Record: Where do you draw the line between what is and isn’t folk art?
Lisa Brodsky: I don’t draw lines, so I don’t know.
R: That’s probably better. It’s a societal obsession.
L.S.: I guess. I’m really hesitant with the word folk art too, to put that label on the work that I do. Folk art is really general to me; it’s the same as saying art. Folk is people, and that’s reflected in the art. It’s frustrating that folk art can be marginalized. I’d like to see more people invested in [folk art], giving crafts respect as art.
R: Why do you think that folk art isn’t given the respect had by other art forms?
L.S.: I think it’s because it’s untrained. Something our society has a lot of respect for is being tailored to a certain aesthetic. I think there’s a great fear not only in art but throughout society of not following an assumed way of doing things
R: Do you find that folk art is suppressed on campus?
L.S.: Not entirely. There’s a lot of knitting going on on this campus which is really great. I definitely think it could be more prominent though. I guess I associate some forms of art with agrarian society, and even though CES (Center for Environmental Studies) certainly isn’t an agrarian society, there’s things going on like the forest garden. There’s a lot of men who knit down at CES, and Ethan Plunket [’00] has taught us how to make grain ornaments before. Sharing is a big part of it. I think one of the most exciting things about folk art is doing it with other people. Physical work and community become a really strong part of this art. There was this exhibit at the WCMA, “Playtime,” and they had all these kids come in and build it. This is what art is to me, it’s conceptual art where the art is the process. I think folk art is the process, it’s not so product oriented even though you might get this useful product out of it. That exhibit was a really good example of that. It was this growing piece of art, and it was never static, never finished.
R: How would you define art?
L.S.: I wouldn’t. I think art is being engaged, that’s a really loose term.
R: Well then, tell me more about your perception of art.
It’s not necessarily about making things. My perception of art is that living beautifully or communicating beautifully is art. The way that you keep your room, or the way that you interact with people, giving someone flowers on just a random day, that’s art. That’s beautiful. There’s this Ani Difranco song where she says “Art is why I get up in the morning but my definition ends there?”
R: What’s the beauty of folk art?
L.S.: I think it’s really beautiful because it’s all about people and communication. I think there’s definitely something beautiful about fine art that’s very trained and professional, hung in museums, but there’s something really electric about folk art because it really reflects your heart and the energy that you put into it. I think a lot about function with art, not just hanging it and having it look pretty. I work in the college art museum. I really respect and appreciate it, but there’s this weird invisible barrier. There are these big sculptures that say to you, “I want to be touched,” but you can’t touch them.
R: You were awarded a grant for your art, weren’t you? Tell me more about the grant.
L.S.: It’s a creative project grant for CES and my grant proposes to study conceptions of home through physical experience and tradition. Things like weaving, craftwork, cooking. Things that are art in people’s lives that aren’t prominent as art, but as functional art. Like cooking as an art, something that you need but that people do really beautifully. I’m going to be in Crete, in a village that I lived in last year. It’s a rural village of 100 people. They practice a lot of traditional arts themselves, my [host] father there makes fishing nets, and the women do a lot of crocheting, a lot of embroidery, really gorgeous utilitarian work. One of the goals of this project is to think about the liberal arts institution, how it’s really invested in academic based knowledge but not necessarily in a specific geography. Then thinking about Berkshire county as a specific geography with a tradition that we can access. I know a couple of artisans locally, and I’ll be working with them to produce artwork that reflects different conceptions of home.
R: What specific forms of art do you do?
L.S.: I do a lot of weaving and quilting. When I lived in Oregon last year, I got a chance to practice a lot of indigenous arts and skills: basketry, coal-burning bowls, hide-tanning, making containers out of tree bark. So I guess there’s a pretty wide range of things. Weaving is definitely the most important to me right now. It provides the language for exploring a lot of ideas and understanding the complexity of relationships. It’s a really strong medium for understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.