As always, we kick things off by discussing what we’ve been up to. I tell Gina all about my “new” sewing machine (which you can read about here), and she tips me the wink on an online taster course, leading to an exciting longer course, all about learning to see. Having enrolled into the taster at the last moment, I can see why she’s so excited about it. Already, I’ve been keeping up with a daily drawing practice – something I have aspired to for literally decades. You can see some of my efforts scrolling across the bottom of the page here.
Gabriel is also my kind of teacher: he’s warm, very friendly, and also a little bit crazy and disorganised. My kinda guy! If you’re at all interested in drawing, painting and colour in particular, then please do check him out. I’m pretty sure there’s just enough time to view the free videos, and maybe also enrol in the course. The use of colour in his paintings is quite magnificent, and I’m feeling inspired for my own work – and as usual, wondering how I could translate it to textiles.
Our main topic is all about the thorny issue of Art versus Craft. What’s the difference between the two? Is one “better” than the other? What do we call what we make, and do we call ourselves “artists”? And if not, why not? And ultimately, does it really matter what we call it?
It’s one of those topics that can easily go round in circles, arguing for and then equally passionately arguing against. My personal conclusions, in no particular order:
- Manufacture is soulless. Churning out a line of identical products. This could be by machine, or it could still be by hand, by an individual. This is where craft can sometimes drift into manufacture.
- Craft finishes with a product that can be used for a practical purpose – a quilt or hat or gloves to keep you warm, a card to send to a friend, a bowl to keep fruit from rolling over the table, the table it sits on. Its function is to be….functional, but also decorative, and unique. But it doesn’t ask questions. If it makes you cry, it’s probably because of the story behind why someone made it, not the thing itself. The lining of my mother’s handmade sewing bag can make me cry, but to anyone else it’s hideous late 60s patterned nylon orange and yellow fabric. But I know when and where the bag was made, and miss the people whose lives that fabric was an everyday part of.
- Art is mostly just to be looked at, although it can be interacted with – but you can’t “use” it in the same way you could a bowl or table or hat. Art expresses an emotion, or a concept, or asks questions.
- But it’s not as easy as that: Grayson Perry makes pots – you could probably stick a (large) bunch of flowers in one of them. You wouldn’t, but you could. But if you are lucky enough to look up close, you can see that they’re very definitely not just pots. They are extremely provocative, and tell stories, and ask difficult questions. They make you think. So his pots are art.
- Gina was moved to tears by Tracey Emin’s blankets, but the workmanship may have been a bit iffy – does that matter, if they served their purpose, by stirring the emotions? Do you have to be a good craftsperson to make good art? And do you have to be a good artist to make good craft? There’s a lot of bad art out there, and a lot of bad craft – but that leads to an even thornier issue of how we define “bad art/craft”!!
- People can try and manufacture art, for hotels and restaurants for example, but it’s soulless. It’s just manufacture.
- So I think it’s more of a continuum, rather than a set of fixed categories. Manufacture, done really well and with artistic flair, particularly on a small scale, can become craft. Craft – take for example meticulously made art quilts, that tell a story or express a concept – can be art. But then again, a quilt by definition has to be constructed in a particular way to be called a quilt, so it’s still craft? This is where the going in circles comes in…And art made with a high level of craft and skill, can be exquisite. But if it’s not meant to be used, it’s still “just” art, you wouldn’t put your bananas in it or a bunch of flowers or wear it. Most importantly, one isn’t better than the other, they’re just different.
- But if there’s a continuum, and where things sit is mostly determined by the degree of craft skill or artistic talent and vision that’s used to create something, and if art and craft are equal in status, does that mean that things can drop off the edge – is art done without a high level of craft skill bad? Is craft done without any hint of artistic talent bad? Or is it just manufacture? Where does quality fit in? Or if it’s good, is it just an accident? If you haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend watching The Rebel with Tony Hancock (it’s on Amazon Prime at the moment). In part of the film, he tries a bit of action painting, think Jackson Pollock. At the time, there were a lot of people who didn’t think that was art. If you want to spend a happy few minutes messing about creating your own “Jackson Pollock” CLICK HERE!
- Finally, what about folk art and traditional art, cave paintings, ancient carvings – is it art, or craft? Where on earth does that fit in?
So it is a fascinating topic, and you’ll have to listen to find out what our conclusion was! As before, we’ve probably only scratched the surface. I’d love to know what you think, so please get in touch or leave a comment.
Here are the links to things we mentioned in the show:
Alex Askaroff THE sewing machine man for the South East of England
Is there a difference between art and craft – TED talk by Laura Morelli – well worth a watch for a concise interpretation of the definitions.
Woman at War – my favourite film. It’s got it all: knitwear, bleak landscape, cold water swimming, tai chi, quirky music, bit of traditional embroidered costume…
The Dig – a new film that Gina watched and enjoyed… eventually!
The Queen’s Gambit – by Gina’s recommendation, I have now watched the whole series – we binge watched over a weekend! Brilliant.