It was the first warm day in months followed by an almost balmy night. I went outside to visit with our resident horse, Shasta. We live in a very unlit place. There are no streetlights on the top of this very big hill and the few houses are separated by lots of space and trees. The night sky is not hampered by competing lights from humans. I walked out of the garage and looked up in astonishment. The night sky was a deep blue dotted with stars I thought I could reach out and touch. I felt like a person who had been blind all her life and was for the first time seeing the night sky. There was a closeness about this sky, an intimacy like touch. The branches of the trees created lattice work that connected the stars. I was frozen in place with my vision turning into a physical sensation like touch. It was so intense I had to turn away, and in so doing I found myself looking into the gaping hole that is a garage. My eyes traveled along the surfaces of human made objects in a large, unattractive human made box. It was the epitome of ugliness in stark contrast to the overwhelming beauty of the sky. In that moment I understood the virtue of beads.
Most practical human made stuff is ugly. I am referring here to the practical stuff humans make like shopping centers and ugly couches and demanding signs that obscure the sky. I am not referring to the objects humans make when they create art. Almost everything nature dishes out is beautiful. It’s hard to find fault with her lines and placements. She always arranges everything correctly on the page of our vision. Humans create obscene ugliness with which most of us live most of the time. I escape it to some degree by living remotely and I have the great advantage of being able to focus on nature’s beauty without interruption.
What I understood about beads in that moment of grace with the night sky is that beads are consistently beautiful and uplifting. They are little stars we hold in our hand. They are intimate and smooth and they glow from within. They give us something rare: pure pleasure from a human mad form. They are each perfect little universes. We make things from them and as we do so we soak in their beauty. W are given the opportunity to see and to touch stars grabbed from the night sky. It made sense to me why people become addicted to these beads and why they keep buying more and more. They are filling up their cup with stars, hoping to never run out. The stars must exist in our own cups which is why we must take them home.
Whether or not an object is art has little to do with materials and functionality and has everything to do with intent and voice. The difference between an object that is craft and an object that is art is not the difference between a basket and a drawing. The medium is irrelevant. In fact, a basket has as great an opportunity to be a piece of art as a drawing and a drawing can be better crafted than a very artistic basket. A quilt intended to lie on a be can be a piece of art whereas a quilt that hangs on a wall could simply be well crafted. So what is the difference between art and craft and why should we care?
We should care because these words and their often confusing definitions leave those of us who practice an art (or create an object) using traditional (or not so traditional) fiber techniques are left without an appropriate way to name ourselves. We live in a world full of names and we are either misnamed or nameless. This is important because it effects the way others view what we do. We must clearly define who we are so that we can clearly define what is we make to the world that is our market.
The difference between art and craft–and hence the artist and the craftsperson–is astonishingly simple. A craftsperson masters a technique and a tradition. It is of paramount importance for a craftsperson to strive for perfection. To paraphrase Plato: ‘If only there were enough time in life to perfect one’s craft.’ As any true craftsperson knows, there is never enough time. Perfection is enticingly elusive and endlessly inspiring. However, the craft alone that we strive to perfect is not necessarily art even when brilliantly executed. Artisits, working n whatever medium, push the boundaries of form, trying to escape from prescribed ideas while trying to express an inward intention. Artists retreat inside themselves for their answers whereas craftspeople explore outside themselves for theirs. An artist’s medium can be anything. An artist is not necessarily a craftsperson. In fact, there are many artists who have not bothered to perfect their craft and therefore, although their work might be inspired, it can be very shoddy and temporary.
This leads us to the third definition of what we can be when we create things. It is this definition that causes the most obfuscation because it straddles the other two. It is also the thing that many fiber artists are: the artist/craftsperson. This person gets attacked from one side for being too technique oriented and from the other for assuming a grandiose self-image. The artist/craftsperson is simply an artist who is striving to perfect her or his craft. The concept is elegant in its simplicity, but it is also very slippery and hard to hold.
When set up on a kind of continuum, the line starts with craft as pure technique and ends with art as pure expression. Those of us who are makers of things necessarily lie somewhere on that line. And often our position on that line changes, sometimes day to day. There are times when we are still perfecting our craft and there are other days when we are passionately digging inside ourselves for the image that defines what we are. That is not an exalted image of an artist. Nor is it hyperbole since the act of creating a piece of art dwells so completely in the world of truth where everything ultimately is exposed. We may borrow techniques from those who have come before us, but when we create what is uniquely ours with the memory of what was we borrow only from the human experience we have shared. There is no confusion over what is art and what is craft. There is only disbelief.
At long last, I begin this blog. This blog is basically dedicated to creativity: mine and yours. The other day a friend asked me: “What do you feel when you create artwork?”
I answered: “Peaceful and present. It takes me to a place that has no time, no starting point, no ending point, just the place in the middle where you want to stay. Eventually, you do want to leave that place. The bliss is vanished and you move to something else waiting for that moment when you will feel compelled to return to that place of utter presence. Creativity is about the present and how you feel inside that one moment as it falls into another moment and another moment without your noticing.”
I then explained that I have seen myself deep in the past as the one who made baskets or pottery. I would have been very content there. I do not see my creativity as monumental. Rather I see it as necessary. It is what I must do to cope with life. It’s my primary escape.
See if you can see yourself in this picture: you are feeling all scattered and out of place. You search around for one of the pieces you are currently creating. You pick one up: the 16 inch Mirrix loom with a tapestry on it. You weave for a minute or so. It’s not centering you so you move through your studio and land on the necklace you are making in herringbone stitch out of those gorgeous rodium plated beads and suddenly you are lost in that necklace, lost in those like bead universes, and you stay lost there for three hours forgetting that you arrived scattered and out of place. When you lift your head and see that time has moved forward without you, you are ready to crawl back into life.