Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Art or Craft

Visiting Posh Dee's blog yesterday got me thinking.

Firstly let me be categorical so as to avoid misunderstanding. I do consider Posh Dee and Mr P to be Artists. They create something beautiful which I could not, it is the ability to preform something uncommon ,and with value above the sum of it's parts which, for me, is art. The combination of colours, hues and tones is something I know I am not good at and I rely upon people who are.

However on the wider point I made the following entry on Dee's blog

There is too little credit given to craftsmen and women. This should be valued highly too. The dedication, the skill, the attention to detail, the knowledge of materials and traditions, of heritage and innovation. These are the hallmarks of a craftsman. A finesse, a quality, an ability to achieve above the norm. It is a fine thing to be involved in and to be the creator of craft.

My point is that, should we seek to find value in our craft by calling it 'art', the unintentional downside of trying to raise knitting to a higher level by joining it to art, is that we devalue craft.

Whether people view it as art, is their choice and their judgement, and I do not think it is my place to contradict or gainsay their choice. But for me it is the fact that it belongs to a tradition of work, of ordinary people that makes it mine and allows me access to it. If anyone and everyone is an artist then so be it. But I think there is something not of the everyday about art, and, there is something gloriously and specially 'ordinary' about knitting. I can do it. You can do it, anyone can do it. For centuries it has been a utilitarian craft and it is valid to value it just as that, whilst at the same time, appreciating the beauty that these ordinary knitters can produce.

All around the country as we make 'progress' we loose craft, we loose pride in the achievement of our hands as we value more and more highly the work of our brains.

Of course, craft involves the brain too :o) in choosing materials, in forming designs and so on. Design is certainly an element that undoubtedly involves the brain, LOL but also the 'spirit'? Perhaps! But I digress.

There are now many skills in the building trade, for instance, that our forefathers knew and mastered that we have lost. I was in a building which is being renovated recently, which has hit a problem. There is a beautiful banister on a very tight staircase. Lovely understates Victorian elegance of curve, simple clean lines and needing to be replaced with fresh timbre. But ... it cannot be replaced because no one can be found who knows how to make that curve from a single piece of wood. The owners of the building are not prepared to accept an inferior replacement. The builders have suggested rerouting the railing to lessen the angle and steepness of the curve and the owner will not agree. He wants the same piece of work doing that was done originally. Stalemate. Experts in renovation have been consulted, no progress. Similar things happen in the area of church maintenance and renovation. As people retire there is no one to take over. Skills are lost and have to be rediscovered at a later date.

In our schools we encourage children to stay on and take higher and higher academic qualifications. There is talk of making the school leaving age 18 instead of 16. We are urged to become a 'knowledge economy'. But, when we are all holders of superior certificates, who will know how to work with their hands? Who will understand craftsman? Whilst mass production makes items accessible, whilst we strive for cheaper and cheaper goods, who will value the artisan?

So there I think I have hit upon the nub of my dilemma. Craftswoman or Artist? Artisan! "A skilled manual worker" according to the dictionary. So whilst the fibre artist or maker of art quilts may be an artist, as a knitter I will settle for artisan. Maybe in the end it's just one more label and the work will speak for itself.

PS. Does all this yarn make me an Art Collector?


Badger said...

Very eloquent and articulate. I agree with you very strongly about the devaluing of "craft", and personally I feel proud to describe myself as a craftsbadger.

Fiona said...

Interesting post! Regarding 'lost skills' - I think that a large part of the problem is that apprenticeships are not so common these days. That banister though - that is not a lost technique at all. My husband for instance is an apprentice-served boatbuilder (now retired) and used to do work like this - and there are many specialist boatbuilders and bespoke furniture makers who still do. Whether this will still be the case in ten years time is another matter though.

Dee said...

Artisan...... yes, I like that very much.

Karen said...

I agree with badger: eloquent and articulate. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Just call me Ruby said...

Eloquent and articulate have already been used but I can't think of better words to use. You have expressed something many of us think. Craft should be celebrated. In this country it is so often denegrated - Art is considered on a higher plane. I practice art but consider myself a craftsperson if that makes any sense.

Have only just found your blog. Excellent reading.