The Artists

I guess one of the most important points that occurs to me as I read through these “case studies” is that one can be very creative, resourceful, and have all sorts of good qualities as a person, and still be doing work that does not necessarily fit the criteria for workmanship, hand-making, hand-crafting, etc. Carol comments that she now uses the term “handcrafted,” and that is reasonable – “handcrafting” does not require that one is actually making something from scratch, but would seem to imply that arrangement, placing elements together artistically, and so forth, counts; and the fact that ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) is clearly accepted as a fine art would point in this direction as well. But still, one might want to ask: If what Stacy and Mari do is “handcrafting,” then what category should we put what Lian does all day into? Surely Lian is also handcrafting, by this definition. She is painting; she may not be actively designing her mug, but it takes talent and skill to do the kind of decoration that she is doing, and it seems as though that should count for something. Working in a factory to create small items would seem to be a form of handcrafting, however supervised one might be while one does this handcrafting. What makes us think, and perhaps we do think this instinctively, that Lian is not “creating,” but that Stacy and Mari are? Stacy is surely as far away from “design” as Lian, and at times perhaps farther—Stacy is responding to and recapitulating the designs that she sees around her in the commercial marketplace, essentially. Mari does the same thing: she is not interested in going to school to become a jewelry-maker or studying metallurgy; she is having fun and exercising her creativity and making a profit from doing what she is doing. Why shouldn’t we call Mari’s and Stacy’s and Lian’s work “handcrafting”?

Now, there are many significant differences among the atmospheres in which Stacy, Lian, Ai-Shi, Mari, and Sarah are working; there are socioeconomic differences, which have not been emphasized, among them as well. Lian does not seem to be in a good enough economic position to do “stay at home” work; Ai-shi does not get to practice her actual lacemaking skills very often, and does not use them for income—but she does create twine and knotted cord and decorative curtain fastenings as her income-producing work; Mari uses her crafting ability for income, but is not yet working a full-time job as a crafter, although she may, sometime in the future, if she can juggle her home duties and make time for a start-up business and all the stress that entails.

But despite all these differences, we can notice some similarities: all the handcrafters we have discussed make some money from what they are doing; they all have a hand in creating something that is useful, or decorative, or both, and these somethings do get sold. Instead of talking about “dividing lines,” and when someone (apparently) is “no longer making handmade objects,” or is “no longer handcrafting,” perhaps we could use a different kind of standard to help us think about what is going on. I suggest that money is a good thing to consider: not just whether money is given in exchange for the goods created, but in what way the artist in each of these cases, for I would call every one of these women artists, is remunerated for her work.

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One Response to The Artists

  1. Wow, very thought provoking! Thanks for these well articulated ruminations about craft and status and pay. Much to think about.
    Robin J

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