While working on a freelance research project tonight, I came across an article in this month’s Museum News titled “Memorial Mania.” I started reading to see if it was relevant to my project, and ended up reading the whole thing.
The article is an analysis of public feeling surrounding terrorism memorials in post-9/11 America. Very well written and full of fascinating examples, it investigates our collective obsession with memorials at this socio-psychological moment.
This moment happens to correspond with the most recent craft movement and the perceived resurgence in interest in craft, which many, including myself, would probably say started with the post-9/11 kitting craze. But more on that in a minute.
To try to understand the current "memorial mania,” author Erika Doss considers the predominant notion informing our era’s memorials, “that trauma can be represented and must be cured, hence the affirmation of hope, healing, renewal and closure in design elements such as reflecting pools, waterfalls, manicured lawns, clusters of trees and ‘beacons of hope.’”
"Sigmund Freud defined anxiety as a reaction to danger, a fear of ‘being abandoned by the protecting super ego.’ Manifested in nervousness and confusion, anxiety is an untenable state of insecurity. It is often abated, or controlled, in comforting and safe spaces—in the familiar setting of the home, for example, or in the routine and order of the workplace. The anxious insecurity generated by the violation of these safe spaces is then especially jarring, and efforts to restore them are quick: Less than a month after Sept. 11, for example, the Department of Homeland Security was created to “coordinate the executive branch’s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.”
Here I paused and the thought emerged, not to give too much credit to Freud, but is my long-time interest in topics of memory and home (both personally and academically) a reflection of my own occasional-to-persistent state of anxiety and insecurity? Is my involvement most recently with craft—which may be indelibly linked to the safe realm of home—a reflection of my own attempts to feel safe?
Then further thoughts…
- Knitting was a huge reaction to September 11. And the resurgence in craft has been happening ever since. Are we all just trying to make ourselves feel safe?
- If craft is about security and safety (at its core, even if it’s trying to be subversive), then how do you challenge it? If craft is associatively a realm of security, being somehow related to the home and to tradition, at least the American mind, what happens when someone rocks the boat? What happens when our homes, or our countries, are violated, when our security is breached? How do we react? Is it the same with craft?
- And if craft IS about security and safety, then what are the economic implications of that? Is it possible to make a living by making, selling, and promoting… safety? (Is that what we want to be doing…?)
Maybe not for everyone, but I’d wager that for many people craft is about safety, whether the craft-related person is aware of it or not. And maybe that is the source of the enormous resistance to change and critique characteristic to the field.
Take the response to the rise of “indie craft” and the recent changes to American Craft Magazine. While many are embracing the new and taking on the challenge to established norms, many others in the craft world seem not only disinterested in being challenged, but get dramatically provoked and lash out against the new. Their reaction is as though challenge itself threatens to destroy people and their world.
Another example is the recent firestorm over a talk given by Bruce Metcalf and Andrew Wagner at last month's SNAG conference, which has sparked an impressive debate online over essentially these issues. (I haven’t read it all to respond directly to it yet, but it starts here and here.)
In a recent email exchange about this debate, a colleague suggested something about fear being the biggest thing holding craft back. I responded that I couldn’t agree more: fear its boundaries will be breached, fear that the past will disappear, fear that criticism and new ideas will bring down the house, fear of the new, fear of questions, etc.
Jae and I have often wondered if craft simply doesn't want to be shaken up. If craft is the realm of the safe in the same way that art is the realm of risk. (And design looks risky because it's obsessed with the new, but is really about safety...?)
There I go again, parsing the differences. But there ARE differences, and I think understanding them can help us to better understand craft, what's holding craft back, and how to help craft evolve.
There are differences too in the way craft perceived in the U.S. compared with places like Australia, Japan, the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia where it seems craft is a much broader, more dynamic, and more highly-appreciated field.
What is it about the American psyche that it is so dismissive of craft? Part of the reason I think it's so cool (although many vehemently do not) that American Craft Magazine is now covering international craft is because it allows us, as Americans, a glimpse into how other countries perceive craft. Which might be instructive for those of us interested in making American craft truly thrive.
Which brings me back to the current socio-psychological moment. We are living in a time where we can hardly escape from the narrative of safety. It is on the news, in car commercials, in museum exhibitions and public policy debates.
At this same moment we are experiencing a resurgence in craft, and its affect on the narrative of craft has become hotly contested.
Why must craft be kept so safe? What do people feel is at stake?
The established craft world need not abandon the nest. But it must be willing to stretch its comfort zone and evolve as a field and a market, or it will forfeit its cultural relevance and fade away.
If on the other hand we allow craft to take some risks, and take risks ourselves, we might find that a rising tide lifts all ships, and that abundance lies beyond the harbor, out in the wide open sea.
Posted by Amy Shaw, Greenjeans.
Image: Tank cozy by Danish artist Marianne Joergensen
Image: Tank cozy by Danish artist Marianne Joergensen