Sioban Piercy  

The Insincere Object: A critical evaluation of the skilfully made work within contemporary fine art and the relationship of craft and concept in the making of the artist’s book.


​The title for this paper comes from a comment made by Edward Lucie-Smith in 1995 - ‘that more and more since the advent of Arte Povera the well-made work finds itself accused of insincerity’. This legacy of the ‘skilfully made object’ somehow being ‘insincere’ within Contemporary Art practice will be my point of departure. The aim will be to bring into focus underlying attitudes and values to making, craftsmanship and skill and to examine this in relation to the emergence of the ‘artist’s book’ in the twentieth century.

Duchamp’s ready-made led to the establishment of the notion that art was not in the skill of the maker but in the idea of the artist. Can it be argued that this reversal of the traditional position of craftsmanship has now led to a new orthodoxy and as Glenn Adamson puts it ‘the lack of evident skill somehow implies the presence of concept’? Johanna Druker, Clare Lehmann and other theorists argue that the use of the book form

was motivated by the same agenda as the Dadaists and Arte Povera: specifically, Conceptual artists who used it for its cheapness, multiplicity; an alternative to the reified art object.

However, convincing as it is that the artist's book owes its origins to conceptual art, isn’t there a much older but equally influential precursor to the artists book? That is the tradition of the book as a beautiful, visual and sensuous crafted object? Can one conclude that the artists book seems to have two distinct origins running in parallel if not in direct opposition to each other? How do these apparently conflicting attitudes impact on the making and reception of the artist’s book today? As the practice of making artists books becomes more theorised many critics seem keen to make the distinction and keep them separate; craft objects vs conceptual artwork. My argument will be that the book is a threshold between materiality and imagination, a liminal space between the sensuous and the thought, where paper and ink transmute into objects of the imagination. According to Arthur C. Danto, Duchamp replaced the sensuous with the intellectual. “What we must do… is to recognize the way art can, indeed must, be rational and sensuous at once. And then determine how the sensuous properties are related to its rational content.”


​Sioban Piercy’s work has received recognition nationally and internationally via numerous awards and exhibitions. She has exhibited worldwide in galleries such as the Royal Academy, London; the Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Pallazzo Poli, Rome; Museo Nacional del Grabado, Argentia; Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris, and the Donna

Beam Gallery, Las Vegas to name some. Her most recent one-person show, ‘Foreign Bodies’; was featured as part of the visual art programme for the Galway International Arts Festival 2015. She has received awards from the Royal College of Art, London; the British School at Rome, the International Print Triennial in Cracow, Poland; the Printmakers Council of Britain; amongst others. Her work is represented in major collections throughout the world- the Ashmolean, Oxford; the Instituto Nationale Per la Grafica, Rome; Churchill College, Cambridge; Arts Council of Ireland; Columbus College, U.S.A.

In art education, she has worked as a lecturer, visiting artist/resident, at various Institutes including Paderborn University, Germany; Columbus College, U.S.A.; The University of Nevada, U.S.A.; The University of West of England; The Crawford College of Art, Cork and the Centre of Creative Arts and Media, Galway, Ireland where she was head of Fine Art Printmaking from 2003 to 2015. She was recently elected associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers in London.

She lives in Athenry in County Galway, where she also has her studio.