Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Making the bears dance

A few days ago, in an argument in Etsy forums, the following concept was raised by vintage seller and seamstress PetitPoulailler:

“According to RG Collingwood, Principles of Art, what distinguishes the artist from the craftsman is that the craftsman has a precise notion of what she is constructing. The artist, in contrast, performs her creations to learn what they become. And in learning what they become, the artist informs herself about something previously unknown to the artist.”

It’s an interesting distinction—and not one that should be seen as a putdown for craftsmen. It’s just a different approach to the visual arts. I think the distinction can also be seen in literature. The writer of literary fiction begins with questions or a vague direction and ventures into the unknown, whereas someone writing genre fiction (such as mysteries) would begin with a plot—a detailed map of the journey and destination.

I would consider my own jewelry firmly in the artisan camp, though there is still an element of surprise and serendipity involved (plus what my art teacher mother would call "the happy accident"), which makes me think that the boundaries between these two ways of working are not always so clear cut. Even with a map, there is going to be the occasional detour or insight that pushes the piece in an unexpected direction.

One of my favorite quotations (only tangentially related, but I never get a chance to use it!) is by Gustave Flaubert:

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we bang out tunes to make the bears dance, when what we long for is to move the stars to pity.”


High Desert Diva said...

Love the quote

Anonymous said...

How very interesting! I missed the discussion but I sure liked the quote and your thoughts on it.

Kellybot said...

One of my graphic design teachers said that art is something you HAVE to do, it's expression you have to release. Whereas craft is typically something you do to external specifications. Not that craft isn't just as creative and valuable. I've never really cared much how I get labeled.
Good discussion!

Sarah McBride said...

very interesting arguments. Makes me wonder what camp I owuld be placed in. Usually I know exactly what I want to do, but oftentimes my visions dont transplate well and I end up playing and creating things that only somewhat resemble the original vision..
Great food for thought!

SimplyGrove said...

I love your etsy items!!

Callooh Callay said...

Oh, thanks so much, simplygrove.

sarah, I think that's where my work is too...changes in progress sometimes and ends up much different. But thinking about it kind of inspires me to try to play around some more.

rachael said...

i agree somewhat, although i think the two camps can overlap at points...it's the difference between classical and romantic thinkers. classical thinkers want to know how things work, romantic thinkers don't care as long as it works!