Throughout this semester, I have been a bit preoccupied with how my thesis for next year will shape up, this should give you an idea... I have all the references in case is anyone is interested, just drop me a line.
Fine craft as an art object has always been a point of contention with the art world. The fine craftsman's argument is that the refinement of process can, and should, be enough. The aspects of labor, commitment, money spent (through studio rentals/education), and classlessness (all walks of life have attempted craft at some point or another) are evident in many, if not all, crafts. Is it art though? It could be argued as both yes, and no. Yes, because if an object can elicit an emotional response then it could be considered art. This can range from the more experimental sculpture of Eva Hesse to the finely crafted glass objects of Dante Marioni. No, because the majority of crafts are not criticizing anything the way art, usually, does. Glass art, as Bruce Metcalf alludes to, is more in a kiln (or kiln worked) and less in a hot shop (or studio glass). The objects that can be made through being kiln worked are more detailed, more explicit through realistic or abstract iconography, larger scale, and more like art. In studio glass, several famous glass object makers are making various objects that take 2-3, sometimes 4 hours to make. These objects are very technique driven and only the title adds any aspect of art to the glass they lovingly, and often painstakingly, make. By exploring art as an action driven endeavor, what can be said artistically in glass blowing begins to open up. The layering of other specific actions over the preexisting actions of glass blowing can begin to help elevate production, and ultimately studio, glass blowing into the critical arena of art.
The physical act of glass blowing, and other fine crafts, could become Process Art. Process Art can be viewed as the making of art through making a physical action, or act. This act can inform the form itself, as the form may arise through laborious and often repetitive actions. The author J.J. Kelly has stated that "Man's reach directly influences the form..." in the terms of the arm's length in relation to the scale of sculpture. The act can also sometimes inform the context, as in the action is being used as a way to mark time (Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va). So what are some of the acts that can mark something as art and not as fine craft? Yves Klein's paintings made through the actions of nude women covering themselves in blue paint and pressing themselves onto a canvas (the Anthropometries) is an example. Richard Serra throwing molten lead at the corner of where the wall and floor meet (Splashing, 1968) is another. Jeanine Antonie, obsessively chewing away chocolate and lard for her work "Gnaw" shows the bodily harm and obsessive actions an artist can endure to complete a work. These interactions are the art, the physical objects left behind are the remnants of the process used to make them. The actions have informed the work, were repetitive and often laborious.
Many studio glass blowers use similar actions, repetitive labor that informs the work is a central idiom. Studio glass blowers also fit Mr. Kelly's criterion of "Man's reach directly influencing the form" directly as most glass objects often have a direct relation to a glass blower's physical stature, and that a glass blowing bench is set up in such a way to make the majority of tools within arm's reach. Studio glass blowers have used the time making an object as an increment to mark larger chunks of time and set a time table for themselves while working in the studio. To the make the most of the time they are often paying for, they need to be able to set a tempo of an X piece made in Y minutes. The biggest divergence from Process Art, in studio glass, is the act of making is not the art itself (although it has been recorded on video as a type of performance, and for simply documentation) it's the final object that is the "art" and that object usually has a functionality or utility. In most cases of studio glass there is an object, a product, something made from action but not art.
Glass as a material, and more properly studio glass, is process oriented but not necessarily Process Art. The act of glass blowing is dictating the form and providing a context of functional object, but beyond that the realm of studio glass is lacking in true art. Some glass blowers have admitted to being fine craftsman and not artists, Dante Marioni is a famous example, while other glass blowers (usually not as well known) will fight tooth and nail to make sure you know that they are making art and not craft. Which leads to the question of; can studio glass objects be considered art objects? Unfortunately there seems to be no definitive answer to this question. Again, this seems to come down to kiln worked glass versus studio glass, and someone who has been discussing the "is it art or is it craft" debate for years is Bruce Metcalf, a jeweler/small metalsmith who has been writing papers and giving talks about fine craft and art. This is relevant because Mr. Metcalf has drawn a line in the sand in regard to studio glass. In his lecture entitled "The Art Glass Conundrum" at the annual Glass Art Society conference in 2009, held at Corning N.Y., Mr. Metcalf argues that there is very little in the way of studio glass as art. Most of the slides he references as art, and he shows artists Judith Schaecter - slide 43, Libensky and Brychtova - slide 46, Daniel Clayman - slide 47, and Clifford Rainey - slide 48, are examples of art in glass and they are all kiln worked, or kiln worked and incorporate mixed media. So if glass can exist as art, but not a studio glass sense, then where does that leave studio glass?
The question now shifts from can studio glass objects be considered art objects to can studio glass blowing be used as a vehicle to make art at all? Is it even possible to layer more actions upon the process of studio glass blowing to give meaning beyond formalist notions of decoration? The history of art is littered with movements/major artists being tied to actions of some sort. It is this action or even a reaction to a previous action that makes modern art what is, that singular experience being accessed by many in the gallery, museum, or some type of event outside a formal presentation. Some examples include the Abstract Expressionists, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Klein, Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Shigeko Kubota, Bruce Nauman, Carolee Schneemann, and Jenny Holzer.
For studio glass there seems to be an exception to the common rule of studio glass objects, Josiah McElheny. Mr. McElheny is an accomplished studio glass artist that has layered production glass blowing with the action of story telling. He accomplishes this by recreating glass from oil paintings, the stories from the objects in the paintings are now being fleshed out, and by recreating period glass from the past, bringing the past into the present by attaching a story to the object he is creating. By being aware of studio glass history and applying that knowledge to the larger context of art history, and literature, he has been successful in taking studio glass into the arena of art criticism by setting up his "historical fictions" and letting the viewer decide for themselves if the situation they see is real. Recently, another artist that has started producing historically influenced studio glass is Lino Tagliapietra. Mr. Tagliapietra's latest work, Adventure; 2011, is a cabinet of 98 smaller, glass vessels that are referencing the culture of the Mediterranean. While not as charged with as much history, and story, as McElhney's work, the history is there none the less and being put on display. These are examples of layering studio glass with other actions to create something viable for the art world view beyond large, technically proficient glass objects. These glass objects can be viewed as having something to say beyond being a commodity while simultaneously celebrating it's utility.
Breaking glass has always had elements of excitement and danger associated with it, and the sound of it is unmistakable. However, could the action of studio glass(Eros) be layered with the action of breaking glass(Thanatos) to create a viable art work beyond an inert, aesthetically pleasing, object? Try to picture a plexiglas box with a hammer inside, there is an arm length glove set into the box. This allows the viewer to insert their hand into the glove, reach into the box and pick up the hammer. The viewer now has a choice to break the piece of studio glass, that has already been placed in the box, or not. These interactions are the art, the physical objects left behind are the remnants of the process used to make it. Will the viewer proceed to smash the object inside and complete the work? Or will some sort of issue of nostalgia, or preciousness, prevent the viewer from breaking the object? By placing this "machine" into the White Cube, will that have an effect on the psychology of the viewer? Will people be able to knowingly break handmade glass objects (since that is an action most of us have participated in during adolescence and have outgrown since then; i.e. breaking windows on abandoned buildings with rocks) with everyone watching and waiting? An art work such as this can touch on nostalgia, preciousness, fear, breaking the "rules"(both in society as a youth and in the gallery as an adult), commodity, aspects of the handmade, and action. For it to be successful, the studio glass placed inside the box would have to be technically astute, of the highest quality, so that breaking it is something you might not want to do.
Within the art world, the process, or action, of glass blowing is not art and the majority of objects produced from it are not either. It is a fine craft, one that takes several years to have any sense of competency with the material, and that kind of dedication is something one can be proud of. The qualities of light, transparency, form, and color have been seducing people for thousands of years, ever since the Egyptians wound glass on a core of sand to make small, 2-3 inch high vessels for royalty. Modern technology has made glass an outlet and commodity for all, not just for the very rich. It is a specific action that can begin to take on new meanings once it is layered with at least one other action. By acting upon, or literally destroying, the utility of studio glass the possibility of a discourse, using studio glass as the vehicle, unlocks... breathes new life into it, so to speak. This approach would then start to circumvent Bruce Metcalf's declaration of "...most (studio) glass is not convincing sculpture... and if it's not convincing sculpture, it's not convincing art" and allow more studio glass, beyond Josiah McElhney, to begin taking it's place within the gallery as art and not just an aesthetically pleasing object. For this to work, one has to know art history and craft history to combine the two into an amalgam that can deal with the conceptual rigors of art while satisfying the longing for making fine craft. After all, Josiah can't have all the fun now can he?