I was at a function recently talking to the husband of a friend. His wife had excitedly texted me the previous evening having learned I was transitioning my art from clay to fabric. “Me too! She said. “Maybe we can get together and sew soon”.
“Oh yes”, he replied enthusiastically, “Stephanie (not real name) loves doing crafts. One entire bedroom is now devoted to her craft projects.” Now, ostensibly, these remarks could be construed as positive and supportive. I took umbrage, however, at the manner in which he referenced her “craft”, even finding his remarks faintly patronizing. I realize the boundaries between craft and art have long been contested. What defines an artist or a craft maker, or even divides an artist from a craft maker? Perhaps intention makes the distinction. If a maker intends to express something perhaps that makes it art.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I consider myself a creativity evangelist. I believe in the power of art to change lives. I’m director of The Jeremiah Project, an after school and summer creative arts program for at risk middle school age kids. I’ve observed over the last thirteen years how art can literally transform troubled teens into confident young adults. And, art transformations are definitely not restricted to the young. Jeffrey Kluger, science writer for Time Magazine contends creativity increases with age. And, creativity can literally be a life-saver for aging adults. “A Dose of Creativity“, produced by Aroha Philanthropies, documents the benefits of creative engagement among aging adults- fewer doctors’ visits, the need for less medication, memory enhancement, fewer falls, a sense of belonging, “a second chance at life” according to one of the budding artists in the documentary.
I guess that is why I took offense at labeling my friend’s artwork “craft”. This word, at least in my mind, trivializes it. Engaging in any artistic endeavor is not easy. It takes a lot of bravery to create a poem, painting, or piece of pottery and subject it to others’ scrutiny. I think of the word “craft” as kid art or crocheted doilies. (not that there is anything wrong with kid art or hand made doilies). I believe Stephanie is very intentional about her artwork. This is a woman who spent five years hand carving, etching and painting a dining room table for her family. I call art on that!