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Merimask's Ball Of Wax
(Or, "how I've found yet another way to spend more quality time with myself"
Brutally honest... 
22nd-Apr-2009 03:04 am


So, last night I was working, reluctantly, on a few masks.  I'm sick, but I can't afford to just stop working altogether and so I was up late, determined to do as much as I could before I felt too crappy to continue.

As it happened, I started to feel better as I worked.  I have an incredible immune system; I can actually do all the wrong things (stay up late, not drink enough water, go out in the rain with a fever...all things I did Tuesday) and yet eventually my body takes matters into hand and I will actually feel myself getting better.   Right now, I feel great in spite of being really tired...

But I'm digressing.  So I was working on these masks.  And it was rote.  Cutting, carving, shaping...I did all that in a haze 'cause I was still struggling with the remnants of this cold.  And I thought "well...I'll just see how far I can get before I have to quit", and I really wanted to quit (I felt like playing Rachett & Clank for a while before passing out). 

But then, HBO started re-playing all the episodes of "In Treatment" that I missed on Sunday, and I really love that show.  So I started watching while I worked and I just kept painting while the shows ran...five half-hour-long shows back to back.  And that's two and a half hours.  And the last show ended pretty much on my last brush stroke, and the masks were done.

And they are really great masks.  I made another Anubis and another Firefox...the fox is especially good because I experimented with some new grays with silver mixed in.  But the thing is, I made these totally on autopilot.  I put not a moment of thought into them.  I was just feeling crappy and watching TV and the masks were the things my hands happened to be making at the time.  They could have been needlepoint or hook rugs or paint-by-numbers.

But I sell these things and call them "art" .  Are they really art?  Is art something you can create thoughtlessly, on autopilot, while watching TV?   Was the first Firefox I made "art", and every one after that just "craft"?  Are they all art?  Are none of them art? 

Sometimes, I really do feel the creative spark, and I know it when I'm making something special.  And sometimes, I'm just running on autopilot, making masks like a lemming, doing it the same way I always do it.  And the thing is, at the end of the day you can put my "inspired" work next to my "busywork" and you can't tell it apart...it all looks the same. 

So does that elevate all my craft into art?  Or does that relegate all my artwork as craft?

EDIT:  These are the masks I made...
22nd-Apr-2009 07:55 am (UTC)
You're both the artist and the craftsman -- that you do both doesn't lessen either. One of my friends knit a Rose of England tablecloth from a commercially available pattern (sadly I don't know the name of the designer, but she would). There was much oooh-ing and aaah-ing; she pointed out that she'd just followed the instructions, as the craftsman, and that the artistry was in the original design.

Sure, the thirty-fourth Anubis mask you've made from the same pattern you can make by rote, but the design is still your art. If I learned leatherworking and copied your Anubis mask, it would still be your art. When Cirque makes plastic masks from your pattern, it's still your art, though sadly lacking for craftsmanship in the implementation.

Edited at 2009-04-22 08:06 am (UTC)
23rd-Apr-2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
I hope this is true, because I often worry about the distinction between art and craft. I don't know why it bothers me but it does.

My husband says I sound like a spoiled whiner, worrying "oh dear is it really art?" when I'm doing so well in Etsy and my business is better than ever, but still it's important to me.
25th-Apr-2009 01:05 am (UTC)
distinction between art and craft

Whose decision is that to make, to your mind?
22nd-Apr-2009 09:48 am (UTC)
I agree with the above post.

I am honored to have one of your masks. In fact my friend who's a costumer is making me a Ren Ranger outfit to go with it for the Texas Renaissance Festival this year!
23rd-Apr-2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
*hug* I'm glad you like your mask. Yours was unequivocally art (I thought carefully about it). ^_^
22nd-Apr-2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
Photographic prints, in fact many kinds of prints (lithographs, woodblock, more) are similar to this. Is it less art because I, or say Edward Weston who is much more famous than I, run multiple copies of prints from a single negative? Each print may be subtly different, depending on many factors: artist, chemistry, temperature. So too with your masks.

Is it less art (on my part) if I use one of your masks to make a photograph? I'm using art to help establish a particular character, to help tell a specific story.

Edited at 2009-04-22 01:08 pm (UTC)
23rd-Apr-2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
If art is intent, though, then I worry because for those two masks, all I really intended to do was keep my hands busy while I watched some good TV shows.

I guess it's a case where I've become so adept at making these things that I can make them thoughtlessly, & that makes me a little sad.
22nd-Apr-2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
All art is craft, but not all craft is art. The difference is whether it serves that critical function of art, which is to encode an emotion or thought fundamental to the human experience, and communicate it to another human being. It is a quantum quality. If someone gazes upon your firefox and says, "eh," then it is craft to them, and if someone else gazes upon the same firefox and feels a tugging in their chest, feels movement and fire and something that just reaches through them and pulls, then it is art. It depends upon the observer. Once you have made it, whether or not it is art is entirely out of your hands. It is, in fact, independent of your will whether or not something is art. You craft, and hope that what you have crafted is a good enough vessel to communicate, to one other person, what you wish to express. I think this is what all artists do.
22nd-Apr-2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
All art is craft, but not all craft is art. Yes, exactly this.

I think this is all what I would have tried to say.
23rd-Apr-2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
I see what you are saying & I agree; & I've often thought that art isn't "art" unless it's perceived as such (it needs an audience's interpretation to be considered art). That totally makes sense.

But to me, a part of the creative process is intent. I guess I'm just worried because I sense some apathy in myself towards my work. When I can create it thoughtlessly, it is diminished in my eyes. It just feels less like "creating" & more like "manufacturing".
23rd-Apr-2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
You've been worrying about this for a while. (Not sure how long, but you've definitely mentioned this before.) Perhaps your angst on this issue would be better resolved not by asking yourself whether or not what you do is "art" or "craft" but why it matters so much to you that it be one and not the other. What's so wrong about being a manufacturer?

Or, alternately, make your own definitions for art and craft so that you can land firmly in the realm of art, regardless of what it feels like when you're doing it. When I write I just put one word after another, and after a while it sure feels like I'm just writing to hear myself type. It's very tedious to build a book one word at a time, but that's how it's done, very much like manufacturing (first you do this, then you do this, blah blah blah). The story is the art, the writing is the craft. How about this: a book does not possess a soul until it is done, much like your masks. Up until it is finished, it is just a thing we do. When it is complete, it lives on its own, independent of you and me, of our minds and thoughts and what we intended. It's free. The moment of releasing it into the world is what we work for, what we strive to do as we go through the rote manufacturing process. Without you, it will never be born. Even when manufacturing, we are holding it to our faces and breathing into it, and giving it life.

22nd-Apr-2009 01:51 pm (UTC)
Heh heh. I can so relate when it comes to my business Art of the Wood. I stand solidly on the ground that I am a craftsman, taking wood and turning it into any manner of different product. I work with ARTISTS to put their work in wood.
Many friends and my S.O. Ginger_Rose insist I am an artist. I can see where they are coming from, but I still relegate myself to no more than Artistic Craftsman.

You on the other hand I would say lean more towards the artistic. You are taking the colours you have, experimenting with changes, at times changing the grooves/cuts in the leather. So you may have some repetition, but from what I have seen of your work, you can and do make changes on the fly because you feel it is right for that piece you are working on. And that is what I call art.

And on & on I babble. I look forward to seeing your next new creation. :)
23rd-Apr-2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
It's hard when you've made something (or in my case, used a technique) so many times that the process feels more like "manufacturing". I want to remain sincere in my artwork (I'm not sure if that makes sense...but you know what I mean).
22nd-Apr-2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
I think kelkyag has the right idea. I don't think the line between craft and art is a clear or simple one, and I think calling something a "craft" often belittles the skill of the creator. Unless you are following a pre-established pattern and just copying it, even making an Anubis mask you've made a dozen times before is art. You may not have put much thought into the masks you made last night, but that's only because you've made them so many times before and you know what you are doing.

People call my beadwork art all the time, and yet once I have the pattern in my head much of the actual beading process is rote--but the hard part is the original design and choosing the beads--colors, textures, etc. Your leather work is similar. The art lies in the design, the choice of colors and the carving etc. Even if the actual execution is sometimes by rote, it still requires skill and being able to translate that image in your mind into the leather--and that makes your leather work art.
23rd-Apr-2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
I'm very sensitive to the distinction between "art" and "craft"...probably from all the years spent jurying in to art fairs & such. There was a HUGE stigma attached to leather (the very word "leathercraft" says it all)...I used to lie about my medium just so that my art would be taken seriously.

And now I'm making things with no more thought than I'd apply to something utilitarian. So, I'm just worried that I'm slipping into complacency.

Probably I need to create something totally new from scratch, to prove I can still do it.
22nd-Apr-2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Can't help. I don't care whether my stuff is art or not. However, I think if you make something that exists for the sake of being beautiful, it's art (as long as you created it yourself) and that reproducing it is merely sense.

I hate remaking stuff, though. It's so boring... (Sense sucks.)
22nd-Apr-2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Crap, sorry Meri, that was probably an eyebrow raiser. That was me.
23rd-Apr-2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
LOL...it's ok, I knew who you were.

Repetition is SO neccessary when you have a business, but it also tends to kill my love. It's important to me, that I make these things thoughtfully. Otherwise, why do it?
22nd-Apr-2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
Why does it have to be either Art in its purest form, or soulless copying? They're all gorgeous, and your own creations. Having the physical process down to the minutest details just means you've done it frequently, not that you've become some kind of drone. Srsly. :P

*is probably being too harsh, as you're legitimately concerned with the distinction and I'm just...not*
23rd-Apr-2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
I guess I just don't want to get complacent about my work. Art is perception but also intent & for me it's very important that I create thoughtfully. Otherwise I'm just a manufacturer (& not an artist), & that's not who I want to be.
22nd-Apr-2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
There's an old saying that if men make it, it's art, and if women make it, it's a craft. Painting? Art. Quilts? Craft.
23rd-Apr-2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
It's a perception problem I guess...I'm just really sensitive to the distinction because I fought SO long to be taken seriously as an artist. Leather, as a medium, is automatically considered "craft" (leathercraft) and I work hard to help people see that it's just another viable sculpting medium. So when I create thoughtlessly, it makes me worry a bit that I'm becoming complacent. I don't want to be a manufacturer, I want to be an artist. It's important to me...

Probably I just ought to shut up & make something brand new. ^_^
23rd-Apr-2009 02:08 am (UTC)
I don't think whether you call a mask "art" or call it "craft" changes anything inherent to the mask. It still looks beautiful and brings me pleasure every time I see it. We're so used to things having a strict category, but art (and craft) is subjective. It feels like art to me, therefore, for me it *is* art.

But, just because you can work on autopilot I think does not demean the piece or make it any less creative. I mean, I needle felt, and there's parts of it that take ingenuity, and then there's parts where I'm poking wool for hours with a needle, which, I must say, is remarkably mindless. I can be thinking about nothing at all. But that's the nature of needle felting and I think it wouldn't be fair to delegate the whole medium to "craft" just because there's some monotony involved.

Really, that you can do it when you're sick I think just means you're awesomely good at what you do. :)
23rd-Apr-2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
I've been doing this for so long...there's always a danger that I'll become complacent. I don't want to be a "manufacturer"...I want to create these things thoughtfully, so it actually worries me when I can make something beautiful when I don't even mean to. Probably, that sounds weird.

My husband says I sound like a spoiled whiner, but to me it's important.
23rd-Apr-2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
...I think the very fact that it's so important to you is what makes it art and not craft. You worry about becoming complacent, but even though you *can* "manufacture" without thought, the very fact that you desire not to is what means that you won't (when you're up to your full thinking potential, that is ^_~ ).

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