Anthony Easton, a Ft. Sask, Alberta, Canada based artist and blogger, participates in the Artists Interview Artists Project. Below Anthony responds to another artist's five questions (Melissa Kennedy from Nashville, TN). In order to participate, Anthony had to provide me with five questions for some other artist to answer. The assigning of questions to artists is completely random. If you're an artist and interested in participating, let me know.
1. Do you think craft, such as quilting, beading, furniture making, etc., should be considered art?
No, they should be considered craft. The binary b/w craft, and art, form and function, beauty and decoration, pretty, sublime, etc are useless. We fought these battles during modernism, and we lost interesting objects. By making quilts, beading, etc "art", we gain an aesthetic understanding, but we lose so much more. Quilts on the wall, prevent us from being warm, and they lose their role as texts to further social histories as well. There is a great book called Quilts & Women of the Mormon Migrations by Mary Bywater Cross that has a few hundred pages. Dozens of quilts have their own entries, and those entries talk about the creator, her history, her politics and her aesthetics—it marks them as important ritual objects, and objects that have functions outside an aesthetic one. A church pew, to have its full meaning needs to be in a church—a stained window means something different in a museum then it does at a 5:30 mass, and a piece of furniture that one cannot sit on is absurd. (I am thinking of Eames here, where objects designed for middle class, everyday use, which could be bought by most Americans, now cost as much as a nice used car, or a mortgage payment—it ruins Eames function while claiming their work as "Art".)
How do these things differ or are the same as the traditional definition of fine art?
Fine Art is useless. Its role is to be useless, since the rise of the iconoclastic protestant reformation; its use has been entirely about status. I have more money then you, I know more then you do, I am more sophisticated then you are, I am part of this tribe and you are not. It has occurred this way, in the west, since the group portraits of burghers in 17th century Amsterdam (The Group Portraiture of Holland (Texts and Documents Series) (Paperback) by Alois Riegl, Wolfgang Kemp, Evelyn m. Kain), which were not painted for Jesus but painted for selfish reasons. This seems like a horribly selfish thing but much of what we love are useless. Sports of useless, movies are useless, ice cream is useless. I have a friend of mine who c alls the purpose of art ice cream, blowjobs, and cancer. All of the emotions, the pleasure, tragedy, growth and decay of life that can be found in those three objects, can happen in the everyday, and do not have to be about fine art. The tradition has been heading this way, if you want to play with the narrative, since those severe burghers in Amsterdam.
How does craft then compare to works of art that use everyday objects or borrows from others?
This question answers itself. When you strip an object of its function, it is now art.
2. How do you think technology, especially the computer, has changed art?
Yeah, of course it has. I will talk about my work, because it is easier then being general about this, because being general means talking for people, and I feel uncomfortable maintaining that privilege. What I do is street photography, and I use two methods, one digital and one analogue. The analogue is not a 35 mm, as you might expect. It's a Polaroid, and they look great—the shadows are dark, the colours are rich, they come already framed, and they have a subterranean history attached to them. They lose all of that when scanned—but in order to submit them to journals, give them to galleries, and do the things that artists do, I have to make them digital. Because part of my photographic practice is preformative (i.e. some of the Polaroids end up on light poles, posters, window ledges, subway cars) and because I believe in destabilizing the cult of objects, I feel no real tug in my heart, when the photos get sent away, the originals become more seductive. The other method I use is digital, complete with a cheap camera, a generous memory card, and a decorator's eye. I take photographs everywhere; in everything, I do, recording where I have been. You don't have to worry about film, the editing is easier, the cropping can be done anywhere, the disemmation is well constructed, and a sense of place all come quickly. I am reminded of how Stephen Shore, in his American Surfaces series, took the same kind of photos as I do. Everytime I sit down and download the work I have taken into iphoto, I wonder about the trips he took across the west (or the concentric landscapes Eggleston took from Memphis; or the work of Baltz or Adams or any number of other people) with the huge cameras, the dozens of roles of film, the toxic chemicals of darkrooms, the shoeboxes in closets, and realizing that it's a gift for the ease of digital. It's also easier to hide, and easier to get photos that you aren't supposed to have.
In what ways do you find the advancement of technology to be a positive and a negative influence on art?
I talked about the positive, a bit above, the ease and the like. However, there is something powerful to every citizen of the United States having the same shoeboxes as Eggleston, of snapshots. I really like going through slideshows of other peoples vacation photos, really like seeing where they went, what they decided was important enough to take pictures of, and I like holding something in my hand when doing so.) Going to the local drugstore, and enduring that tender tug of waiting (i.e. some day my prints will come) that does not occur anymore. There is also a handsomeness found in really old school methods, that I am afraid will be lost. This might explain why so many new photographers are taking images from daguerreotypes, cyanotypes and other 19th century methods. Famous people like Sally Mann talking about death in What Remains (book available at Bullfinch Press), and Chuck Close's daguerreotype portraits (Alberico Cetti), of course—but any number of other people. There is preservation, but Kodak, Nikon, and other larger companies, are getting rid of the resources to make anything but digital, and for most artists, an ability to make choices about media is being taken away from them. (A really good example of the aesthetic and personal problems of these is a show at the Ransom Center, at the University of Texas, called the Image Wrought, who talks a lot about these issues, you can find more information here)
3. Are there any other artists (visual, performing, etc) or creatives in your family?
My dad writes, my aunt and grandmother are talented, but unimaginative Sunday painters, mom knits, nothing unusual.
How does your family influence and or support your work?
They go to the openings, they pay for shipping sometimes, they look at things I've shot, to tell me which are the best and which are the worst, they sometimes buy equipment…really they have been enormously supportive.
4. When someone asks you "what do you do", how do you respond (beyond saying, "I'm an artist")? What type of reaction do you get? What is your take on explaining "what you do" in 3 minutes or less to a total stranger?
I tend to verb it. I write, I take pictures. I find it difficult to think that my work is better then people doing vacation snapshots, and the phrasing of Artist or Photographer makes me part of an elite, that I feel uncomfortable with. When I take pictures of peoples trucks for example, or of their houses or inside their businesses, and they ask why—I often respond because it is interesting or beautiful.
5. What is your most prized piece of artwork (by another artist) that you own and why?
I like the pictures that my father took when he was 19, in Vancouver, for all the usual sentimental reasons.
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