So I was recently at lunch with two of my girlfriends and one of them asked me how I defined ART and how I defined CRAFT.
I've been asked this many times before.
This time, as I was responding to the question, I felt that I had developed a perspective about the topic that I felt pretty good about. Good enough to write down my thoughts here to share.
I think art is the expression of a person's unique essence. I think art can manifest itself on canvas, through yarn, a piano, a frying pan, a computer, accounting books, the written word, dance, song, film, boxing ring, tennis court, and so much more. I think practically anything that humans can do can become vehicles for humans to express their unique essence.
I don't think art has instructions per se. I think it just spills out and can't help but become expressed.
Craft I think has instructions. I think it's frequently project-based. There's sometimes also a kit. For example, I recently wanted to learn how to do sashiko, which is a type of Japanese embroidery. I did my research and bought a kit and a few books to learn how to do it. After making the cute little coaster from the kit, I felt that I learned the craft of sashiko. I followed instructions and finished the project.
If I were to compare my coaster to the coaster made by a different person with the same kit, there may be slight differences but I would predict that for the most part, our end projects looked very similar. I do want to note that in the process of making my sashiko project, I did find times when my unique essence was coming through. I say this because I think art can come out through craft. But I'd say that my unique essence might not be as visible in these projects because there are so many others who have presumably made the same project in similar fashion.
I've never liked it when people pooh pooh craft as being less important than art. I don't like having the two pitted against each other or a crafter being made to feel less important than an artist. There is honor in craft and I'm proud to claim the title of crafter as one of my many human facets.
CRAFT BECOMES ART
So when does my sashiko become art?
I think it's when I take the craft I've learned and apply it onto a piece of fabric to create something that I dream up myself, to express my unique essence. I say this cautiously because what I dream up isn't just something that happens on an island. I dream things up because I have my eyes wide open to all that is around me. My eyes have been open since I was a baby ... and when I was a young girl ... the time when adults encouraged me to mimic, to imitate, and to copy as I learned to write, speak, color, draw, dance, sing, and just develop every facet of myself. I don't know of any boy or girl who wasn't raised in a similar way ... where it was not just ok but encouraged to try on the styles of others ... because I think adults know that when kids try styles on, we eventually develop our unique voice and point of view.
MY SEWING MACHINE
I think about my sewing machine. It's a machine that allows me to make straight stitches, zigzag stitches, free motion stitches and more. No one owns the straight stitch. No one owns the zigazg stitch. No one owns the abiltiy to free motion stitch shapes or words.
STICKS, FINGERS, and BOXING GLOVES
I think about paint. How it can be splattered, applied with a brush, a stick, fingers, boxing gloves (yep), and more, to make circles, squares, lines, squares, arrows, scallops, dots, squiggles, and more. No one owns the brush, no one owns the ability to apply paint with a stick or the fingers or to make circles or to make arrows or to make scallops.
And as we all pursue the development and expression of our unqiue essence, we learn how to use tools like the sewing machine, like the hand needle and embroidery thread, like the paint and canvas. We look at nature and find scallops and leaves and trees and birds. We look at books and find more birds and squiggles and words and color combinations. We look at clothes and find chevron shapes and splashes of neon.
Our eyes are wide open and as we learn craft, we also learn processes and preferences and styles of those willing to share with us ... through books, articles, workshops, online classes, and more.
TURMERIC & GRILLED PINEAPPLE
I think about cooking.
My go-to spices are usually garlic, onion, white ground pepper, salt, liquid aminos, honey, and sometimes curry, basil, and oregano. I don't reach for the turmeric that much because I haven't really been taught how to use the spice. I don't grill pineapple much because among other things, I haven't had the chance to take a cooking class with Bobby Flay who loves to grill pineapple. I'm sure that if I did, I'd be grilling it all the time. ;)
But does Bobby Flay own the pineapple or the act of grilling pineapple? Does somebody own turmeric or the act of adding turmeric to a stew?
I think art is about keeping eyes wide open as we learn how to do certain crafts and how to operate certain tools and materials ... like the gelli plate, or the stencil, or spray paint, or watersoluble crayons or India ink. Art is about keeping eyes wide open to the art around us, and to step into the space of artists who welcome us to be in their presence as they teach us their style. And from these experiences, we try things on ... differenet colors, different spices, different strokes ... and we become that little girl who might declare:
"I don't like turmeric and I won't ever use it in my cooking"
or the one who says:
"After taking a class with Bobby Flay, I've developed a passion for grilled pineapple, which influences the new dish I've made for you ... with added flavor twists that honor my Korean heritage."
LIKE A VOLCANO
And if we are lucky, as we learn crafts and try on styles, and observe the art around us, then eventually our own unique essence, our own undeniable voice and point of view will erupt like a volcano.
That, I think is art.