The Course

Craft and Design in the USA, 1945-Present

Taught by Catherine Whalen, Associate Professor at Bard Graduate Center.

This seminar examines the shifting boundaries of craft and industrial design in the United States from World War II to the present. In the postwar era’s expanding consumer economy, 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. Concomitant with these fluctuating professional parameters is the widespread amateur engagement in aesthetic production, often absent from design history. Topics addressed include the impact of technology, the interrelationship of modernism and postmodernism, and craft and design vis-à-vis popular culture, 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, and recent criticism. The final assignment for the course is to conduct an oral history interview with a craftsperson, artist or designer for inclusion in the Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project.