The Maker's Continuum

If the maker's life were a radio, rather than a series of buttons to punch it might have a knob that could slowly turn between hobby and art or between art and craft. The problems in life don't seem to occur between consecutive stations, only at opposite ends.

When I was first writing, making, and collecting material for Creating Handmade Books in 1997, I asked an artist I knew if she would like to send me some photographs of her work. Her response was that she didn't want to be in a craft book. I was surprised. I didn't consider this a craft book. And I'm not fond of labels or of being told what I am or am not. She decided I was at the craft end.

Sometime later, some women came to an open studio I was having and told me that I ought to teach at this crafts camp in the summer so I could "cross over and get known among the crafters." Again, I was surprised by the contentious divide. They decided I was at the art end.

My responsibility is not to choose a side, but to teach. Each person is going to have a different need for what I have to offer. It's not up to me to judge it, but I do want my students to think carefully, take risks, practice technique, hone their new skills, work conceptually and from the heart, and try to work with original content that they create themselves. It is plenty of work, but it can be done.

Students can gradually move up and down the artwaves. It's not an either/or situation. While I discourage "I love my boyfriend/girlfriend" books in a classroom situation, I encourage students to make personal gifts for those they love outside of class. Even so, whatever it is, if the work is done in a fresh way I'm still open to it. (For more thoughts about art, see the post "When Is It Art?")

I grew up with this art/craft continuum during the macramé era. I made candles. I made loop potholders. I had a beading loom and made bracelets. I designed needlepoint patterns to stitch. I also learned calligraphy and letterpress printing, sewing, and knitting. I tried and failed at leaded glass and pottery. I was given art lessons beginning at age four. I learned welding and watercolor painting. I went to a liberal arts college, finished at an art college (which later dropped "Crafts" from its name and uses "Arts" to encompass both). As an adult I've taken tangents with embroidery, latch hook rugs, quilting, and papier maché as well as painting with acrylics on canvas, monotypes, calligraphy, and drawing with pen and ink. Currently, I'm still printing, printmaking, painting, making boxes, and making books out of handmade felt. While I do distinguish between what I make for personal learning and what I make to go out into the world in a public setting, I don't like—or particularly see the point of—separating my activities into art or craft.

Maker. What a great word. No end in sight.

Tony Labat's Big Peace IV,  Oakland Museum of CA


Annie Bodelier said…
MAKER is a great word indeed. I consider myself a maker! And - there's no such thing as coincidence I think. Just minutes ago I was reading about:
I love it!
best, Annie - the Netherlands
Penny A said…
Wonderful post! This is a distinction that is more often hurtful than helpful, and I love your outlook. Bring on the Makers!
tgarrett said…
I taught for sometime at a small university- in the art department- some of the "professors" there were indeed very judgmental - and considered my artist books crafts ( with a small c!) Also considered collage the same. I am a collage and book artist. I used the term maker in my classes. I look forward to the day when this label divide is over!
Mary said…
Perfectly said. I'll be proud to call myself a maker. Thanks for the insightful posts.