Craftsman? Artist? … Artist? Craftsman?

How do you see yourself? It’s a question I’ve struggled with for a long time, and I’ve heard others voice similar comments. To me, “artist” always meant someone who could draw or paint pictures that were used strictly as decoration. Everyone else was a craftsman of one sort or another and the end result of their labors, be it a basket, a dress, a glass goblet or a chair, was normally intended to have some kind of use.

This is not to say that a craftsman and his or her product is inferior in any way. All my life I’ve been vitally interested in our country’s history and in particular, the artistic processes and skills our forebears possessed. I greatly admire people like Paul Revere who did such elegant silversmithing or the Shaker basketmakers with their fine eye for balance and texture or the Pennsylvania long rifle makers who embellished the brasswork with such delicate engravings.

Shaker basketEngraving on long rifle

All of them must have taken great pride in their workmanship. Were they artists? Of course they were. But they also were craftspeople–people making something that had a specific purpose, and I doubt that most of them considered themselves to be “artists.”

In some ways this mental division costs us something, or at least I think it costs me. It makes it harder to take risks, to do something just because you WANT to or take time to explore a new concept or a new artistic venture. If we believe we are creating a product that is supposed to have a practical purpose, then it’s more likely that we’re going to be interested in selling it, right? So then we have to consider all the other ramifications of marketing.

  • Is there a market for it?
  • Does it take more time to do than we get back in price?
  • Where can we sell it?

Do you find that you are conflicted by your view of the purpose of your own work? Does selling your work validate it? Or is it validated just by the process of creation? How have you resolved it to your satisfaction?

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4 Responses to Craftsman? Artist? … Artist? Craftsman?

  1. This speaks to me. I wrote a little ditty that I was singing one day while driving to Lucy’s Doll House….it was

    Artisan, artist
    Folk art, fine
    Which is the path
    that I’ll call mine?

    There are two kinds creative types in me. The craftsman doesn’t always let the artist come out and play.

  2. nancy says:

    “come out and play”–what an intriguing way of looking at it! I’ve always been very serious about everything–school, music, work–it all had to be perfect (preferably the FIRST time! :-) Definitely something to think about. Thanks, Dixie!

  3. Lana says:

    Your blog and website are looking great, Nancy! You’ve inspired me to work on mine again. It needs quite a bit of updating. :)

    Artist vs. craftsman… you make so many interesting points. I always struggle with what I think I should be called… artist, craftsman… crafter? I think it’s a mindset for many of us. For me, I struggle with the idea that I didn’t have any formal training, therefore my work isn’t considered an art or a craft; it’s just a hobby. Although I make the kinds of things that I enjoy, selling my work does validate it and it does help ease that lack of confidence that seems to follow me around. Thanks for bringing this up. I hope others chime in with their thoughts.

    Dixie ~ I love your ditty! :)

  4. nancy says:

    Thanks, Lana! It’s very much a work in progress, learning as I go!! May I put your blog in my links?

    Yes, it’s a mindset–both in terms of how we see ourselves in our work (and how we value our own background) and at least for me, whether what I create should have a purpose, a function, other than just being decorative. That question is no doubt more at the forefront because of the downturn in the economy–people haven’t had as much disposable income, therefore arts are one of the first things cut. I can see that in the music organizations I belong to–it’s much harder to get donors.

    Wish I had a crystal ball! :-)

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