Monday, October 08, 2007

Art vs. Craft

Bookbinding used to be a trade. I convinced myself at one time, that if it used to be a trade, then it is a craft. If it has always been art, then it is art. Thus the distinction might also be made that a craft results in an object that has some functional purpose (a journal to write in, a rug to wipe your feet on, etc.) whereas art is art is art is art…to behold rather than use.

So bookbinding, weaving, woodworking, ceramics, etc would be craft. Whereas fine arts such as painting, drawing, sculpture, etc are art. But of course, you can paint on your ceramics, and use bookbinding techniques to creature sculpture…so the distinction becomes all blurry again.

Red Stripes Leather Journal by
Rhonda Miller, bookbinder

So now I have been thinking that maybe it depends on the creator of the piece. If the creator calls himself an artist, then his work is art. Obviously, someone who considers himself to be an artist is intentionally creating stuff that should be called artwork; however, if the creator does not call himself an artist, then he probably doesn’t think of his work as artwork. I, for example, call myself a bookbinder and consider my creations to be “books…” not artwork. So I suppose, for me, bookbinding is a craft. Melissa Jay Craig, on the other hand, calls herself a book artist and her books are certainly not just books, they are definitely works of art.

(S)edition Prototypes by
Melissa Jay Craig, book artist

Whenever I think that I'm getting a little closer to an understanding, something else always comes along to change my mind. But I'll go with this for now.

This post was submitted to Blog Carnival over at the Trans Canada Etsy Team blog.


Sarah said...

Yes its a tricky one isn't it. I spent about a year of my life writing my dissertation about this very issue and the more I learnt the more I realised I didn't have a clue(isn't that the way!). In the end I decided it's best to just get on wih it! :)

Queen Mum said...

I so agree, we can spend so much time thinking that it gets in the way of working!

Clara said...

This is a huge question. In ambiguity, it's comparable to knowing what to answer when someone asks what an 'artist's book' is. Your thoughts about the 'art' or 'craft' being determined by how the maker defines herself is an interesting. Is someone an artist simply because he calls himself one? Beats me.

It's a fascinating question, and it's interesting to compare it with titles used for other functions. For example, if you call yourself a welder, it's assumed that you have specific skills or meet certain criteria required to do that kind of work. Same with seamstress or landscape artist, or bookbinder or even queen. Should artists be exempt? I don't know the answer, but it's another way to think about it.

MyHandboundBooks said...

Rather to my surprise and delight, Melissa Jay Craig contacted me after I posted this little article. She clarified this for me:

"I call myself an artist, period; 'book artist' is for convenience, and a label I've gotten over the years from being included in book arts exhibitions."

An important clarification given the subject of this original post. She also added her thoughts on the debate itself with this commnet:

"The craft vs art discussion has been going on for decades; I think we all just have to find our niche within it."

So true.
Thank you Melissa.

Vicki said...

We had the art v craft discussion during a bookbinding class. The concensus was if you are following someone else's instructions you are doing craft, if you are making it up yourself you are doing art. But I agree it does depend a little on how you see yourself.

MyHandboundBooks said...

i hadn't considered that, vicki. it is an interesting way of thinking about it, thanks for sharing that perspective...although the more i think about it...the distinction in still blurry!

Anonymous said...

Dear Rhonda,

Lovely to find this site of yours. It sounds as if you are doing well and I am thrilled to see/hear that you are still loving and making books.
As to the art vs. craft idea... I have literally given up caring. Like Melissa Jay Craig, I don't even bother to categorise my work anymore and just call it 'art'. Granted, that is easy to do, as virtually everything that I now make is for exhibition purposes. Even within the art field however, I can't seem to categorise my work any longer; the longer I work the more mediums I explore and the more techniques I use. My work now crosses between textile, book-based, jewellery and wood work. It isn't uncommon for me to use techniques and materials from all of the above mediums within the same piece. I have hit a point where I don't even know if I could call some of them 'book arts', even though they contain text. And really... it doesn't matter.
The freedom comes when I not only don't care how other people
want to pigeon hole what I do, but when I can't even figure it out. That is how I know that I am creating from deep within, as personal expression; that the piece dictates what needs to happen, not me.
Ciao bella,

MyHandboundBooks said...

Stephanie! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I completely agree that avoiding the labels allows for more freedom in the entire creative process.

In my mind, I haven't crossed over to the art world at all...because regardless of the medium I choose or the idea I follow, it is almost always my intention to make a book... which is exactly what I want to be doing right now.

I was so pleased to see that you had popped in for a visit! It is nice to hear from you - especially since you were the instructor in my very first ever bookbinding class :D