Juror's Statement for Art in Craft Media by Stephen Saracino

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When asked to remark why Craft is important to me my initial response is rhetorical: What, after all, is Craft? To most, craft suggests some sort of an object that is hand made. What form of art isn't? Even computer-generated ideas rely on the hands of the human pushing the buttons (so far). I have never perceived incongruence between the words craft and art so juxtaposing the words, Craft Art, or Fine Art, becomes redundant, they are inextricable. From a medium standpoint, could a Raphael tapestry in the Vatican collection, or a Cellini saltcellar at the Bargello be characterized as craft? Why not? Are they not fashioned using traditional craft media? Classifying an object by medium adds confusion into a dialog that is ill served by such labeling. Can aesthetics relegated to a “crafted” object somehow be differentiated from those relegated to other forms of “art”, or should such judgment rest solely on a debate of aesthetics or creativity? Would one argue that the statue of David was not well “crafted”? Duchamp’s Dada inspired urinal reopened a discussion of classification begun at the Fauvism exhibition at the Salon d’Automne. Besides the initial shock value both of those events created, they were very problematic to those in support of existing norms and classifications. Theoretically these discussions have more or less been settled. Perhaps it’s time for this craft/art discussion to be unwrapped.

The better question to ask is why object making is important to me. Quoting George Harrison, “Mainly, the object has been to get something out of my system as opposed to ‘being’ a songwriter”. Object making affords me an opportunity to get something out of me, to illuminate an idea, one of which resides within this exhibit. Object making defines the human spirit, challenges the maker to examine their reality, and adds beauty and intellectual curiosity into the human dialog.

Next, choosing the medium I work in resulted from chance. Having explored various mediums I, by happenstance, ended being formally trained as a traditional jeweler by an aesthetician whose work was grounded to high levels of beauty. This training initially introduced me to two realities. The object needed to be designed with a high level of aesthetic and technical acuity and, if worn, made with precious materials and close attention to scale and placement. However, I immediately made a decision that ideas trumped beauty as the defining factor. Nonetheless, choosing to engage the scale relegated to body adornment worked well for the narratives I work within. For better or worse I have tried to keep a jewelry or metalsmithing idiom as the root for my work. Yet, these objects have mostly evolved well beyond owning even a vestige utilitarian function. Given the subject matter I confront, using precious metal and sometimes gems adds to the viewer’s conundrum. Bracelets or rings that could be, probably can’t be, and in fact never should be worn become platforms to launch my narratives. Freely referencing historical idioms and iconography from past civilizations including conventions such as reliquaries, candlesticks, corkscrews, and even torture devices, keeps me dwelling within the province of sterling silver that remains my medium of choice. Using precious metal sometimes limits the scale but oft times I lose that battle and allow both the narrative and the object itself to define final size.

By Stephen Saracino

About Stephen Saracino
Stephen Saracino (born 1948) is a Western New York artist and professor in the Design Department at Buffalo State.  His work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums throughout the United States and Japan and is included in the Burchfield Penney’s collection.