Craft in Crisis?….

by Abigail Percy on 16/11/2006

in Resources

Whilst checking out the news today on the Craft Scotland website, I came across this short article exploring the problems facing ‘craft’ and the difficulties surrounding the usage of the word ‘craft’ in reference to comtemporary applied arts……there is also a forum where people are able to respond to this article, which also makes for an interesting read.

Tina Rose, the Craft Scotland editor writes…

“The word craft is misused, misunderstood and misplaced. It is used in ways that diminish its credibility. It is vitally important we reclaim the word craft so it is understood and people will buy it, galleries will want to exhibit it and the media will want to write about it. How can we stop the word craft being misused and misunderstood?”

….this is certainly one debate that will spark a lot of opinions, and I though many of you out there may well have some thoughts on this too??….

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stickchick November 16, 2006 at 11:25 pm

I understand this all too well. I used to be very offended when my husband would say “my wife does crafts” He ment no offense, but the look on people’s face was “oh, she does macrame, how nice for her”

The word craft has gotten a bad rap. We that call ourselves crafters understand it’s a word to encompass alll the various applications. The outside world still uses the word as something little old ladies do with plastic canvas (no offence to the plastic canvas users). Crafting has a bad rap because the unwashed masses only see the craft supply isles at walmart and assume all that wonky crap is how crafting looks.

It’s our duty, nay, our responsiblity to show the world crafting isn’t wonky!! (umm, not much of a battle cry is it?)

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2 CraftyGinger November 16, 2006 at 11:29 pm

This very topic was what sparked inspiration for my Craft: skirt (a previous Whiplash entry.) One of the definitions is, “The skilled practice of a practical occupation.”

While that definition can be applied to crafts of all skill level, I absolutely agree that the cultural understanding of of the word “craft” must be reinterpreted. Recently it’s taken on a kindergarten-art-class connotation (in America, I believe) – and there’s nothing wrong with kid’s crafts, but it doesn’t accurately represent the changing face of “crafters” across the world! We’re young and old, hip and traditional, forward thinking and retro – and SO much more!

I must admit that I feel very lucky to be a part of this Craft revolution, I’ve met so many wonderful people, found so many fun projects, and had such a good time! Thanks Whip Up & Abigail – GREAT post! (I’m also looking forward to reading others thoughts!)

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3 abigail November 16, 2006 at 11:44 pm

Thanks girls…..I agree, craft can be such a dirty word! – and i think that many people outside the design industry automatically imagine frilly loo-roll covers and tacky softies, when in fact..Craft is such an in depth genre.

I know in the UK, Craft refers to all the design disciplines which are studied to degree level where you ‘make’ as part of your process…..ie, textiles {print, pattern, embroidery, knit and weave} jewellery and silversmithing, ceramics, glass, fashion design even…..

however, i also realise that craft also covers ‘crafty’…and people {who perhaps see themselves under the banner of ‘serious craft’ frown upon the cross-pollination of ideas. I guess I agree with that to some extent…but any problems or false ideas that occur are easily ironed out when people see your work, and make up their own minds based on it’s own merits — I am always happy to see people crafting in any way shape or form, as I believe making and creating is so very important at whatever level…….

but — this is always a touchy subject as people can easily take offence if one says they want the two things to be dissasociated from one another…..great fun to thrash around ideas and thoughts about it though!!!! :)

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4 Katrin November 17, 2006 at 1:59 am

Recently some members of my craft group put on a fiber art show at a gallery. I created some pieces especially for the show and discovered something interesting. Making this “art” – objects meant purely for display – seemed a lot easier, less pressure, than making my usual “crafts”.

With crafts, I feel I have to take each project very seriously. I’m meticulous and never cut corners because the object has to be functional. It can’t be something slapped-together that I’d be embarrassed to be seen wearing. But art, as the saying goes, is anything you can get away with. My thought the whole time I worked on the art project (in a different medium from my usual crafts) was “This is just too easy! I can make this be whatever I want, because all it has to do is look nice – what a scam!”

It seems the popular perception of the art/craft distinction (by people who do neither!) is that “art” is an inborn ability possessed by a special few, never requiring effort or practice; whereas “craft” involves more learned skills than innate talent – but past childhood, we’re supposed to have more “important” uses for our time, so perfecting a craft is a frivolous pastime for the slow-witted or idle. Either way, art and craft are seen as things that normal, responsible people have no business doing. Of course, any crafter or artist knows NONE of that is true. But it does offer some explanation.

Part of our responsibility as artisans is to help change that perception. It’s an ongoing task.

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5 soren November 17, 2006 at 2:59 am

This isn’t exactly what they’re talking about, but related – in my town they just decided to let artists sell their stuff in the street. BUT – you are only allowed to sell “fine art” – that is, paintings, sculpture (I think), photography. No “crafts”. I am *so* furious at this lame kind of weird snobbiness that I get all incoherent so I can’t even write them a letter about it! What makes MY “craft” – which is anything involving fabric, usually – less ART than a painting? UGH!

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6 Lina November 17, 2006 at 5:23 am

I never liked the word craft. I use “pyssel” (craft in Swedish, in a not very skilled sense, I guess the difference between “kindergarten-stuff” and real “handicraft” is clearer).

I try not to bother too much with definitions, I don’t think we can solve any problems that way. Definitions tend to exclude and put limits. Like Katrin said, it can put pressure on you and create blockings (at least for me). I try to focus on creating instead of what to call it.

But I don’t want to offend anyone, sorry if I did…

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7 sunshine November 17, 2006 at 1:29 pm

This use to be a big problem for me. The reason is when I think of the things I do I apprenticed for some read lots of books on others I aquired skills. When people would say Oh yeah my wife is like you she has a hot glue gun too. I hate hot glue guns I only have one because I was a florist for years it was a tool in the trade. What they do is playing and tinkering to me. When I use the word craft it means craftsmanship high quality lots of detail to the item being made. When I was in collage a decade ago I got over this. Let them think what they want they get what they want fropm there works and I get what I wan t from my works. So they aren’t the same skills involved but who cares both people are happy. Just don’t make hot glue gun comments and expect me to be happy still. The skills involved with fine arts usually are more refined then the average “craft person”. I have gone to craft fairs and I can tell who knows how to make something and who just through it togethre to make a buck. There are fiber artist and painters, and sculters the list goes on and on. The there are the peopel who get to gether in their groups with their want to be concepts of how to put something together and it falls apart the first time you use it. For me art is craft and craft is art. Both have to be well made if they are not they are garbage for the next thursday pick up.

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8 Tina November 17, 2006 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for picking up on this discussion. I feel it is a really important issue that has to be addressed in some way so it’s great to read your views.

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9 Kirsty November 18, 2006 at 8:25 am

Katrin wrote:
Recently some members of my craft group put on a fiber art show at a gallery. I created some pieces especially for the show and discovered something interesting. Making this “art” – objects meant purely for display – seemed a lot easier, less pressure, than making my usual “crafts”.

With crafts, I feel I have to take each project very seriously. I’m meticulous and never cut corners because the object has to be functional. It can’t be something slapped-together that I’d be embarrassed to be seen wearing.

Katrin, I found your comment fascinating because as an artist I experience this – but the other way around! My art is the thing I really work at and worry about, whereas when I’m making jewellery in my silversmithing class, I find it a far more restful and easy process. Sure there are still difficulties – there are decisions to make, I might not know how to do something, my expectations might exceed my current skills or the piece just might not work I had hoped. However, I still find silversmithing relaxing compared to my art practice because when I’m making craft I only have to think about how something looks and functions and not what it means and communicates. So it definitely goes both ways!

You also wrote: But art, as the saying goes, is anything you can get away with. My thought the whole time I worked on the art project (in a different medium from my usual crafts) was “This is just too easy! I can make this be whatever I want, because all it has to do is look nice – what a scam!”

That’s really not my experience at all and I think you only experienced that because you were making art as a sideline and it was not in your usual medium. It was a busman’s holiday, a little rest from your main practice and you weren’t as invested in it. My experience, as someone who went to art school and is now a contemporary artist and curator, is that contemporary art really has to mean something, it has to have an internal logic to it, it has to matter, it has to engage and move people and it has to have a consistency and vision to it. Believe me, if contemporary art was your central practice you probably wouldn’t think it was a scam (those artists who do think it’s a scam usually aren’t making very good art, IMO).

Equally, if jewellery or another craft was my main practice then I’m sure I’d find it hard work rather than restful because I’d have different expectations for it. When I’m in my silversmithing class I’m having fun and feeding my creative spirit. I’m not trying to make a living from it, get a portfolio together, be taken seriously in the craft world, get into exhibitions etc – I’m not trying to or do anything other than learn and play and for that reason, it’s restful and inspiring to me. I know that if I decided to take jewellery further and wanted to be a dedicated craftsperson then my relationship with it would change – it would become a job, something I worried about and worked hard at. It would become a different sort of creative journey.

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10 Abigail November 18, 2006 at 8:44 pm

I am very much enjoying seeing how this discussion develops, and agree with Tina that this does need to be addressed….

Kirsty’s comment resonated with me, because for the first time I think it addressed what is behind what it being made and the impact that has on it’s place in the grand scheme of things…..

I agree that for an non-trained fine artist to make a piece of art it may seem easy and to an extent..vacuous, but I would expect that they are missing the point – that art {and in this case Craft — with the capital C} is set apart by many because it has concept and meaning attatched to it….and usually months and months of hard work and development went into the final piece that you see – as well as the large amounts of time on the making of the piece itself. I also think the main difference between Art, Craft and crafting {and of course, this is a general rule and not at all always the case} is that what the maker of Art and Craft strives to do is develop a unique voice within their work, an individual and recogniseable style as well as formulate and attatch meaning to the pieces. I think that is why many people feel there has to be the distinction and separation made between the two {three, four!!???} fields…….

As Kirsty mentioned, she is doing her jewellery class to feel creative and for enjoyment…..as someone whose Craft is jewellery, it was great to see her write that she thinks there is a difference {not in a bad way} between what she makes, and what someone whose proffesion it is to make jewellery does. I think this is very honest, and indeed probably right…{although there are lots of jewellers who make a living at it having taken classes and turned their hobby into a business}….when people see a piece of jewellery..many people will just see a piece of jewellery. Like when viewing art – many a joe-bloggs off the street would just see a painted canvas or a ‘funny installation’. What makes the difference though, is that there are some who appreciate, and who are involved in the creative industries who will be able to see what is going on behind the ‘piece of jewellery or the installation’…the influences and issues that have shaped it, how much research has gone into the use of an unusual material perhaps..and the skill that has been developed to use it.

I think it is easy to rubbish other peoples art forms, and when you have dabbled in something, and have a slight grasp on what is needed it is all to easy to presume you know what it takes…one may then find it easy to make comment? I mean, I can draw and paint well, but I am not a fine artist.

But, I think it is important to separate the fields for one very important reason. They ARE different, and by aknowledging that – you add weight and importance to all of them.

One crafter may study the art of quilt making for a life-time…learning from their family before them, and spending years of their life perfecting the size and regularity of their stitch and how to create harmony of colour and form in their pattern. Another person may spend years working on a degree that affords them years of uninterupted time to develop their style, and the skills they need to make truly original, and possibly ground-breaking work…..

Each of these cases, and stories are amazing, and wonderful and valid. But I for one accept that I am not a crafter…and that I will never properly fit into that field, or have my work truly accepted among it — and I am okay with that.

Are you??

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11 red_swirl November 20, 2006 at 7:18 am

Random thoughts:

I rather enjoy that the word ‘craft’ is now seen as reasonably egalitarian. (Might be the Aussie in me). It gives everyone a chance to have a go, enjoy themselves, and then you can look at the finished product to determine the quality or capital ‘C’ Craft. Then again, I’m not trying to sell or market my work – maybe that changes my attitude.

I notice we haven’t started on the ‘is craft art’ debate, we seem to have assumed a separation …
or is it only artists who debate this (I’ve only heard it in art contexts, so far)?

Also can good capital ‘C’ Craft have a lower skill level, but be conceptually fascinating? Is capital ‘C’ Craft only the neatness of the stitches or whatever, or is it the expression of an idea / concept? … or is that art?

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12 abigail November 20, 2006 at 9:44 am

Hi red-swirl..thanks for joining in.

Yes, i agree..the debate of ‘is craft art’ is just as important a one as this, and I would also possibly guess quite similar in many ways, and inextricably linked.

In my mind…and what was the sort of accepted explanation at art school was…the difference between Art and Craft {which I would rather refer to as design to be honest} is that the main thing that separates them is that design {usually} has the built in requirement of selling it. Art is often there to make a point..and selling is secondary. Being able to sell something is of equal importance to me as the concept, the look, the function, the finish etc of a piece…and so therefore, I am following the ‘design process’ – a set of requirements, as oposed to a freer expression of an idea. {Art}

What is so hard about this debate is that the new face of craft has, if nothing else…so blurred the boundaries of Art, craft, Craft, design, crafting that it is impossible for anyone to make a statement without there being so many cases to the contrary. Craft that is also art, and that is mean to be only art……Crafting done by someone who is so skilled they can be called an artist….Craft where the technical quailty is low….Art where a crafting technique has been used…the list goes on.

the mind can boggle at this……I really enjoy reading and contributing to these discussions, but often feel it may be an unsolvable riddle {as much as I think it sometimes needs to be solved}……:))

Thanks so much to everyone for joining in – it is great to hear so many differing opinions on this!

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