Art vs. Craft

I think about this a lot.  A lot.

I’m never quite sure where I stand, except that I know that I don’t have a problem with the word ‘craft’.  I mean, obviously.  For one thing, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means” (bonus points for movie identification). 

OK, so, I am a  word nazi, which is highly anti-social and also annoying for everyone else who is just trying to get along.  For example, last night, a very nice man tried to be jovial about a bunch of us sitting in the pub and knitting.  He said ‘I’ve never seen a bunch of people just sitting and knitting in a pub.  It’s very homely’.  I, irritatingly, pointed out that he had just called us all ugly, and that, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I think that he meant to say ‘homey’.  Homely means ‘she has a nice personality’.  It’s what you say about the serious sister, when you’re trying to be nice.  The poor man protested nobly for a minute, and then beat a hasty retreat.  Are we surprised that I am single?

ANYWAY.  So, Craft.  Etym online tells me that it is from the old English, and meant ‘power, strength, might’.  I guess, as in wizards?  Then it changed, to mean ‘skill or art, via a notion of ‘mental power’.  Melvyn Bragg tells me that it changed a little when the Netherlands invaded Englad, since ‘skill’ is a Dutch word, like most ‘-ill’ words in English.  And just like ‘sick’ changed when ‘ill’ came in, ‘craft’ changed when ‘skill’ came in.

Then it started to mean ‘trade’.  You know, like an artist does art.  An artisan, well, (s)he has a craft.  What’s wrong with that?

The other day I was sitting in the lunch room with a bunch of people.  One was A, a worker who is running an art therapy/community discussion programme.  He had an ‘actual, real’ artist with him – some guy who had been doing community plays to discuss issues like suicide with youth.  A also crochets, along with other things, and we have discussions quite regularly about hand-work.  A introduced me as ‘an artist’.

And I knew, right then, where I came down.  I am not an artist.  I could be.  I know knitters who are.  But I am not.

Knitting someone else’s pattern is not art.  There is art in choosing colours and patterns, but it is not Art, in and of itself.  It’s just not.

I have technical skill.  And I hope to have more.  But I feel that I’m more comparable to an apprentice who is learning to mix chemicals to make paints, than to the artist who uses them.

Which is fine.  Why is that a problem?  Every artist needs craft, too.  It’s the basis of their art!  Technical skill, plus talent.  And I’m not saying I couldn’t one day make that leap.  Because it’s not really a leap.  It’s a continuum.

Why does every expression of self need to be recognised as High Art to be valid? (she asks, ironically, on her blog).  I was listening to an episode of Y knit where they talked about this.  It was really interesting.  At the end of it, they had a few snippets form all different people.  One of them put it something like this:  Why does it have to be like what men do (art) to be worthwhile?  Why can’t it just be what it is.  Sometimes useful.  Sometimes beautiful.  Sometimes art.  Sometimes craft.  What is the big deal?

Then I was reading this post by Audrey.  She was talking about art.  What is it for?  What makes it art?  Who gets to say?

I so often find that what people think is art doesn’t seem anything like art, to me.  It’s not beautiful of itself.  It’s not thought provoking, or even, for post-post-modern little old me, shocking.  It does not start a conversation or continue it.  It doesn’t speak to soemthing deep within me.  I can’t see a message or a symbol, or read a story into it.  Often art, high or low, seems dead and flat and… boring.  Maybe it expresses something within the artist that needed to get out.  I wouldn’t know.  But so often, what I am presented with as ‘Art’ seems to be to be the real-world manifestation of blogging.  Just to say ‘here I am!  I am important!! Listen to meeeeeee because I am IMPORTANT!!!!’

Is that what I should want to be?

All I know is that my jumper is warm and snuggly and in no way a comment on the society I live in.  It is useful in a way totally divorced from what art is.  And I don’t want it to be associated with ArtwithacapitalA.  That is for something else.  And often, I find, irrelevant to my life.

And essentially, that’s why I keep knitting.  Because it’s relevant to my life.

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One thought on “Art vs. Craft

  1. Art vs Craft? Is that like The Hulk vs Spiderman – who would win?

    An interesting and thought provoking post.

    I can’t say that it’s a question that has ever kept me up at nights, but I do vehemently maintain that the study of English Literature should include comics and graphic novels.

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