Craft V Concept 1: In conversation with S Mark Gubb

This discussion was prompted by the Goldsmiths TV debacle and the blog entry previous to this. I had suggested that the incumbent M.A. students couldn’t craft their way out of a paper bag basically….


Shaun, increasingly your blogs/rants are getting more and more like that character in the fast-show that’s been involved in everything anyone mentions; they all focus around you not quite being involved with, or rejecting, important groups/moments being written in to recent art history… I think what we all want to know is where exactly were you when Kennedy got shot?


Behind the trigger Mark….I was also behind Joe Meek on the landing and possibly in Apollo 13 too but my memory going now…I think Zelig was the figure you looking for? Maybe I could be your next art project? 🙂 I will respond to your appraisal…I have written about Goldsmiths before and it a response to other people’s response to the fatuous programme on TV last night….I regard Goldsmiths influence on Trent as part of the problem not part of the solution and held these views long before I got involved in academia.Your response shows you support Goldsmiths then?


I don’t specifically support Goldsmith’s – my experience of the place is limited to very much the same as yours – an interview and a rejection in the mid-90’s. I don’t, however, have a huge problem with it. I also don’t understand why there’s a TV programme about it right now (however, I didn’t see it, so can’t really comment). I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant. They are a denial of the situation as it is – a concept driven, narrative approach to the creation of work has become the dominant mode in a lot (most) art-schools.

That’s not to say it’s right, it’s just a fact. That’s how things shifted through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. There’ll probably be another shift sometime soon, but I doubt it will be back to a (seemingly) purist position of skill and craft. There are also a hell of a lot successful artists who are incredibly, practically, skilled. The field is open to both. I wholeheartedly support the idea that an artist doesn’t need to be an artisan.

They can be, but not being so doesn’t , in my view, deny them the right to critical acclaim or to be involved in a profession that has no clear boundaries as to what it incorporates. This debate currently amounts to nothing more than a position of “this is shit, it was better, then.” That doesn’t change or help anything. It’s just moaning.

There are many art-worlds. Some are Hollywood, some are Ilkeston Community College and there is everything inbetween. People just need to figure out where they sit within these various worlds. There’s little point in a classically trained conductor moaning about the success of Girls Aloud. They all exist within the music industry but have absolutely nothing to do with each other.


Nice reply…as for the meat of your argument i.e…… I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant…..

I think you are wrong and I oppose that kind of attitude ..always have done…. and things are starting to tip in a new aesthetics direction but art schools like supertankers take a long time to turn…its about THINKING AND MAKING not either or….

As for coexistant artworlds this chimes with Gillick’s assumptions and I challenge the notion of separate artworlds I think they are intricately bound together in a way music is not. What happens at one end of the food chain affects the other. …

Nottingham Contemporary is providing propaganda for one view – a very Goldsmiths like view in my opinion. I am not asking people to join in a Ruskinian escapade of noble workers building roads again but it interesting that those who most divorced from tactile making are those most extreme in its denunciation.

Gillick represents the triumph in my eyes of a intellectualism divorced from reality that exists in a bubble of its own delusion and too many graduates think words alone can save my mind they are usually the weakest students.


I think we share more common ground than is maybe apparent here. Yes, they are often the weakest students, and they mostly disappear very quickly in to the chasm of ‘no-longer practising’ soon enough.

I also believe that it’s about thinking AND making, but I also stand by the idea that if an artist acknowledges a lack in their own practical skill maybe they want a marble carved of a thalidomide victim – to realise that work through the employment of someone who has spent their entire professional life perfecting that craft, is perfectly acceptable. They don’t need to go and train for 20 years to make that one piece of work.

To continue the discussion about co-existant art worlds, setting the discussion up in terms of a food-chain, a clear and entirely linked pathway, is misleading. What Tracey Emin does has absolutely no relevance or effect on Mr Smith’s seascapes that he paints and sells through a High Street gallery in a Cornish town. They are entirely seperate things. I think the problem is that people labour under the misconception that they are not.

Using the word propaganda about NC’s programme is, again, too sinister. NC is providing one view or take on the art-world(s). The museum provides another. If you don’t like it, don’t go. Find the galleries that are pushing the propaganda you agree with. If you’re Tory you’re not going to go to the Labour Party conference.

People are way too quick to see things they don’t agree with as entirely negative when, in fact, they are simply delivering something they don’t agree with, but something with no less relevance or right to be there than anything else (and something which, ultimately, may even be positively feeding a much broader situation).


The Warholian ‘director’ stance as adopted by Hirst and Emin is a flaw not a boon in my opinion. If that student actually tried to take on board some of the craftsmanship required to carve marble instead of just creating ‘yellow pages’ art we’d all be better off. My complaint about most Brit Art is that factor..if you can’t ring someone who can is a copout stance. Most of them were technically cackhanded. This proven by Hirst’s hilarious attempt to paint…

I think there is more awareness of the amateur seascapes world than you give credit having taught at that level those people have the internet now and what happens at Tate is on the radar in a way it never was before – yours is a more traditionalist view for once…never underestimate your audience 🙂

As for NC I used the word propaganda in its correct form….NC is propagating a view which it believes the only and correct view and it has no time for opposition parties Tory or otherwise….in time this will be its undoing….

For your information I have never been near the building and probably never will until a change of regime or it becomes a nightclub.

As for labour or Tory I agree with neither and my party is only one member strong so far…in fact probably aways will be I am a natural outsider.. 🙂


Then this is where we must agree to disagree. You clearly believe in craft being integral to a works validity, whereas I do not (I would argue that Hirst merely dropped a bollock by fundamentally changing his working practices after so many years i.e. making the paintings himself). I still don’t understand exactly WHY we would all be better off if everyone stopped having things fabricated…

I also don’t believe that NC is propagating a view which it believes to be the only correct one, it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators. As and when these people change, it will reflect a different view again.

..and just to clarify, my point about Emin and the seascapes was in no way a judgement of my imaginary painters awareness or interest in other areas of visual art, it was more an economic and theoretical assessment of the situation, whereby for every neon or bedsheet that Emin sells for £1m to (questionable) critical ovation, this has absolutely no effect or impact on the others love, ability or desire to paint the sea and sell them for £45 in a High Street gallery….

Right, I’m off in to the studios to handout some Gillick writings. You’ve caught me on the one day a week I get paid to de-skill the next generation of the curatoriat (we’ve taken most of their’s ability to tie their laces – have you seen the amount of slip-ons around these days? That’s art schools fault. We’re just working on how to take their ability to use a knife and fork, then we’ll be really rocking).


No I believe a knowledge of craftsmanship and an awareness of tactile elements is fundamental to an artists growth. How that artist ‘deploys’ is up to them..some conceptual art valid e.g. Stephen Willets, Conrad Atkinson but all had some traditional training…as for propogation which sounds better than propaganda… defined it in way that supports what I saying at this particular time …it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators.

I just not keen on the seeds it sowing…

As for seascapes…You are switching to a Gillickesque socio-economic analysis…I talking about visual awareness….not giving a neo-marxist analysis…as for Gillick handouts I presume they more like biblical texts……which makes you the Curatorial Moses 🙂

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Shaun Belcher

Contemporary art critic

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