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The Deskilling and Reskilling of Artistic Production

workshop leaders:  Devon Knowles and Luanne Martineau

Beth Frey | Brendan Flanagan | Colleen Heslin | Hideki  Kawashima | Kerri-Lynn Reeves
Kristin Nelson | Nathaniel Hurtubise | Sandra Smirle | Sheena Hoszko  | Travis McEwen
Yannick Desranleau | Candice Davies

COLLOQUIUM : NOVEMBER 14, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. with reception to follow
Elissa Auther  | Candice Hopkins | Luanne Martineau | John Roberts | Kirsty Robertson | Ezra Shales | Shannon Stratton



The Deskilling and Reskilling of Artistic Production is a research-workshop and coinciding lecture series that will focus upon the historical and contemporary links between the artisanal production of “making” and the capitalist market system. Since World War II the boundaries of all artistic practice have been repeatedly challenged, but currently there seems to be a pressing sense of the need to “rescue” the “making” of art and its mediums. The “rescue” of artisanal production has taken on growing significance since Rosalind Krauss championing of dematerialized art practice in 1979.[1] In her seminal text Sculpture in the Expanded Field Krauss expanded the critical discourse of art to mesh multi-disciplinary practice— unfettered by the conditions of any particular medium—with the idea that a more egalitarian society required a more egalitarian art. The contemporary ideal of post-studio production (the rejection of the studio as a socially relevant site and subject for artistic creation) is frequently located in this historical moment of minimalism and post-minimalism and the dematerialized art object that emerged. Eliminating the aesthetic earmarks of virtuosic studio crafting and subjective anthropomorphism via the factory site of an industrially based assemblage tradition, minimalism championed a trajectory of abstraction that prioritized the artwork as a literal object, leaving behind complex forms and figuration as an artistic subject. Finding the use of artistic medium as a conduit for personal expression to be an exhausted tradition of visual-material deceit, minimalism’s rejection and refusal of the artisan tradition within the work of art was a way of transforming the arena of contemporary artistic activity, one that would surpass art’s traditional role as a communicative vessel for history, wealth, nation building, faith, fantasy, and subjective memory.

But today, the factory finish and the readymade no longer sustain the presumption of objective criticality, the socio-economic democratization of artistic medium, or the emancipation of artistic labour. Making within the contemporary artists’ studio now occupies the territory wherein it’s seen as being both fundamental and peripheral. Post-studio practice and high production values transformed art at the end of the last century, making the deskilling of artistic creation a norm in both its education systems and its professional practices.

The current interest in the skills of making under the broad umbrella term “reskilling” seems to contain a moral and ethical imperative about how we artists make our decisions, what we choose to put out into the world, and the material processes we use. There is much discussion and activity around the return to a kind of decentralized art practice. Discussions about local involvement and geographical specificity are pursued as a form of resistance to the ethical relativism and alienation of labor that accompanies our endlessly expanding fields of outsourced material production and dissemination. The Deskilling and Reskilling of Artistic Production research workshop will focus specifically on how contemporary artists are revisiting the skill of making as a place from which to critique or react to the post-digital age of software-specific art and design, consumerism, condensed time, and globalism. Can subjective forms of expression be reconciled with capitalist methods of production? What is the place of skilled artisanal production in a technological society? There is a limited history of “artistic disinterest” in the modernist tradition within craftsmanship, and artisanal skill has long been intrinsic to cultural displays of money, class, social status, ancestral pedigree, and associated privilege. Pulling together practicing artists and art theorists to discuss these most pressing questions within the forums of a seminar-workshop and lecture panel series, The Deskilling and Reskilling of Artistic Production will be a multi-dimensional research environment for evaluating and discussing this profound shift in the understanding of contemporary artistic production.


The formal lecture series portion of The Deskilling and Reskilling of Artistic Production will bring together some of the leading practitioners and thinkers within the outlined field of research. The presented lectures will act as a framework for the subsequent research activities of the participants, providing focused zones for idea exchange, research input, and debate. This lecture series is intended to be a generative think-tank for gathering data and exchanging ideas, and as such cannot be focused explicitly on the production of new academic writing. Our goal is to have this lecture series function as a cornerstone to the research interests of Concordia’s newly formed Drawing Lab, one that will extend the Drawing Lab’s research concerns to a broader community of artists and researchers studying the implications and outcomes of artistic deskilling.

This project has been made possible with the support of the Canada Council of the Arts,  Artexte, The Office of the Dean of Fine Arts at Concordia University, and FOFA Gallery.

Elissa Auther 
Associate Professor, Department of Visual and Performing Arts, University of Colorado

Candice Hopkins 
Independent Curator and writer

Luanne Martineau
Associate Professor, Studio Arts, Painting and Drawing, Concordia University

John Roberts
Professor of Art and Aesthetics, School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton, UK

Kirsty Robertson
Associate Professor, Department of Visual Arts, University of Western Ontario

Ezra Shales
Associate Professor, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston

Shannon Stratton
Executive and Creative Director, threewalls artist residency and exhibitions, Chicago



[1] Rosalind E. Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, October, Vol. 8. (Spring, 1979), 30–44.

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