Sunday, August 12, 2007

Push my buttons...

It seems like my blogging is taking on sort of a pattern posty for awhile and then two posts on the same day. I suppose I could combine these into one big mega post, but somehow it seems more appropriate to divide them up along subject lines.

Firstly I wanted to weigh in on something that Imbrium brought up over at Nerd Knits, and

Secondly a knitting update.

So Imbrium got her panties is a twist over an article that she read in “Real Simple.” I haven't read the article, and confess to not liking the magazine very much (a little too much “simple” and not enough “real” for my taste), so first of all go over to Nerd Knits and read what she had to say. She touches on some of the issues of this debate that never fail to get the metaphorical fly up my butt, specifically the gender divide between "crafty" and "arty" pursuits. She is as always insightful and well spoken (written). That being said this is one of my push button issues, as in push Ragnar's button and stand back because it will take her awhile to wind down.

Consider me "pushed."

The “craft” vs. “art” debate is something that I've been bumping up against for a long time. My bachelor's degree is in “fine art” whatever the fuck that is, and I joke that this gives me a legit claim to the title “artist,” (pronounced with a long ahhhh). While I was studying art I concentrated on printmaking, and bronze casting, which interestingly enough are both areas of art that have been denigrated in the past as being too close to craft to be considered “real” art. Printmaking gets hit because of the reproductive aspect; sure the first one might be “art” but what about the next 250? Bronzecasting admittedly hasn't been subjected to the “craft” label since the Renaissance, but the material was considered to be of lesser quality than other substances because it was an industrial material, and the skill required to craft it was less than the skill required to sculpt marble where one wrong strike of the chisel could ruin months of careful workmanship. When Michelangelo wanted to sculpt in bronze he had to take his model into another city-state and find a group of cannon makers to cast it for him. The Greeks sculpted mostly in bronze but the Romans made copies of them in Marble and then melted the originals use as cannons. Anyway, the important thing to note is that as an artist I am attracted more to those mediums which require a mastery of craft, than those which lend themselves more to pure expression, so consider that to be the full disclosure of my crafty predjudices.
My other major pursuit in college was working in the costume shop, I did a lot of costume design while I was in high school, and thought that that would be my major in college. I quickly realized that I needed more freedom of expression than theater would allow me, but I still enjoyed sewing and was lucky enough to land a work study job in the costume shop. Both my printmaking prof and my sculpture prof made no secret of the fact that they thought I was wasting my time with sewing. When I mentioned printing on cloth I was told “this is not the happy craft hour,” and when I was working late nights in the sculpture studio trying to get my portfolio together I was told that I needed “stop fucking around with this fabric shit.” Sort of hard to take that as anything but hostile. Had I been working my 15 work study hours in the library reshelving books, I doubt that I would have heard lectures on how I “needed to stop fucking around with books,” but because my job happened to involve the “craft” of sewing, it was somehow taking me away from the important work of creating “art.”
Interestingly enough now that I am out of school my primary medium is fabric, specifically quilting, and when people ask me what I do I am equally likely to introduce myself as an artist or as a quilter. Admittedly I'm being slightly bloodyminded when I tell people that I'm a quilter, since I know that they look at my black clothes, my fuck-all attitude, my skull and cross-bones bumper stickers and try to reconcile that with the quilts their grandma used to make. Inevitably when someone sees my work they will say something like: “Oh you're an Artist,” as if I was selling myself short by using the lesser label of “quiltmaker.” I could of course call myself a “fiber artist,” which is the category that I apply in when I do art shows, but I feel like that's even more confusing. Fiberart is a catch all phrase that includes, wearables (down to and including pictures of kittens glued on to sweatshirts with puffy paint, but also hand dyed silk kimonos), baskets, weaving (both functional and non), leather, dollmaking etc. I feel like I owe it to my craft (yes I embrace that word) to call it what it is. It's a quilt. I make no distinction between artist and quilter, although after working in a quilt shop for 6 years, I know that the majority of the quilters in the world are not artists. That's not to say that they don't do great work (although there are a lot of really awful quilts in the world), it's just not approached with the attitude of an artist.

To me the distinction between art and craft lies mostly in the attitude of the maker. I think that if you make a soap dish, or a wind chime, or a wreathe for your front door out of silk flowers that you bought at Michael's and hot melt glued together with polyester ribbon, and you approach it with the attitude of an artist, whatever that means to you, then you are making art and screw anyone who says differently. Hot melt glue is an extremely useful thing if you use it in applications that are appropriate. Similarly if you sit down and a paint a still life because you need something to fill up the hole on the wall and you want something to match the couch, no matter how technically accomplished it is, it's not going to be art.
The British have a term that I really like: “maker.” Which basically means someone who makes things, specifically things that don't fall into the category of art. When we call someone a craftsperson, we aren't using it as a job title, and it's usually applied somewhat condescendingly. I think the word “artisan,” comes close, but it has that misleading “art” stuck in the front of it. My understanding of the word “maker” is someone who works with their hands, carefully crafting things, taking pride in their product, but who doesn't feel the desire to classify themselves as an artist. On my business cards I give myself three titles: artist, designer and maker. I feel like that encompasses most of what I do. Even my art is done in a somewhat makerly spirit. I spend a couple of hours composing a new design, and then dozens more crafting it. The fun creative part is over very quickly and the boring sweatshop part takes much longer...then when it's done and I hang it on the wall and realize... "oh yeah, I'm making artwork here.”

The word “craft” has so much more depth of meaning than art. Art carries a lot of baggage around with it. Craft has become associated with the world of Michael's, Jo Ann's, kits and projects, but it also can refer to the quality of craftsmanship, meaning that something is done with care, attention to detail and a high level of quality that can't be duplicated by machine, or by someone working in haste. To say that something was done with “old world craftsmanship,” is high praise indeed. To call some “crafty” is to imply that they are not only wise, but somewhat sly and tricky as well. Conversely if you say that someone has an “artistic” temperament, you're probably implying that they are creative and quirky, but also unreliable and self-centered.
So what am I saying? Basically that I'd rather be the crafty old woman than the flighty artist, even though “artist” is what I put under “profession” when I fill out my tax returns.

End of Rant...
Ragnar....just prop me up on my soap box and tie me to the mizzen mast.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great rant! I think you expressed it well.
- Layne