26 December 2010

The Day After Christmas.

Hello, Boxing Day!

I had a lovely, lovely Christmas with my family. We all gave each other presents and had a merry old time. (Please note that, although I am Eastern Orthodox and typically celebrate Christmas in the usual sense on December 25, I am aware of the calendar difference and usually try to remember January 7, as well.)

For Christmas, I received a number of very nice things, including three books relating to knitting. These were Japanese Inspired Knits by Marianne Isager, Haiku Knits by Tanya Alpert and -- less related to actual patterns than to ideals -- Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting by a number of different people. I'm already working on one of the projects in Haiku Knits. It's a beautiful little capelet-type cardigan thing. Pictures will follow eventually. Both books have such beautiful patterns in them; it was very difficult for me to decide what ones to pick.

Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting, however, is a different kind of animal. It is, I think, the catalogue of an exhibit put on recently by the Museum of Arts and Design. It features works by Cat Mazza, Shane Waltener and Hilal Sami Hilal, among others, and highlights the use of "craft" -- in this case, knitting, crochet and lace-making techniques -- to showcase ideas about, for example, domesticity and societal appropriateness.

While I find the idea of using knitting and other "craft" techniques to create fine art, I question the inclusion of some of the works and artists in the book. The problem I see with many of the works -- Dave Cole's fiberglass and lead teddy bears, for example -- are interesting, from the technical standpoint (knitting with lead? Sweet Jesus!) but less so from a conceptual standpoint. By this, I mean that the ideas being explored, things like "domesticity" and "body image" and "Femininity" and even -- no joke -- "self-obsession," are just not that interesting. The entire appeal, and most interesting aspects, of the works shown in the book lies in the medium. "The medium is the message," or so they say.

But I don't believe that.

The medium is not the message. The medium is part of the message, but, in my opinion, is not all of it. For an example, take James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. In Ulysses, Joyce not only has made radical changes to the medium -- novels have not been the same since, to put it mildly -- but he also had an interesting message about why and how life is and should be lived. (For more on this, see Harold Bloom's The Western Canon and Declan Kiberd's Ulysses and Us.) Ulysses is interesting, readable (yes, really), engaging and, at times, hilarious.

Finnegan's Wake, on the other hand, is none of those things. It is virtually impossible to read. It is incoherent, and a sad comedown from the glory that is Ulysses. This is because Finnegan's Wake is entirely focused on the medium. It has little in the way of a message, little of character -- on the parts of both the "characters" in the novel and the character of the author, which was, by then, entirely self-obsessive. Finnegan's Wake is all about the medium... And it is boring. It is good for divination, maybe, and little else.

This is the problem with Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting. It is all about the medium, which I suppose is implicit in the title. But the artists themselves have so little to say, and no decent way of saying it.

Not that I'm ungrateful. I like the book and, as I say, it is inspiring. I just wish that the medium wasn't everything.

Oh, and, erm, happy Boxing Day.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. You might find a reading of McLuhan's "The Medium is the Massage" interesting, since he's the one responsible for 'them' saying that. It doesn't take long to get through, thanks to the large number of images and pictures. You may want a mirror handy though.