PRINT April 1973




I am troubled by the introduction of the term “crafts” into the critical vocabulary, used pejoratively in the description of certain works of art. The term “craft” is being applied to works made from unorthodox materials which have been used, however, by many artists in recent years. I had thought that the materials war had been fought and won by this time, but it seems that I am mistaken. An attitude seems to be surfacing that desires a return to oil paint and stone carving, which can be more easily dealt with critically.

The Oxford English Dictionary (Compact edition, 1971) defines “craft” as “intellectual power, skill, art,” explaining that “art and craft were formerly synonymous and had a nearly parallel sense-development, though they diverge in their leading modern sense.” Another definition given is “an art, trade, or profession requiring special skill and knowledge, especially a manual art.”

A recent turn of events is that many women artists have become interested in “domestic” materials, such as cloth, sewed objects, and other things normally found in their homes. It is in reference to this occurrence that I have begun to hear “crafts” applied to artworks. For some time women artists have questioned whether a work of art made by a woman is treated like a work of art, or as an artifact made by a woman instead of an artist. Are the issues raised by the artwork dealt with or is there an attempt being made to extrapolate information that exists only in the gender of the artist? I believe that the fact of gender sways the attitude of the person dealing with the work in a negative way.

Bruce Boice wrote about a work of mine, Subtrahend, in Artforum, January 1973, that: “The general appearance of the piece was that of a white shag-rug of some sort fixed to the wall, suggesting crafts more than art.” The color is not white; the material used is undyed sisal twine, a fact that can be quickly established by looking at the piece. Each strand of sisal is simply a device used to measure a specific length and is then affixed to the wall with a nail at an intersection on an inch grid. Next to the piece was a diagram of Subtrahend indicating the placement of each measured length of twine numerically. I must question his language and ask “crafts more than art,” what does that mean? I question his ability to deal with art made by women and art that will be made by women. His review took my work from “shag-rug” and “crafts” to Sol LeWitt. Was he unable to deal with the work on its own terms? Does he categorize the art made by Sol LeWitt as “crafts?” To my knowledge, that term has never been used in any critical statement about the work of LeWitt. Certainly, if Mr. Boice is interested in art and continues to write about it, he must consider his motives and his preconceived biases and work them out.

When Claes Oldenburg used sewn cloth, the term “crafts” was not used. When Richard Tuttle used unstretched dyed fabric, he was critically acclaimed for having ended preciousness. The term “crafts” was not applied to his work, nor the metal “rugs” of Carl Andre. In the latter case, I say “rugs” because the reference has been made publically and could be construed as a “crafts” issue. It has never been: Andre uses metal so apparently that’s male enough not to be considered “crafts.”

My message is not only intended for Mr. Boice, but it is directed to anyone who is involved with art.

Brenda Miller
New York City

Editor’s note: the following letter sent to Brenda Miller complements her discussion of the “crafts” issue.

You are disturbed that the word “craft” has been applied to your work. Do not blame the word but the uses to which it has been put. All artforms are rooted in their respective crafts—painting, stone carving, printing, historically; photography, plastic-working, cinema, television, in recent times. By “craft” I mean of course the body of knowledge, strength, and skill by which matter is transformed for human use—“the living fire that shapes the pattern. . .” (Karl Marx, Grundrisse).

The real question is why “craft” has been applied to your work and has not been to mine. I believe this is true because of at least two distinct cryptotypes that haunt our culture. As Benjamin Lee Whorf pointed out, some types in the English language are plain, such as number and tense, and some types are hidden, such as gender. That ships are referred to as “she” in English is an example of cryptotypic gender. I believe that at least two such cryptotypes are applied to our art. The first, sexual, is fairly easy to see. The second, economic, may be so close to us as to be nearly invisible.

I suggest that crafts are subject to sexual cryptotyping and hence the arts for which they are the sources. We have all heard about a painting with balls but somehow, except in the Vatican Museum, that description seems ludicrous when applied to sculpture. The evolution of Jean Arp as an artist without Sophie Taeuber is inconceivable. Can we think of a male painter who has worked in such an incredibly rich collaboration with a peer female? Women in 20th-century America have made at least as great a contribution to the art and craft of stone carving as men have. Let me suggest that in terms of art there is at least a partial cryptotyping as between painting and sculpture. It is perhaps gratuitous to suggest that the perennial announcements of the death of painting in the last decade may in fact have been cryptotypic obituaries for an obsolete sex stereotype.

This may explain why the term “rug” applied to my works has become a bastard patronymic and when applied to yours clearly is intended as a disparagement. Phil Leider, who has been sympathetic to my work, was the first to use in print the terms “rug” and “metal carpet” in referring to my metal-plate pieces. I am sure he chose these words, whether consciously or not, in order to relate artworks which he liked (my floor sculptures) with an artform he respected (painting). It was a kind of excluded-middle, cryptotypic, sex-change compliment. The “rugs” he was writing about he related to those one-piece, painted-fabric works which are rolled out flat on the floor before they are hung on the wall. I am sorry that he missed the plain relation of my work to the crafts of tilesetting and bricklaying which would have touched on the second cryptotype in our culture, that of economic class.

My point is that Phil Leider was mistakenly connecting my work to the “manly” art of painting by calling them “rugs” whereas the word was used to assign your work to such domestic arts as titting, tatting, embroidery, and rosepressing. These latter crafts are cryptotyped as female, hence inferior. What I am trying to say is that “craft” itself is not a pejorative term but that cryptotypic designations of male and female crafts exist. Male crafts tend to be called either arts or vocations and female crafts are called crafts or hobbies or diversions or follies or motherhood and housekeeping.

Our growing awareness of the unconscious burden of sexism which each of us in this society must bear makes the analysis of sex cryptotyping in our culture possible. Whether we have the intellectual courage to recognize our cultural cryptotyping by economic class is not yet proven. My works derive from the working class crafts of bricklaying, tilesetting, and stonemasonry. I have pointed this out over and over again and yet my works are described as “rugs.” That I think derives from a sympathetic attempt to rescue my work from what is impossible to the bourgeois imagination—an art derived from workingclass craft. Your works are described as “rugs” in order to place them in a cryptotype forbidden to art-workingclass production.

The truth is that the bourgeoisie have only one relationship to art—they own it. In so far as one has a productive relationship to art, one is a worker. The truth is that all arts derive from workingclass crafts and all the cunning used to defend the narrow passes of the culture against art is bourgeois cunning. The strength of the worker is that he produces. The strength of the bourgeois is that he can deny the artist access to the fruits of his own production. The recognition of cryptotyping in our culture by economic class is the recognition not of the inevitability of class struggle but that we are presently engaged in class struggle whether we acknowledge it or not.

Love and be well—as being to being, as artist to artist, as man to woman, as worker to worker, as friend to friend,

Carl Andre
New York City


Due to a printer’s error, the captions for the photographs of the work of Eva Hesse and Fred Sandback were exchanged in “Reviews,” Artforum, March, 1973.

In “Unconscious Formalism” by Joseph Masheck, Artforum, March, 1973, the date in the caption for The C Pit, Hepburn Colliery, should be after 1792, not 1972 as printed.