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Glenn Adamson in conversation with HDK student Elin Alvemark

News: Jun 26, 2018

Glenn Adamson is a central figure in Art Theory focusing on craft and design and the writer behind Thinking Through Craft, The Invention of Craft and Art In the Making. Today, he is a senior scholar at Yale University but previously he has also been head of research at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. HDK student Elin Alvemark met Glenn Adamson in Gothenburg and asked questions about work and motivation.

You are a critic. How do you relate to being reviewed? Do you read reviews of your books?

– Yes I do, but when Thinking Through Craft came out just a few reviews were published. A more interesting thing happened when the book was embraced by art students. I had originally written Thinking Through Craft as an answer to postwar art history but as far as I can see, the postwar art history has not taken any notice whatsoever. It has completely passed that reading circle. Though you may have found some reviews I haven’t found!?!

Glenn Adamson laughs loudly and continues.

– I feel extremely fortunate that this audience revealed itself. I had no idea it existed when I wrote the book. Without the art students, the book had fallen into oblivion and no one had bothered to care about these topics. When The Invention of Craft came out, it got reviews that were more thorough and more useful to me. Since I had a little bit of a track record by that time, more interesting writers picked it up and at least this time I could tell they had actually read the book!
– The other thing I would like to share is how much Thinking Through Craft is a continuation of my dissertation. My dissertation was at the time incomplete and my external supervisor Caroline Jones, now a professor at MIT, had a lot of negative things to say about it, which I took to heart and used when I re-worked it. This is a part in how I structured my thesis and later how I came to work with the thoughts in Thinking Through Craft.

I think one of Thinking Through Craft’s great merits is that it is funny!

– I think you are making an interesting observation regarding the satirical tone of the book, which I do not think I use anymore. Thinking Through Craft is very much "a young man's book". I perceived a lack of intellectual seriosity in the field overall. I felt specifically a lack of sophisticated literature in the field of craft. I reserve myself the right to define Thinking Through Craft as a sophisticated book (laughing). I can honestly say it's not true anymore. Today, there are so many who write very well formulated in the field of arts and crafts theory and crafts history. Today my frustration had not been adequate.

How do we handle what humanity at a time when digital life increasingly takes us over? Can the handmade give us human worth? How? That's what I'm writing about now.

In what way do you think public recognition changes a person's work? Has it changed for you?

- I've thought about it and it has motivated me to write the book that is going to be published in August called Fewer Better Things. It specifically targets a wider reading circuit. It was funny because I aimed to write so that my own mother would understand, but the editor came back with feedback and thought I should suppress the academic tone. When the magazine reviewed the first edition, they wrote "good, but somewhat academic!".

What’s your take on that?

– How difficult it is to find the balance. You do not want to sound condescending and "talking down". At the same time you want to avoid unnecessary academia and thus alienate.
– However, I think politics today is not about right wing and left wing but more about just this. That is, people who have a tolerance for complexity versus people who lack a tolerance for complexity. So the reason, as I see it, that someone would vote for Donald Trump, is that they cannot handle the global complexity that is today's situation. We have access to endless amounts of information. In that situation there is the tendency to turn off and shut down, which I think is human. I understand that. One says, "I do not want to know. Keep it simple! ". This is the social context and situation I'm writing in today. That has changed from when I started and wasn’t very recognized. It is beyond questions like; should I value the item because it's handmade or skillfully made. The core issue is about a broader theme: How do we handle what humanity at a time when digital life increasingly takes us over? Can the handmade give us human worth? How? That's what I'm writing about now.



Originally published on: hdk.gu.se

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