood carvings, clay pottery including trees of life.  I just loved participating in Mexican culture through collecting handicrafts because it gave me a special kind of aesthetic grounding that was normally unavailable in the modern technological living environment that surrounded me back in the States.

Typically, one doesn’t think of practical objects of any kind as grounding.  Rather, one usually thinks of them as defined discrete figures with utilitarian functions.  But to the extent that the decoration gives a greater value to a folk practical object for collectors over and above its use function, we can say that the primary value of the folk practical object for collectors resides in the grounding that it provides.  And this is particularly true when the decoration is based on traditional motifs.

However, for some serious collectors, there is a sense of urgency to their collecting that is similar to the cravings that are felt by alcoholics, drug addicts or people who are habituated to the use of marijuana.  Now one may ask how I can compare chemical dependency to zealous art collection.  The answer is that excessive use of alcohol, drugs and marijuana is in place to fill a psychological emptiness, an experiential vacuum through intermittent abrasive chemical stimulation while zealous art collection is the acquisition of art at a rate faster than can be properly appreciated and absorbed such that it also becomes an attempt to fill a psychological emptiness with an experience of abrasive stimulation.  And the collector becomes a hoarder whose house becomes so filled with art, there is barely any room to move around.  A source of beautiful organic stimulation is paradoxically turned into a source of abrasive stimulation, of sensory distortion.


Acerca de Laurence Mesirow

Durante mi estadía en la Ciudad de México en los años setenta, me di cuenta que esta enorme ciudad contenía en sus colonias distintos "medio ambientes vivenciales", que iban desde muy antiguas a muy recientes; desde muy primitivas a muy modernas.Observé que había diferencias sutiles en la conducta de la gente y en sus interacciones en las diferentes colonias. Esta observación fue fundamental en la fundación de mis teorías con respecto a los efectos de la tecnología moderna sobre los medio ambientes vivenciales y sobre la conducta humana.En México, publiqué mi libro "Paisaje Sin Terreno" (Editorial Pax-México), y luego di conferencias para la U.N.A.M. y la Universidad Anahuac. También, presenté un ensayo para un Congreso de Psicología.Ahora que mis hijas son adultas, tengo el tiempo de explorar mis ideas de vuelta. Le agradezco mucho a ForoJudio.com y en especial al Sr. Daniel Ajzen por la oportunidad de presentar mis ideas.

1 comentario en «When Art and Crafts Turn Into Something Ugly»
  1. My father colledted masks. I think he would find precolumbian masks, would he find masks in traditional handicrafts and salon art?


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