Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Happy little bubble head

I often find myself feeling trapped when asked about "what I've been up to", when the things that are most exciting to me, most voluptuously inhabiting my brain, are the things I'm making or thinking about making. I often feel I am bursting with unrealised and partially realised creative ideas. I just don't know how to share this with others, that I'm not doing these things only to kill time or occupy "idle hands".

When I tell people I do various craft things - knitting, making jewellery, cross stitch - as the words come out, a certain sort of picture paints itself. How do you tell people, especially those who don't haunt Craftster (its motto: no tea cosies without irony) or hundreds of modern brilliant creative blogs? That you like to make things... but not teddy bears or doileys, particularly.

So there is a problem with "craft".

But I definitely can't get comfortable with "art" either. In my immediate family, those who have studied at Art School outnumber those who haven't (and I haven't). When I think about art I tend to focus on the conceptual end of the spectrum. An artist has something to say, and the medium may even be secondary to the message. Innovation is critical. A lot of the time I am making stuff from a pattern or instructions, and the level of originality varies - with knitting I'm not good enough yet to be inventing much. With jewellery I don't follow a pattern, but I'm hardly inventing new forms, just making things I like to wear or that suit others for gifts. I can see potential for some of my crafty pursuits to move in the direction of "art". But that's not explicitly my aim anyway, and what do you call that middle ground?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the meanings and uses of "art" and "craft". I know the distinctions are not black and white. To me craft suggests more of a focus on materials and processes and possibly functionality as well. Whereas art is more about self-expression. I believe many people make works that do all of this at once.

Please join in with a comment or an email if you prefer.


zjcroft said...

hmmm to me 'Art' is original, thought provoking, interesting, beautiful, inspirational..... and 'Craft' is useful, pretty, can be original, is generally not intended to send a message, thoughtful, more likely to be a hobby....its a tough one and the word 'craft' is probably tainted by the doily generation. I think today craft its a lot more creative and funky. Good question though, very interesting.

bertie said...

I've been thinking a bit about this the past several months, although mainly along tha 'art' track, trying to reconcile the practical nature of what passes for my artwork.

I think art needs to be emotional and communicative, neither of which really come through in my drawings.

I definitely think of art as being in the visual media, rather than the written form, although perhaps I should give that more credence as art too.

I'm a bit too wiped to elaborate more on such a weighty topic right now, but it will be in my thoughts (and in later comments, or a tie-in blog post) soonish :)

Jo said...

There just isn't enough space to say all the things I would like about this - I love art and craft, though more as an appreciator than a creator.

My favourite answer to question ‘what is art’ is -'necessary’.

I think of art is a BIG multifaceted ‘tardus’ like thing, there is more room in it than you think. I see types of art like craft and decorative art as pieces that have function as well as being ‘art’.

Regardless of whether you use a pattern - what you create is in fact unique - that has to be reason to do it – it is certainly why receiving it gives you a special feeling.

My sister uses the exact same pattern to create teddy bears and each one is different – different expression on its face, different ‘posture’ even.

If the essential element of art is uniqueness then should craft be included?

Is it art – because I say so?

Check out one of my favourite people– Professor Kay Lawrence, Head of the South Australian School of Art - she works with textiles (if you click on her name at the bottom of the page you can find out more about her - her work also appeared in Parliament House). Where art and craft meet.

bertie said...

"what do you call that middle ground?"

Maybe 'arft' :)

I think craft can be considered the practical application of personal skill to create art. You can't get to the output 'art' without practicing the techniques which lead to it. I doubt anyone who's created great art has hit that magic first time, without lots of hard slog.

I think that's probably what stops me from pursuing art more earnestly. I'm far too self-conscious of the path of many "failures" on the way to "art" and so settle for mediocrity. I can draw a bit, but can I create? Not without a lot more effort, I suspect...

Selley's PVA said...

It's all in the title really who's to say what's art and what's craft
Me? why I'm saving my cake wrappers to preserve under fibreglass on wooden blocks in the spirit of Fluxus or a madwoman I say Fluxus but only because I've had that art school experience. (It must be art cause there's certainly not much craft to it) It does seem to me its the people who are confident to hold themselves as artists (mot saying this is me) and know how to articulate what they're making in a language the art world will appreciate that go somewhere with their "work". Id say its all about articulation really. A room full of knitted creatures are art when you're told they are or are presented in a way to suggest.. so its probably a lot to do with the context
Is it something to do with recognition then or has that become unnecessaryily wrapped up with art? why do I think of craft as happier to be just what it is? No I dont think you can separate the two so easily
I dont think it has to be original or beautiful or emotional
Lara will have something to say on this one. Nice work Liv

Father of three creative girls said...

A couple of thoughts:

1. What does changing the focus to the person doing the work do? Artist vs craftsman (craftsperson?). My favourite (now dated) guide to synonyms says that an artist is someone "who creates single inimitable works", whereas 'craftsman' is now a common term to describe a worker in the minor arts". That leaves 'inimitable' and 'minor arts' for a future lookup!

2. Ignoring status, pride, snobbery and similar, it should make no difference to the person assessing (?) the piece, should it?

3. Similarily, if going to market, there's only one rule, and that's 'what the market will bear'.

4. As one who has done his best work in areas where I have no formal qualification - although this is far from a wholesale recommendation to duplicate this - it makes no difference to me how many dollars of formal education are behind a piece of creative work.

5. Why don't you follow Joyce's lead and call yourself an 'artificer'?

Jacket Person said...

Well I sit with the ones who say 'What does it matter?' but does it matter? It does to you, of course, and this is a wonderful article that made me think how clever you are all over again. A recent trip to the ANG made me feel it doesn't matter at all. It just matters that you do it, that you continue to explore and use the ideas you have. That tree on the back of the vest was quite amazing. Who would do that on the back of a baby's vest? Only a very creative thinker/artist!

Olivia said...

Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful comments. Lots to think about.

small m maker said...

Love this topic. I think you are right about craft suggesting more of a focus on materials etc and art more self-expression. And I think the distinction lies in the maker rather than the object, in what the maker thinks about what they have made, or even what someone else thinks about what has been made. I agree with Selley's pva -whether something is considered craft or art is a lot about context, and what the maker says about it. I don't think the maker of something considered art necessarily has more to say, just that they might have to say something about it or have things said about what they have made, if their work is put in an art context.

I guess at the end of the day I think we should be free - in ourselves - to make whatever we want in whatever medium, without worrying about how it will be perceived or where it will fit. I think the best stuff comes out of just not caring, not being too self-conscious. I like to think of myself as a maker, whether I am making dinner or a painting. The desire to make things comes from God, the big Maker. It's all good.