OK, I just need to get this off my chest.
The other day I was having a discussion with a friend of mine regarding what was Art and who are Artists. I was speaking emphatically on the topic when she stopped me with a question. She asked me why I felt so strongly about the subject. I had to think about that one. It’s true, I do see edges between arts and crafts and artisans and artists. But when someone asks me to defend my position it occurs to me that there are two camps on this subject. The all inclusives and the separatists. And it surprises me when the inclusives camp is less tolerant than the separatists. I seem to have run into the idea of “you’re either with us or against us” more often from inclusives, when what I feel as a separatist is, we are all cool doing our own thing, you don’t have to believe what I believe.
This came up because recently there is some movement in my community to start an artists cooperative where we share ideas and develop a place where we can show our work. I wrote another post about how I feel about the whole group art get together, (read here) so I won’t rehash that, but in discussing the community space, we touched upon these ideas of what/who is an Artist? I especially dislike the notion that all of life is art and art is all things. The idea that art is everything and everywhere is irritating. I’m sorry, not everything is art. Philosophically, if everyone is special, then no one is special. It’s like saying everything is God and God is everywhere. Okay, well I guess people do say that. Does that mean that Art is God? Or, God is Art? Or that Art is our God? (lol) Well, enough semantic double speak, here’s the nuts and bolts of what I mean when I say that there is a difference between Arts and Crafts.
But first, let me reiterate: I am an artist who paints and sculpts. I can draw and compose a visually balanced photograph. And I am a crafter who makes baskets, jewelry, what have you. I can also be an artisan who makes lovely signs, builds clever shelves, imprints leaves into my plastered walls.
Yes, I use my creative abilities in everything I do. So I feel more than qualified to express my opinions that these are different facets of my artistic ability. But, if I did only one… like paint, then I wouldn’t call myself a crafter. Because I wasn’t. And crafters who don’t engage in creating art for art’s sake aren’t Artists. They are Artisans. There is a difference and this whole notion of inclusive “we are all the same, we are all artists” is simply not a truth for me. I don’t believe I have to be on board with this notion to be a good person or to be a good artist or even a good community member.
All the wonderful things we do as humans that are creative and enriching is very important to our psyche as a whole. It’s important to our psyches as individuals as well. But we water it down when we throw it all into the same pot. Perhaps my hang up with labeling is improper use of labels, rather than the labels themselves. If we use the word Artist, to represent creative endeavors, than we could all say we are all artists but define our art with a fist name: Fine Artist, Craft Artist, Fabric Artist, Food Artist, Musical Artist, Wood Artist. Or, we could continue the practice of using the word Art to describe a unique creative project.
Are chefs artists? Yes, most certainly there is a huge creative process to making delicious food. But should I invite chefs to an artists gathering? Are musicians artists? Sure, but should they to hang their instruments on the gallery wall? If we turn it around to examine the logic, should I, as an artist be included in a creative cooking workshop? Not unless I’m there to cook, right? Should I enter the battle of the bands competition and rhythmically throw paintbrushes at a canvas while singing?
So no, I’m not a chef… and no, I’m not in a band. I don’t get to call myself a chef just because I can cook or a musician just because I sang in the school choir. I’m not that kind of artist. Same goes for crafters. Craft is a learned skill and usually makes something useful. It’s reproduce-able by the artisan and by others just as skilled in their craft.
On the other hand, Art is a unique item and generally is not reproduce-able by other skilled artists. I have my own style of painting, Jen has hers… we are not interchangeable. Now I happen to know several very skilled artisan basket makers. And you know what? Two of them make the same style of basket. Slightly different to account for their individuality, but it is really the same basket and I can make it too. Just because I am an artist, doesn’t make my basket art. A basketmaker is a Crafter because they are recreating what someone else designed. Make a basket out of zip ties, washers and driftwood? That’s probably Art. An artist makes something that no one had thought of before… it’s creative and unique and innovative.
Here is a wonderful 5 minute TED talk from Laura Morelli describing the history of art and craft. She describes how we came to differentiate between the two. She wraps things up with an oft quoted truism “art is in the eye of the beholder” which, to me, is really like saying at this point “lets agree to disagree”. Most unsatisfying, but as a separatist, I can get behind the idea. Along with the great history lesson was a nugget of truth that I loved: work is elevated to art by being innovative. And I’d have to agree with her on that one. Because if anyone can recreate my basket (and anyone who knows how, can) then it’s not art. But if you are skilled enough to reproduce my painting, that bumps you up to being a Forger… and the first name of that title is Art.
Want to read more?
And finally, my last bit of analogy. Writing. The best works are art, but even then it has it’s own label: Literature. Great literature is unique, different from what came before. Most likely it’s a work of fiction or poetry. That is to say, made up, and creative because it was created from the writers imagination. Even if it was based on real life. Now, there are some great cookbooks out there. And manuals and text books even! But they are not literature. The greatest cookbook in the world is not high art. It doesn’t diminish a cookbook to not be called literature. But it certainly diminishes the literature to put it in the same category as cookbooks. Yes, it’s true, they are both books, and so is the Physicians Desk Reference. But you don’t see Oprah putting that on her night-stand and my guess is, neither do you.
I rest my case.