Needlepoint for Men: Craft and Masculinity in Postwar America

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2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In 1992 when Clement Greenberg, one of the most influential art critics of the twentieth century, stated “Craft is not art,” it reflected more than half a century of thinking and writing on what he perceived to be the fundamental differences between modern art and mass culture. Greenberg emphatically excluded craft from his conception of modernism as it was neither high nor low culture but had become increasingly aligned, in the aftermath of World War II, with middlebrow consumerism. Furthermore, popular crafts such as needlepoint, for Greenberg
and many others like him, embodied essentialist notions of femininity - in their association with amateurism, leisure, and domesticity. And even though professional and amateur crafts grew exponentially in the period, needlecrafts, in particular, became enmeshed in a widespread moral panic about the erosion of American manhood by the perceived threat of feminization and ultimately
homosexuality. However, while Greenberg’s views are repeated ad nauseam, the context of his ideas in postwar debates about middlebrow culture and masculinity remain overlooked. This article, therefore, reconsiders the case of Russell Lynes (1910–1991), an exact contemporary of Clement Greenberg (1909–1994), who not only publically parodied Greenberg’s highbrow artifice but sought to destabilize it by drawing attention to the relation of painting to needlepoint, and thus modern art to craft, and more critically by exploring the role of men as fabricators rather than artists or designers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-331
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Modern Craft
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015

Keywords

  • Russell Lynes
  • Clement Greenberg
  • needlepoint
  • modernism
  • masculinity
  • middlebrow
  • homosexuality

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