Craft and Design in the USA, 1945 to the Present

This seminar examines the shifting boundaries of craft and design in the United States from World War II to the present. In the postwar era’s expanding consumer economy, studio craft and industrial design flourished, and the terms “craft” and “design” were materially and rhetorically interwoven within interpenetrating academic, museum, and commercial settings. But their meanings increasingly diverged during the 1960s and 1970s, as craftspeople seeking cultural authority and economic viability sought to position themselves as artists. During the 1980s, in turn, design practitioners re-engaged with craft as commodity via high design. These fluctuating professional parameters coincided with widespread amateur engagement in aesthetic production, often absent from design history. Contemporary makers continue to grapple with these issues. Topics include modes of production, consumerism, the interrelationship of modernism and postmodernism, and craft and design vis-à-vis popular culture, political discourse, social movements, globalization, and sustainability. Individual designers, craftspeople, firms, and groups will be discussed, along with thematic case studies. Sources considered include objects, exhibition catalogues, period writings, recent criticism, and site visits. The course’s final assignment is to conduct an interview with a maker for the Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project, 3 credits.