Friday, November 6, 2009

Fine Art vs. Craft? YOU Decide! by Lenall Siebenaler

After looking at our blog and all that I had been working on recently, a good friend of mine announced that my work looked to have become very therapeutic vs. what I was doing last year and in many years past. I looked at him and asked what do you mean by that? (I probably threw an evil eye in there to boot!) He said that he always thought of me as a serious painter and that all the things that I had been showing him were very crafty and it seemed I was doing them for therapy. They didn't seem to be me. Little did he know that he had suddenly gotten himself enmeshed in a major century long debate. I almost felt sorry for him...

So being a thoughtful person, somewhat of an over thinker when it comes to personal matters, I have been thinking about this subject all week. It brought to mind a statement that a friend of mine made at a meeting lately that also made me similarly stop and think. Without quoting her word for word, she basically said that she wasn't making things to sell, she was making things that she wanted to make. I was moved by these words because during this past year, I have been indeed doing just that, I have been making things to sell. I want to offer a lot and I want to sell a lot at our show. I always write and keep a list of things I intend to make and it seems that each year I leave a lot undone. I guess this means that I make things I want to make, too.

Traditionally, the distinction between "Fine Art" and "Craft" has been both around materials and around production and distribution methodologies. That seems to have changed somewhat (except at venues like, say, the American Craft Museum) and "craft" now seems to be used to describe the work shown in Readymade magazine, or on or Martha Stewart.

"Craft" can also be labelled non-original art when a person copies others work or works using a kit. Most artists started there. To encourage a creative future, my mother bought us embroidery, needlepoint, marking pin art, Spirograph, and paint by number kits. Some kids continue being crafty on this path while others start exploring their own creative natures and start producing original art. Both kids are still being creative.

There may be two kinds of art. Art that is more decorative and celebrates the object for its own sake and the pleasure of making it. They are made to please. I believe this to be craft. There is another kind of work, which may even use the same materials and mediums but for a totally different reason. That work is made to express something to other people that could only be said by us and created uniquely. It is a creative expression made special by the maker. I believe this to be art. Fine Art and Craft share many of the same effects and demand many of the same skills. But to each comes it's own purpose and drive. Good crafts people are not necessarily good artists (even though they often are) and good artists are not always good crafts people. Each has a unique and special reason and effect on us, even if the lines are unclear.

The words "artsy" and "craftsy" seems to have taken on a slightly negative connotation, too. The validity of both the art and the craft is diminished by the addition of 'sy.' "artsy-craftsy" is the worst- a double whammy of negativity.

It might have something to do with the fact that Fine Art activities have tended to be highly representational in nature. On the other hand, Craft is defined as serving some sort of utilitarian purpose. Whatever the definition it seems that artists are frequently upset by the lines drawn between art and craft. Fine artists look down on craft persons. It's all about snobbery and protection of ones' talent. Us vs. Them. This conversation is always being thrown around in art circles. Why don't we just label it good art vs. bad art. That is another conversation now being heard regularly and deserves it's own post.

"Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art." -Tom Stoppard

Arts and crafts is art you make for yourself or for someone you know because you love it. Fine Art you make to express yourself. You sell or trade it to people you know and those you don't know. It feeds your soul because you love it. Both art forms are enjoyable and therapeutic and are very closely related. Maybe it's a title you give yourself. Remember back when you were a crafty person? Remember when you started to be more brave and started labeling yourself an artist? Remember when others believed you and started calling you an artist?

So getting back to answer my friend: Yes, maybe this year I have taken a sabbatical from painting exclusively. It's been a lot of fun being able to create once again in front of the TV as opposed to just creating in my studio. In my mind, I have been creating unique work that is decorative. I did this in response to the economic environment and maybe the need (and want) to do something different. I still did a lot of painting. My booth at PAC will still house a large amount of fine art paintings and they will be priced accordingly, but it will also offer fun, creative, colorful, quirky items that still speak of me at a much lower price.
I think all of my art screams of ME.
What do you think?


1 comment:

Diane Havnen-Smith said...

Lenall, this is always such an interesting conversation, not just about the product but about the maker: artist vs. crafter. I have one friend, who some would call a fine artist, who once poo-pooed some particular kinds of art and art retreats as 'projecty' but now she has adopted the 'we are all artists' mentality, as well as joining those events--as a participant and instructor.

For others the distinction is whether someone is formally trained, but I have friends who are trying to unlearn all they learned in art school.

For others art is about creating intuitively from within, but what about those who have learned technique to the level of say, painting something or someone that looks positively real?

Years ago when I was first making art I struggled with my non-artist identity. My sculpting instructor told me one is an artist if they sell their work, be it one piece or a hundred. If I could just sell one piece so I could be a real artist, I thought, though I had no desire of selling anything.

I think this a discussion that invites us to consider our assumptions about the art we and others make, as well as challenge our biases. I love it that the lines between art and craft are blurred. Maybe there is a merging of sorts. With all of the elitism in the art world, I prefer to rebel and say, "We are ALL artists" and then perhaps some of those folks who call some of us 'artsy fartsy' will test the waters and discover the joy of creating.