How being a crafter (not an artist) gave me a place in the art world

by Admin on 08/03/2013

in Guest Editors 2013

During most of 2013, Whipup.net will hosting a monthly mini-series, each month edited by different crafters and designers. Enjoy!

Introducing Abby and Stacey for the month of March.

Guest editor: Abby Glassenberg :: Blog :: Twitter: @abbyglassenberg

Butterfly Collage

“A small pile of cotton fabrics became this pair of butterfly stroller toys for my daughter, Josephine.”

When you introduce yourself to someone at a party do you ever shy away from stating that you’re a crafter? Do you imagine the images that this word brings up in people’s heads (Kindergarten? Glitter? Pompoms and paste?).

Another option, saying, “I’m an artist,” has other connotations (training, refinement, eliteness). Perhaps you hesitate to use this word, either, then, especially if you’re self-taught.

Should we be okay with this difference in perception? Should we allow it to exist unchecked?

Until I embraced my identity as a crafter I felt like there wasn’t a place for me in the art world. When I finally saw that being a crafter was an upstanding and respectable profession I was able create a successful career out of my passion for making things.

I enjoyed many long hours in my childhood drawing and painting, but they always ended in sort of empty feeling for me. The final result, even if it was well rendered, just didn’t feel like enough to me. In high school I looked at my drawing portfolio leaning up against the wall, packed with work I’d labored over for weeks, and it just made me angry. What was it for?

When we studied the Impressionists in high school I remember sitting at my desk wondering, “How do artists just paint day after day? Wouldn’t they get sick of it? Or run out of ideas? What’s the point of it?” I couldn’t figure it out.

It took me many years to get to the bottom of my dissatisfaction with fine art because I love art. I’m a hyper-visual person. I collect art and sculpture with my husband. The walls of my house are covered with original artwork. A Saturday spent at the museum or a gallery show is an ideal kind of day for me. I feel compelled to make beautiful things. Throughout college, and first jobs, and graduate school, and my career teaching middle school, I would always make things when I had time. Still, somewhere, there was a disconnect. Making art for arts sake wasn’t satisfying enough to really dedicate myself to it.

When I began sewing in earnest eight years ago I finally was able to drill down to the core of my detachment with art making. I realized that as a producer of artistic works I need the finished pieces to be useful. I needed to make craft.

I’m thrifty by nature. Turning leftover, discarded materials into something useful, and beautiful, was what would drive me forward as a maker.

Well-designed, useful and made from humble materials: that’s the recipe for my happiness.

This combination compels me to learn new skills, to stretch and create and keep going. I no longer wonder how artists make art every day for their whole lives. I totally get it.

I design sewing patterns for stuffed animals. When I think about the years to come I am filled with eager anticipation thinking of the new toy designs I’ll create. Craft is where I belong in the art world and it’s a totally great place to be. For me, craft means creating something that’s both beautiful and useful and being a crafter is certainly deserving of respect.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Liz March 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm

sometimes the happy medium I come up with is saying “I’m a maker”. I feel like people tend to divide into two camps of makers or non-makers and those that are makers “get it”, so you can compare what your craft/art/hobby etc. is, whether they make furniture for their house, or new computer programs, or quilts. I also like the word maker because it is what most accurately describes my joy, seeing a new object that my hands made.

I’ve had discussions about the word “artist” as well with photographer friends who hate how the word “photographer” is perceived as “not arty enough” or simplistic, especially since someone might be a journalistic photographer, not a fine art or portrait photographer.

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2 Lori March 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

This is really great. I, like so many people who MAKE, refused to use the word “craft” for so long because it had become completely synonymous with glitter covered, popsicle stick, old lady craft sale items. I’m so glad we Crafters/Makers are taking ownership of the word again.

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3 Liz Noonan March 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I fall smack in the middle. I can relate to what you are saying bc I get that perception piece of what people think when you say Artist or Crafter. I think it’s okay to let people think what they want and you define yourself how you like.

For me, it’s both. Craft and Art go hand in hand and I’m fine being the child of a divorced couple who have ties to each other – but don’t like to be in the same room for whatever reason. Wish they would get along, but what’s a girl to do? Make stuff and be at peace with who I am.

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4 Pam P. March 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Thank you so much for posting this!

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5 Melissa March 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Thank you. I have a fine arts degree (graphic design) because, like you, I was forever making artsy crafty things as a kid and I enjoyed it. I thought surely that’s what I was supposed to do with my life. However, I never felt like I meshed with the artist crowd. Also like you, I didn’t get it. How does someone paint all the time & love it so much? When I look at a blank canvas all I see is white. However, when I view a computer screen or a bolt of fabric I see endless possibilities. Everything I did seemed to gravitate towards crafts. Heaven forbid I actually call myself a crafter out loud where people might hear it! lol. But you know what? A crafter is what I am. I feel better knowing that I’m not the only person who has struggled with this. It’s nice to feel reassured that my artistic qualities don’t lack because of the fact that I’m a crafter rather than a traditional artist. It’s a struggle to accept that, you’re right.

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6 Abby Glassenberg March 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm

I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone in feeling this divide. Time to be proud to be in craft!

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7 Tina March 9, 2013 at 8:45 am

I so relate to the idea of making useful objects rather than primarily decorative objects. As far as the line between the words “art” and “craft”, I don’t know where I stand. It seems for me the craft part is the various skills I’ve learned that make it possible to translate the “art” idea from my brain to the physical world.

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8 Krista March 10, 2013 at 11:41 pm

I couldn’t have described my own journey in better words. Thank you for this.

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9 Kelley March 11, 2013 at 10:40 am

My Mother and I were just discussing this very topic. Often in my community, saying you are a crafter evokes images and questions about toll painting and dried apple head dolls. Or saying I sew brings about questions of quilting. I don’t do any of those things. If anything I am a professional rafter. Any of us paid for our work and craft should be considered professionals. Some day I will be facilitating the ART of CRAFT to others in my community. For now, I am grateful for the community I have online!

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10 Abby Glassenberg March 13, 2013 at 9:01 am

This discussion is terrific. Crafting can be professional. In fact, it’s a huge industry with its own trade shows and multi-million dollar businesses. It’s entirely okay to expect to be taken seriously as a craft designer.

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11 Katrina March 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm

How about a fine craftist? :-)

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12 Roseanna March 20, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Abby, you have said everything I have always felt about “creating”. I have described myself as a mixed media artist for years, and I am comfortable with that, finally. Not only do I mix media in just about everything I make, but I am never content to stay with one medium, either. Does that make sense? It feels sometimes, that I can’t breathe if I am not creating something. I like functional and decorative pieces. My mother always said and still does say, “you would be so successful if you you focused on one medium”. How could I possibly do that? It isn’t attention span, it is being distracted by the next beautiful challenge, idea, or learning opportunity. Speaking of learning, I love to involve anyone who is interested in making things, get over their fear. It is so satisfying to help someone reach their creative potential.
Thank you for being such a generous, inspiring “crafter, maker, artist”!

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