[Fwd] Persuasive Object Article Published

You’ll find the presentation that Marion Marshall gave at the
Persuasive Object conference earlier last year at:


—text only version

Goldsmith/ silversmith Marion Marshall owns the Melbourne
shop/gallery Marshall Jenkins Studios. Marshall was invited to
speak at the crafts conference The Persuasive Object held in New
Zealand April 17-19, 1998. Below is the text for her lecture
which she has very generously agreed to make available to
Craftsite Australia.

Has Academia Hijacked the Crafts and Who Will Pay?

In introducing myself to you I would like to explain the
diversity of my practice and experience. My paper today is a
direct reflection of personal experience, although I have
consulted others to help strengthen my thoughts.

For 23 years I have worked six days a week as a gold and
silversmith. I have my own shop/gallery and attached to it a
workshop. I have employed others for 22 years and trained three
apprentices of jewellery making in their four-year
apprenticeships. I have also lectured for nine years sessionally
at Melbourne University and for nine years at RMIT. This has been
for five or six hours once a week for 26 weeks in the year. It
could never be called a living but it has certainly helped me to
gain a perspective on tertiary institutions and the students they

I have also been President of both the Crafts Council of Victoria
and the Crafts Council of Australia, Deputy President of the
Asian Zone World Crafts Council, and Board member of the Visual
Art/Craft Board of the Australia Council, Australia92s Federal
Government funding body. I am presently involved with Craft
Australia’s Branding Project where craftspeople can register to
use the Craftmark as part of a strategy to identify
Australian-made products in commercial settings. In case you do
not pick it up later, I will tell you now that I am passionate
about the crafts and the way craftspeople are represented and

My daily practice varies between designing one-off work, made by
my studio to satisfy a steady clientele who want engagement
rings, wedding rings and presents, and designing and making for
larger commissions. Recently the Jewish Museum of Australia
commissioned me to make an eternal light for their Museum and I
have received numerous other Judaica commissions. This is a great
chance to work on a larger scale.

I also exhibit and last year was in three major shows. For the
Rigg Award at the National Gallery of Victoria I made a
two-metre-long work for an eight-week showing and several
reviews. The cost of making the work was $9000 and in the end it
returned to a box in my studio. The Object of Idea, a two-year
touring show to Queensland and New South Wales, was curated to
express the idea behind the object. For it I made work I was
passionate about because it expressed in exhibition format my
everyday work. The exhibition has toured for one-and-a-half years
yet so far I have not been sent any reviews or responses to a
work which cost $12000 to produce and which kept the curators in
full-time work for four months. This work will hopefully be
saleable with alterations on its return. I was part of another
national show Circles Around the Body, which opened in Tasmania
and gave the two curators a grant for the curatorship, but so far
I have not even received the catalogue.

My curriculum vitae is strong. It shows a heavy exhibiting
profile. To exhibit and earn a living I need to work seven days a
week. This does not at all equate to my bank balance. If I
continue to exhibit as I did last year I will lose all of my
friends and lifestyle and be in debt.

Not all craftspeople are driven to exhibiting and these
craftspeople are the backbone of the practice we are here to talk
about. I hope you will not lose sight of that as I speak today.

When telling a friend recently that I was going to speak at a New
Zealand conference she asked what I was going to say. I told her
the title of my paper: “Has Academia Hijacked the Crafts and Who
Will Pay?”. “Wow,” she said, “What does that mean?” My answer

Writers and curators have become the public face of the
professional side of the crafts. They contribute to magazines
and catalogues which live on long after the work has been sold or
destroyed. Curators and writers are understandably looking for
an interesting perspective or curatorial theme and thus they
expose work which gives them a chance to develop a deeper debate
or explore their own pet issues.

Writers and curators have therefore become the voice of the
crafts. They are usually the ones asked to speak at openings
where the audience does not even have to read the publication to
get the sense that thoughts and words are what matter most about
the work. At the opening of Symmetry, a touring exhibition
linking craftspeople with allied trades such as breadmaking and
dentistry, the speaker congratulated the curator, the catalogue
designer, the lighting expert and the maker of the display cases.
There was no reference to the craftspeople at all. A number of
influential craft writers and theorists in Australia have
developed a craft debate which relies on fine art theory,
completely excluding the practitioner whose work centres around
the traditions of material and process.

The Visual Arts/ Craft Fund of the Australia Council, the Federal
Government Funding Authority, is the major funder for visual arts
and craft events, exhibitions, publications, organisations and
individual grants. This fund assesses applications according to
visual arts criteria, i e, the message within the medium and the
visual power of the slide. When a panel evaluates a submission
they may never have seen the work before. However they are likely
to have read recent publications on visual art/craft practice, so
there again we see the power of the written word. Most assessors
have a formal education in the arts, and in Australia that means
an in-depth study of the history of painting. Seldom do art
history classes cover design or three-dimensional studies,
although most have covered high- and low-relief and occasionally
Greek black- and-red wares. So of course the panel assessing the
work can identify more readily with a painting exploring
sexuality in painting history than with a potter pursuing the
domestic tea cup and its limited production possibilities.

Students studying the crafts in Australia are either at TAFE
where there is a closer sense of relationship with industry and a
job, or at University. Most craft studies are within Fine Art
Departments at University although some sit with Design
Departments. This can change the way in which the usefulness of
the product is viewed, as Design Departments also have industry
interchange and therefore the maker of the everyday domestic
product is often encouraged to work with industry to develop
work. However in Fine Art Departments the emphasis is on the
one-off conceptual, with students encouraged to explore issues
before resolution of design or function. This emphasis is easy to
justify as one is training to be an artist and a job at the end
is not meant to be an issue. I wonder how many parents and
students understand this at interview time.

Students see their lecturers as role models and tertiary budget
cuts have seen a reduction in the number of sessional lecturers
who can teach one day a week and yet still be in their studios
four to five days. Therefore the role model nowadays is a
lecturer with a high profile and often prolific exhibition
practice, a person who often writes and curates, as extra points
come to departments for such activities. Often this person has no
relationship with production work or the craft of the everyday,
although perhaps they search for these items as gifts for their
friends and family.

Therefore how can the student see the worth of a career of hard
physical labour making a production line or domestic product?
They do not hear about the work at University. They do not see
exhibitions of this type of work. They cannot read curatorial
reviews or in-depth articles about it. They do not know any role
models. And as if that were not enough, education budgets are
being cut so that studio time with a lecturer is rapidly shrinking
at every University around Australia. This is culminating in a
lack of skill in students.

For many craftspeople the only places that understood their
predicament were the Craft Councils. But many of these have
changed their faces in the need to capture funding and so have
moved to the exciting and new, often quirky, ephemeral work which
achieves press coverage and media exposure. As craftspeople
retreat to their studios the only ones left with the energy and
inclination are the educators and curators. They are the strong
articulate voices on committees and boards and they are changing
the direction of organisations who were seen to be holding the
hand of the quiet maker.

Organisations have to compete in an arena which wants the
showiest exhibition, the most colourful concept and the
provocative stance. Craftspeople are often the quiet voices in a
competitive environment. Their egos are fragile and their
training has seldom equipped them with words to express the value
of their own output. They feel ignorant and shy when the unique
concept is discussed in a way which places it higher than
tradition, technique and material. They are often so involved in
their own concerns with new glaze techniques, the complexity of
making new forms, developing new designs and the business of
earning a living to reward the hours given to the task, that they
do not or cannot spare time to committee involvement, especially
if made to feel that they are insular or unworldly. The solitary
nature of a steady practice means that words do not come easily
and methods have to be learnt to overcome such barriers.

If the crafts have been hijacked, whose fault is it? Have
craftspeople been bound and gagged and left in the basement or
have they taken sleeping pills so that the argument can go on
without them? A conference such as this has the potential to look
to the future, offering New Zealand the chance to learn from
others92 successes and failures. But the debate is real only if
both sides are equal. This conference started at its formulation
stage with questions which were hard and real for craftspeople.
However it responded to the people who sent draft papers. Most of
the Australian speakers here are attached to galleries,
organisations and universities. Most can use a conference such as
this to further their careers, many can conjure up an expense
account and get credit points from their universities for papers
given, and most can even make sure that their thoughts are seen
and acknowledged by others. Yet none would have a job without the
full-time crafts professional. So why haven’t we heard from
more of them? Will they wake up from the sleeping pills and find
that a new direction has been taken for New Zealand crafts? Will
they then beat their brows and say that academics never listen to
them? Or will they go back to their studios and get on with the
daily production which now no longer has an acknowledged place?

And will they care!

And will you care enough to not listen to the loudest

Marion Marshall April 1998

B r i a n A d a m J e w e l l e r y E y e w e a r