Saturday, 1 June 2013

What Am I?... And What Are You?

When I started this blog I did it for two reasons.  The first reason was to have a record of how I did things that I could go back to so I could remember how I did things and hopefully prevent repeating the mistakes.  The other reason was the hope that by writing about it I could start to understand why I do what I do, and that this clarity would help me to improve my woodworking.  This post is all about reason  two.

A while ago I was reading the Lost Art Press Blog and came across this essay attempting to define the difference between the terms artist, artisan, and craftsperson.  It really made me think about these labels and how I felt about them.  You should read it now, and then come back to this, as it will help to make sense of what I have to say. It is neither a long or nor difficult read.  Go ahead... I'll wait...

Done? OK, here they are, my definitions of the terms artist, artisan, and craftsperson:

Artist - One who creates original works for the purpose of self expression.

Artisan - One who creates original works for practical purposes.

Craftsperson - One who creates works based on the designs of others.

I want to point out that to me these distinctions have nothing to do with skill.  I think that if you asked each of these types of people to build a chair, the craftsperson would be the most likely to succeed, the artist the least likely.  The craftsperson would draw on previous designs to build something solid, comfortable, and attractive.  An artisan would probably build a solid chair, but their original design may not be as comfortable as some existing designs or the design may not be appealing to as many people.  The artist may not even consider those things to be important in comparison to what they are trying to communicate to someone looking at it.

What is important to these definitions is the idea of originality.  If I were to see a pattern in the inlay around the edge of a coffee table and reproduce it in a segmented bowl am I being original?  If I come up with one original idea, does that move me from craftsperson to artisan?  The lines start to blur.  It doesn't help that in order to become good at something you need to practise the methods of those who have gone before, until you don't just know them, you understand them.

That idea, that you need to understand what you are doing, is very important to me.  In mathematics, when you know an equation, you can plug in the numbers and use it to solve a problem.  When you understand how that equation was derived, get down to its roots, you can play with it, make changes, and solve a wider range of problems.  The same is true of throwing a football, playing music, or designing a chair.  Understanding what you are doing makes it possible to be both original and successful.

I've gotten a little off track with that last paragraph.  Anyway, if you are still with me, I invite you to take a look back through some of my previous posts and see where you think I might land in those three classes.  If you are also someone who likes to create things, take a look through your own work and see how you feel about that.  And if you've read through all of this and you think that I'm way off base, I'm willing to admit you may be right.

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