The creation of a work of art requires craftsmanship. great artists prize craftsmanship most highly. They are the first to call for it's painstaking cultivation, based on complete mastery. They, above all others constantly strive to educate themselves anew in thorough craftsmanship. The Greeks, who knew quite a bit about works of art, used the same word for art as they did for craft, TECHNE, and called the craftsman and the artist by the same name TECHNITES.
The Origin of the Work of Art in Poetry, Language and Thought
One wonders what sort of works Martin Heidegger was thinking of when he wrote these lines in the 1960s, a time when the mainstream art world appeared to have abandoned craftsmanship altogether, first in favor of abstraction, and later in favor of industrial production, and mass reproduction. However, one need only question the definition of craft - that is, what sort of thing craftsmanship may be applied to - to see his true meaning, which is, that TECHNE denotes "a mode of knowing' and not art or craft per se. Put another way, TECHNE is neither the work of art itself nor the process of its creation; it is, he explains, the bringing forth of truth from its concealedness, or what the greeks called "aletheia"
Today we understand craft differently, by opposing it to mass production on the one hand, and to fine art on the other. The German critic Walter Benjamin tells us that "the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition", thereby diminishing its "aura;" a word he uses to encompass the work of art's authenticity and autonomy. Benjamin seems at first to be arguing that art loses its uniqueness when it is thus separated from the "fabric of tradition" but instead he claims that"mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence upon ritual," thus freeing it to become politically engaged.
What this means for the artists today is not simply that all technologies and media are now available for art making, but that a balance must be found between traditional methods and materials (which can still carry the aura of art) and political currency (socially relevant meanings). this is where we may find TECHNE today, and it is especially manifest in printmaking, the field which first felt the impact of technical reproducibility.
In the past, printmakers were in the enviable position of having their work available in more than one place. They could now reach the masses; however, their practice was still undeniably a craft requiring technical skill. Even the typesetters of the nineteenth century were craftsmen. Contemporary printmakers find themselves walking a fine line between this fabric of tradition and the political realm. Printmaking encompasses centuries-old media, such as woodcut, silkscreen and engraving (and etching), as well as newer technologies like lithography, collagraph and transfer printing. But does it also include digital art? Does experimenting with new forms of reproduction mean abandoning the umbrella of traditional printmaking? And how does the size of an edition affect our determination of what is a print? An offset press will reproduce two thousand copies per hour, but would we consider them to be as valuable as a dozen hand pulled prints? Would we still consider them to be art? Clearly, printmaking as an art form relies on some notion of indexical trace, the touch of the artist's hand, despite the intervention of reproductive technology. Printmaking as a craft, meanwhile, is still hindered by notions of mechanization and the removal of the artist's hand. This paradox has resulted in the virtual exclusion of printmaking from most discourse i.e. most people aren't aware of the effort that goes in producing a print, as well as from other craft practices, which traditionally focus on the unique handmade object.
Nevertheless a new term - fine craft- has evolved in recent years to encompass craft-based media with political (socially relevant) content. Fine craft endeavors to account for the gray area between fine art and decorative or functional craft. Thus a new definition of fine craft appears as:" An artistic endeavor characterized by the creation, with skill and hand, of three dimensional work that is rooted in, but may transform, transcend or maintain traditions, techniques and materials of the utilitarian object."
For me personally this means that although I learn from and utilize traditional methods of reproduction, my real aim is to experiment. Experiment with matrices and grounds, with inks and dyes, and other unconventional methods of printmaking.
If we return to Heidegger and accept TECHNE as neither the product nor the process but rather as a mode of knowing, of uncovering truth, we may conclude that art is intended for reflection rather than consumption; that it is a process of thinking that extends from intention to interpretation. Hegel, who foreshadowed both Benjamin and Heidegger, saw this clearly: 'The work of art has not such a naive self-centered being, but is essentially a question, an address to the responsive heart, an appeal to affections and to mind. What better definition can there be of meaning in art?
May you be TECHNITES!!!