Rugs, Guitars, and Fiddling
Intensification and the Rich Modern Lives of Traditional Arts
A groundbreaking analysis that focuses on how current, widely enjoyed expressive culture retains its traditionality while recruiting new fans
What do exotic area rugs, handcrafted steel-string guitars, and fiddling have in common today? Many contemporary tradition bearers embrace complexity in form and content. They construct objects and performances that draw on the past and evoke nostalgia effectively but also reward close attention. In Rugs, Guitars, and Fiddling: Intensification and the Rich Modern Lives of Traditional Arts, author Chris Goertzen argues that this entails three types of change that can be grouped under an umbrella term: intensification. First, traditional creativity can be intensified through virtuosity, through doing hard things extra fluently. Second, performances can be intensified through addition, by packing increased amounts of traditional materials into the conventionally sized packages. Third, in intensification through selection, artistic impact can grow even if amount of information recedes by emphasizing compelling ideas—e.g., crafting a red and black viper poised to strike rather than a pretty duck decoy featuring more colors and contours.
Rugs handwoven in southern Mexico, luthier-made guitars, and southern US fiddle styles experience parallel changes, all absorbing just enough of the complex flavors, dynamics, and rhythms of modern life to translate inherited folklore into traditions that can be widely celebrated today. New mosaics of details and skeins of nuances don’t transform craft into esoteric fine art, but rather enlist the twists and turns and endless variety of the contemporary world therapeutically, helping transform our daily chaos into parades of negotiable jigsaw puzzles. Intensification helps make crafts and traditional performances more accessible and understandable and thus more effective, bringing past and present closer together, helping folk arts continue to perform their magic today.
"Chris Goertzen is a master storyteller whose affection for folk arts shines through each page of this book."- David G. Hebert, coeditor of Theory and Method in Historical Ethnomusicology
"Although folklorists regularly study oral, musical, customary, or material traditions practiced within cultural communities, they infrequently examine all of at once; and when they do, their efforts seldom achieve the level of historical, ethnographic, and theoretical depth and sophistication evident in Goertzen’s work. Those compelled by the tensions between locally grounded artistic traditions and global cultural changes will welcome Goertzen’s evidence and insights, as will aficionados of the rug-weaving, guitar-making, and contest-fiddling traditions explored through illuminating images and prose."- James P. Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946