I would like both my woodworking and my writing to be in some sense an art. Yet ‘art’ these days is a word too often associated with the degenerate, so on balance I would prefer to use the word ‘craft’.  Craft suggests artistry mixed with skill – a skill that incorporates a deep understanding of both materials and techniques.  Craft also suggests a practical purpose to the thing created.

One of the lovespoons I used to make.  Although now a symbolic and decorative item, I like that it originates from a functional spoon.

One of the lovespoons I used to make. Although now a symbolic and decorative Welsh tradition, I like that it is still based on a functional item, and as such is very much a craft.

There is a need for compromise to combine these ideals with making a living for my family.  To some people compromise is a dirty word.  Yet I believe the right kind of compromise moves us closer to our ideals, not further away from them.

For me right now, I am adjusting my business model to prioritise the profitable work that involves less hands-on craftsmanship (anathema to me when I started out).  Yet by doing so I can free up time and resources to do the craftsman-like work I love at other times, without the constraints of a client and budget.   I am leaving behind a poverty mentality to embrace profit as an enabler of the things I aspire to.   The alternative was to condemn myself to poverty and frustration by my choice of work, and thereby to poison the enjoyment and artistry of it anyway.   Perhaps to some purists my compromise exempts me from the ranks of a true artist or craftsman.  But my intention is that one day my craftsmanship will return to the fore as I establish myself in the right market.

I have also discovered I can find a satisfaction in ‘crafting’ the business itself, as something beautiful, functional (profit-making), and well executed.  And this is a necessary lesson for any craftsman – the ability to learn from your work and apply the principles on a higher level.

Now to return to my general theorising on art and craft:

The beauty of craft is that by combining artistic vision and skill, they reinforce each other.  I believe the only truly great works of art embody both vision (art), and skill (craftsmanship).  See the work of the Rennaisance masters, such as Michelangelo.

Yet there is an interesting dynamic when modern artists seek to free themselves from the disciplines of skill and technique.  It can sometimes appear to free their ideas.  I have in mind as an example, the witty cartoons of Edward Monkton, where the childish drawing style provides a direct medium for the idea, and complements it.

Perhaps this is a trivial example, and to leap from Michelangelo to Monkton seems a little ridiculous.  I could stop there if I wanted to cynically sum up all that has been lost in the world of art, but it would be a false comparison.   I believe there is hidden skill involved in simplicity.  I also think the throw-away presentation of a lot of modern artistic ideas is a reaction against an over-emphasis on skill.  A simple, even naive, technique, may connect us with the artist’s real message more directly than an overwhelming display of skill.

Skilful execution of an empty idea is just window dressing.  But slapdash presentation of a wonderful idea is a missed opportunity.  ‘The wise man avoids all extremes’.

I think sometimes aspiring artists are held back by indiscipline in technique: becoming less, not more, than they could have been as artists.  Perhaps some are inclined to think that a preoccupation with skill leads to arrogance.  Yet without skilful technique (and the work required to acquire it), the artistic vision can also be puffed up beyond it’s merits: subjective and unproven, lacking a full expression.   And an artistic idea unexpressed is useless, just like love.

But in all this theorising I am getting lost in the territory of ‘art’ as the expression of vision and ideas.  Craft is my preference because in craft the thing being made has a practical purpose, which anchors it in a sort of humble necessity, which in the end is more satisfying to me than the flights of fancy which sometimes get dressed up as art.

 

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