Friday, September 2, 2011

Back to the Future - Manifesto-Style

by Dean Liscum

The manifesto is something of a twentieth century phenomenon. Categorically, it's strident, melodramatic, and overly simplistic, but also effective, pithy, and engaging. On August 6, 2011, the Kenmore hosted  Craftism: Preserving the Future of Art a manifesto conceived by Cat Coombes and Edward Lane McCartney.

Their manifesto is all that with a beautiful garnish.

Edward Lane McCartney's altar-fication of the Kenmore
complete with lapel pins made from the manifesto

Coombes performs the manifesto below...and you should watch it before you read on.

In case you didn't catch all that. Here's the 5 principles without the font stylings of the original followed by my observations of each maxim:

  1. WE RENOUNCE the term “Decorative Arts.”  Too long has this denigrating word been used to stomp on true ARTISTS, true ARTISANS, true Craftspeople – these three are one in the same!  Too long has that affected word been used to corrupt the idea of Beauty! WE ACCEPT only Aesthetics.  CRAFT is not the work of mere Pleasure: this is PORNOGRAPHY.  CRAFT is not the work of mere Function: that is Industry.  CRAFT STIMULATES THE INTELLECT.
    Me => Sticks and stones, baby. Make the art and let other people (like those damn art blog LOSERS) talk about it...It's interesting that a document that basically attacks semantics gets its philosophical panties wrapped up in those same practices.
  2. WE RENOUNCE those disciplines and Media that arise from that solipsistic model “Art for Art’s sake!” WE ACCEPT only those Media who have their roots in Use-Value, who hearken back to a gloried tradition of utilitarian FUNCTION.  Only those Materials that have known the burden of use can express true FREEDOM.
    Me => "Art for art's sake" is artists' form of shop talk. Its extremely useful to artists because it's artist celebrating the techninque, style, and approach to making art. It's basically a soliloquy on craft and it's actually very utilitarian to the artists because it's part of the conversation on making art. Painter, writers, and composers do it. Can some one in the pantheon of art just admit it and let us move on.
  3. WE RENOUNCE pure intellectualism and mere CLEVERNESS!  WE RENOUNCE the work of the Mind detached from any tangible Product: this is Art Criticism! WE ACCEPT only the OBJECT.  The OBJECT is physical!!!  It has weight, mass, volume!!!  The Artist must realize their Vision through MATERIAL!!!
    Me => Is the mind ever actually detached from an object? Yes, it can engage in higher order abstract thinking, but it always starts with objects and becomes more general and abstract. It never starts with the abstract and then narrows to a particular object...that's a tenet of Intelligent Design and if you are a devotee of that you made a wrong click sometime ago.
  4. WE RENOUNCE all Artists who work without a deep appreciation for their material.  Material is the exploration of a lifetime, not a throwaway for a fleeting concept! WE ACCEPT only the skilled work of the Hand.  The Artist’s innate Talent must be expressed through technique and MATERIAL!  And yet, we accept the most experimental of material techniques: these still draw from an ancient desire to create, explore, and transform dust and scraps into Art!
    Me => Make it with you own hands. But what if your art is a concept? That sounds almost experimental of material techinques...sans material.
  5. WE RENOUNCE the mass-produced object: this is Industry.  We renounce the interchangeable object that can be reproduced without thought or care. WE ACCEPT only the OBJECT that cannot be mindlessly replaced, the OBJECT that bears the mark of the HAND, the OBJECT that speaks to the Soul because it is Aesthetic, because it is grounded in our Human History, because it is UNIQUE!
    Me => I can imagine that at one point in time a finger-painting-cave-wall artist decried the use of horse hair brushes and papyrus. Make the medium yours don't let the medium make you. 'Nough said.
The content of the manifesto, like all manifestos, is extreme and provocative and not necessarily very practical. The contradictory title "Preserving the Future Art," which inspired the title of this blog, give it an ominous start. If nothing else, it tells you it's reactionary, which is to say fear-based Luddite-ism. The manifesto frames it's argument in philosophical terms, but it's basically a technological one. Those technologies are bad, but these technologies are the ones of art angels.

Woody Allen's Paris After Midnight addresses this same wormhole of an issue when the main character, who is obsessed with Fitzgerald-Hemingway-Stein's 20s, is abandoned by his love interest for her chance to live in the La Belle Epoque, with which she is obsessed. (The grass is always greener in the past.)

I'm not sure I believe that they whole-heartedly subscribe to the tenets of the manifesto as they chose to make it into a performance art peace. Plus, who hasn't made a few heart-felt declarations that one reconsidered a week later?

The recitation of the manifesto by Cat Coombes is excellent. I'm not sure when I will release my "Art Blogging in Houston" manifesto. But when I do, you can be damn sure that I'll try to get Cat Coombes to deliver it and Edward McCartney to fashion me some bling...for a very steep fee I'm sure.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love this manifesto. I don't agree with it fully, but I love the passion. Coombs and McCartney have been walking the walk for a long time. But there is often a reticence for Houston artists to say anything unless it is ironic, wrapped in humor, disingenuous, or--worst of all--mere boosterism and happy-talk. (Of course, the worst of all possible utterances from an artist is the dreaded "artist's statement.") A good manifesto REJECTS things--it's angry about things--it says THIS is our path because the other way stinks!

    "Heap up the fire to the shelves of the libraries! Divert the canals to flood the cellars of the museums! Let the glorious canvases swim ashore! Take the picks and hammers! Undermine the foundation of venerable towns! " That is from the Futurist Manifesto--a great one! Artists, be bold in your public statements! Don't be afraid to pick fights!

    So I congratulate Coombs and McCartney on their badass manifesto. And I welcome any other artists in town who wish to unleash intemperate manifestos, wild rants, or barbaric yawps of any sort--whether in text or in video (as above)--to send them to The Great God Pan Is Dead. We might not agree with you, but we'll run it. (However, mild affirmative artists' statements will be brutally rejected.)