On the final day of my drawing class, a classmate eagerly pursued me and asked, “Can I draw you in class today?” He seemed intrigued as his eyes looked over my features, not that I got the sense he was necessarily pursuing me romantically. Instead he seemed to be taking me on like a challenge, but I wasn’t sure what the challenge was. “Sure,” I responded, shrugging my shoulders and not thinking much about it. I didn’t think more on it as I concentrated on drawing another classmate, until I saw the final result. It hit me hard. It wasn’t that it was terrible. It was that the drawing was so accurate my heart jumped. I couldn’t believe how I looked. He perfectly captured my large dark brown Italian pupils perched in the narrow Epicanthic folds of my eyelids. I always thought I looked Mediterranean, but never Asian. “I look Japanese,” I replied in shock. He took this as an offense, but that wasn’t the problem. It surprised me that someone could capture me so well. Other students tried, and some were close, but none had drawings like this final result.
I had this feeling again when I finished a Chinese Opera headpiece for a Costume Construction Class and when I completed the final essay I wrote about my sister for a Creative Nonfiction Class. The last time I had it was standing in front of a painting from my favorite artist, Cezanne, at the Chicago Art Institute. When I tell people I used to work in the arts, I usually get a response of excitement as people eagerly asked me for in-depth details. They immediately imagine a glamourous and refined way of living. When I tell people now that I advocate for respect towards artisans and traditional handicrafts, I usually get the opposite response. It seems the idea of “crafts” garners a completely different reaction than “art” as people imagine a woman in the 1950s sewing drapes for her living room. When I told my millinery instructor I wanted to learn to make hats to work in Costume Crafts, she looked at me with hesitation, questioning the word “crafts.” So, what exactly is a craft and what is an art? Is one more important than the other? Does one label imply superiority over the other?
It seems art and craft are continually intertwined. I even find in my own writing I’ve written about the artistry and value of handicrafts while in Peru or why I see the importance of handmade traditional arts and crafts. To me, the intricate weaving and hat-making techniques of the artisans of Run by Rural were nothing short of a work of art after learning it could take one month to make a hat. But what about my D.I.Y. tutorials for fleece blankets or scarves for Christmas presents? I don’t consider them to be an art. They’re nowhere in comparison to the traditional craftsmanship I see throughout my world travels. Looking at them doesn’t reach into my chest and grab at my heart and make me stare at it for hours wondering at its mastery and how it was made. Looking at my printed fleece blankets doesn’t make me stare at them like I do at Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, wondering about the backstory behind the solitary people in the diner: “What is the story behind these lonesome people? Do they know one another? Why are they at a diner so late at night?” Instead, I only see a colorful blue blanket dotted with puppies chasing toys and barking. I feel a sentimental value but no feeling of being taken into another place, time or universe.
Another craft blogger, Aunt Peaches, brings up these same feelings when she says in her blog, “[A]rt speaks to your gut.” A craft project may leave me with a sense of accomplishment or sentimental attachment like my grandmother’s blankets do, but it only becomes art when it reaches inside of you and gives you that sense, that spark, that feeling. Art is something that can’t be recreated and could only be brought to life by the artist who made it. I may be able to recreate and D.I.Y. a fleece blanket and share the knowledge with others to encourage them to be sustainable and independent, but I can’t recreate weaving a hat with ancient weaving techniques or reproduce a hand screen print like artisans from Mata Traders. Whether I’m advocating for artistic capabilities of traditional craftsmanship or working on my own project, I’m reminded that art and craft are different, but both are important. However, I know it’s truly a masterpiece, a work of art, when I’ve given my energy, blood, sweat and tears to the project, or it gives me that spark. It’s the spark I first felt when I stared up at my classmate’s final drawing and realized I was looking at my reflection. Staring up in wonder at the perfect recreation of myself in charcoal and a sketch pad, I really saw myself for the first time.
This post is a part of Tip Me Tuesday hosted by Tip Junkie, Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop hosted by Katherine’s Corner, Sweet Inspiration hosted by Repurposing Junkie, My Sweet Things, Kreativ K and The Boondocks Blog and Flog Your Blog hosted by With Some Grace.