Sunday, February 11, 2007

Releasing "Artisan" from its Corner on the Market

Every chance we get these days, we add new pieces to the online shop and prepare for our first online auction (that starts tonight!). And for each item we add, I have to write a description. I get to write about every piece of jewelry, wooden toy, basket, sculpture, and piece of furniture.

The descriptions include some words about the artisan. Or is it artist? Or maker? I have been using "artisan" across the board, almost as a matter of point. But lately as I've been writing these descriptions I find myself sometimes reaching for the words "artist," "maker," and even the much maligned term "designer/maker."

Consider Jane Kaufmann, whose Heart Lady is pictured at right. After I describe her work as sculpture, I want to refer to her as an artist. Is she an artist? Artisan? Maker? Maybe I should just say "sculptor." Or maybe she's all of these things (though of course it's silly to list them all!)

What about in the case of jewelry makers? Every one of Alana Dlubak's enamel pendants, like the one at the left, is like a small painting. No two of her designs are the same. She uses die-cut copper plates in four different shapes to support her enamel designs. They're strung on colored leather cords or strings of big, nicely-selected semi-precious stones. Is Alana Dlubak a designer? An artisan? A jewelry artist?

I know that this is a well-worn debate, yet each time I encounter these questions the debate becomes fresh to me again.

A lot of people say these distinctions aren't important. Yet I find I have a persistent interest in how the names do matter, maybe because I love the mot juste. Don't the words carry different connotations? Different sensibilities? Doesn't using the word "artist" color the subject differently than if I'd used the word "artisan?"

There is a difference. And we would do well to celebrate and embrace these differences, excluding no one from our love for craft.

To whom this difference matters, and why... that's something else. That gets into economics, politics, sociology, spirituality. Or maybe it's just semantics.

In any case, I am going to try an experiment. Over the next several weeks I am going to freely use "artist," "artisan," designer/maker," and any other term in this suite of meanings, and see how it sits. I am releasing "Artisan" from it's corner on the market at Greenjeans! Check the online shop, this blog, and the auction house, where these terms will start flying at will.

And let me know your thoughts!


Hrag said...

I think Jane Kaufmann is most definitely a sculptor, at the same time the tension in her work is derived from her ability to collapse the categories. Her aesthetic seems derived from craft, her iconography is almost folk, while her ideas are closer to fine art...not to mention that an arts and crafts design sensibility seems to glue all these disparate elements together.

Anonymous said...

Jane Kaufmann comments:

craftsms, as in MizKaufmann or Ms. Kaufmann
Hobbier as one with a hobby
feigner of clay as to feign ability
clay hack as when someone hacks out 40 finger puppets in a day.
factotum to the arts
journeywoman as when girls take a road trip
claysmith--like a blacksmith only using clay
clayworker as the person who hauls the ton of clay up three flights of stairs

David F said...

All these words ("artist", "artisan", etc) are fraught with nuanced meaning - depending on the intent of the writer (speaker) and the perceptions of the reader (listener). "Maker" is generic and perhaps the least nuanced, but therefore bland. "Artisan" may be the most versatile - it seems to imply a vague fusion of art and craft (and competence, experience, or training) - but may also be demeaning to someone who ordinarily uses the term "artist" self-referentially. Personally, I think "artist" has become much overused by people in fields that are traditionally craft-oriented (such as furniture making).

Ultimately I suppose all these terms are more-or-less apt, and adaptable if not exactly interchangeable. For my money, you were on the right track to begin with (with "artisan"), but look forward to seeing how this plays out on Greenjeans in the future, and to reading your own reconsidered opinions down the road.