Monday, November 18, 2013

The World of Craft Without Being Art

     
     This is a public exploration of my journey to understand the difference between art objects and craft objects. It may not make sense, but I feel the need to write about it. Seems there are folks out there that toss these words around without thinking. I also feel the need to address this because I sell this thing I create to folks who also seem to have no idea what they believe, never really thought about it, or did any research into the subject. 
     I mostly like to talk/write about this subject as much in an objective perspective as I can, although not perfectly or all the time.... What society sees it as as a whole....although this is hard to quantify.       
     Why is when decorating something then becomes art? Is the body design on a car art? Is a car designer an artist? on the broad cultural definitions I'd say no. I have many more examples some better than this. There is also the point that I was turned onto when talking to Silas (my son) he asked, are tomatoes vegetables or fruit? Well.....both. Technically, in a botany perspective they are the fruiting bodies of the plant, which contain the seeds i.e fruit. But, as food, it's classified as a vegetable. I think art is this way too. Yes on the broader level most things made can be art, and on this level I agree. But, on a specific level, some things are not. The fine art world has a history and an academia behind it and it's alive and well. The craft world on the other hand does not, and therefore struggles with this question. I also think that our needy modern egos need something special, so what historically was just a finely made (crafted if you will) decorated wooden spoon becomes art to today, or specifically "folk art". 
     I am of the new wave of "craftsmen" makers, who do not and fear the words craft, hand craft, or finely crafted. I believe this is OK and a great mission that I'm slowly dedicating myself to as I read, learn, make, and most importantly think about.
     OK, I admit it, the title is provocative. But this subject deserves attention and it seems wherever I bring the subject up folks have a lot to say. This means there is interest and it means people have strong feeling about it as well. The last time I wrote about this subject I got a bunch of comments and 3 personal emails, which was first. The emails were folks wanting to share their perspective and where not in agreement with my perspective. This is fine, but an emotional argument has no ground with me.....we can't just call things art objects or craft objects interchangeably ever we want, or can we?
    Don't get me wrong, I like art and artists. I even admit to creating an art object once in while, but mostly I make craft objects.
  


    

12 comments:

  1. Jarrod, a good post and one that got me thinking about the word "craft". I will never be confused with someone who always uses proper grammar, but I use the word as a noun more so than a verb. I think of you as a craftsman making an item to be sold. Making, or crafting if you will, to me is just that, the action required to arrive at the finished product. To me, the watercolor I did and is hanging on the wall is art, the chair I am sitting that I made is a craft object, though that term still feels clumsy to use. None the less, thanks for a thought provoking post.

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    1. Rick, glad you got something from it. I've been trying to explore why it seems clumsy....that's why I think that there is really nothing wrong with the word craft and that there has been some outside influence on our thoughts and possibly feeling about the word "craft". Yes, I agree with your analogy as well the chair is a craft object, the painting is art object.

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  2. Craft and Art is indeed a difficult one to define as I think more often than not the lines get blurred quickly, depending upon the observers experiences.

    For instance just looking at your work it is very very hard to classify some of the items as simply hand crafts…as there is art in all of them.

    The handle on the crooked knife, what has to be your most utilitarian piece, custom sized to the customers hand, it is a classic piece of hand craft--who could argue with that. But once that tool is in hand, shaving wood how can the “art” of that shape not be “felt”?

    A spoon or basket or turned bowl, tools for use of course, but really it is impossible to not to see art. It is easy to enjoy lunch just a little bit more with that spoon scooping up the soup. Art, folk art, hand craft…whatever that spoon has functional art. Then with some engraving and milk paint, well the definition is once again a bit blurry.

    It is impossible to see a crafted birch bark canoe as anything but art in my eye. Sure it will gather the wild rice, but really it is exceptional art regardless of its perfect functional abilities. The art can not only be seen in the form and materials but in the execution of natural materials turned into a “functional sculpture” that is oh so much more than just hand craft.


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    1. Randy I appreciate your thoughts. But I still think that a birch bark canoe is nothing more that a craft object. It was created to serve a specific utilitarian purpose not to express some idea as art does. I will refuse to admit that just because it is rare, complicated to make, takes some skill, and even may be decorated that the item is art. Now again to be clear, the everything is art perspective is fine with me then it's art as much as an automobile or the skyscraper. I'm no more an artist than the auto designer/engineer or the architect.

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  3. Great write up. For my part, if some thing is used, it is craft… If the same thing is put on the wall, it could be art then…. Like the paddle I make, I sale them as tools, but if one want to hang it on the wall because to there eyes is a piece of art, then good for them… And if it is art when it is on the wall and craft when they use it then it become "Art and Craft"…. I know I don't make much sense… some time my thoughts get lost in translation… but this is what I think… And I'm with you on the subject!!

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  4. Good to share thoughts on this. We should all be aware that the meaning of words change over time and each generation have the ability to change those uses if the current meanings do not serve us well. There is a lot going on with these two words that is historically connected with status. When we say "I am no more an artist" we should be clear that being a craftsman is in no way less than being an artist. In fact the art world values rarity more than anything and we live in a world where universities churn out thousands of young conceptual artists every year. Good traditional craftspeople are a far far rarer commodity.Let's turn it round I am certainly not merely an artist I am a craftsman. This post prompted me to share a ten year old essay on the subject on my blog.

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  5. As usual Robin Wood, you have it right!! Good on you. I never thought I was an artist, but a craftsman, but when people look at my stuff the see it as art, because not many people work by hand and put emphasis on details now a day. So they see good craftsmanship as work of art!!

    I really like what you wrote:" I am certain not merely an artist I am a craftsman."

    Cheers

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  6. Robin's mention of how words change, and of "status," brings to mind another use of the word "art." Often today, art vs craft is used as a way to define markets for those who stand in one community or the other.

    For example, the artists who jury art exhibitions often have "higher education" in the form of a person who has acquired a Master of Fine Arts (in the US, or an European equivalent). Their investment has been roughly 6 years of very expensive education.

    Compare that to a mosaic artisan (?) who has also invested heavily in expensive education at several of the first rate schools in Italy, and has also practiced the "craft" for the not so unusual 10 years to acquire mastery.

    The person holding the newly minted MFA then stands as juror in determining what may enter a competition or be sold in a gallery ... and very often decries anything other than paintings as unworthy craft.

    This happens far too often and "craft" always loses.

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  7. Very interesting. I think part of the problem is that we've corrupted our terms. We have expanded art to take in anything imaginable, because we like the sound of it, and because we have (in many quarters of society) an aversion to work that is deemed as a rudimentary trade. Thus a brick mason becomes an "artist mason" or a blacksmith becomes an "artist blacksmith". Also, we've lost the term "decorative arts" as opposed to "fine arts". Carving a glorious rococo chimney piece was decorative art, not to be confused with writing a symphony. Now it's all "art", because we all want to be artists (or the proverbial "we" does, anyway), and it's no wonder the terms are meaningless. If you do your work for money or for your living, then you're a tradesman. You can have a fantastic blacksmith shop and make lifelike roses all day, but if you don't sell them, you're not a tradesman, and you're working in the decorative arts, but you're still a smith, so please knock those shoes on my horse so I can get back to work!

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  8. The problem is that we think the word "art" elevates an object, or the work it takes to create it. It's a meaningless term. We have lost the use of the more meaningful terms "decorative arts", and "fine arts". A blacksmith who makes glorious gates and rococo scroll work and floral art pieces is still a blacksmith, working in the decorative arts. For him to call himself an artist is to muddy the water. We think we are complimenting a thing we love by calling it a work of art, when we aren't. We're just throwing words at it. It is what it is. A glorious carved rococo chimey piece is decorative art. A symphony is fine art. A birchbark canoe is a piece of craft work, like a great cedar churn or a sailor's knotted ditty bag. We see the love and care and skill, but they are beside the point. It is a utilitarian item that time and use have honed into beauty. You're not loving it any more if you call it art. In fact, you're paying it the highest compliment you can by simply calling it what it is - a fantastic canoe. All of this is completely separate from the differing concepts of "quality", which the Japanese seem to have a better handle on than we do, having several words for different types of quality, as well as a solid grasp of the aesthetics of handwork with its (sometimes) intentional inherent flaws. And so we come to Zen...and religion...and the meaning of life...

    Oh heck - just go row a boat!!

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    1. Great thoughts Ryan! I think it's true that we think the use of the word "art" elevates the item, and in my opinion muddies the water a bit. Especially when we don't know the history of the word or what the classifications are for "art objects" and "craft objects". The Theory of Craft by Risatti is a great book that goes into this realm...

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  9. Hi Jarrod - thanks for raising this subject again, I enjoyed reading what others had to say and then forming my own response. I tried to post you a comment, but it turned out too long. If you are interested in my un-definitive musings on the subject, they can be found here:
    http://holtheathwoodentreen.blogspot.co.uk/

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