Is it Art?

Recently, there was a suggestion to the Blogging101 class to write the first post that we would have written when we first thought about blogging. This isn’t really that post, but it is in a way. There’s a weasel for you!

By the way, if you feel like you need some help blogging, the wordpress Blogging101 class has really impressed me so far. I highly recommend joining a session and that’s a pretty unusual thing for me to do.

Way back when I was a little weasel, my parents set a pretty good example of being outside the box thinkers. Both parents found ways to
bring in a little bit of cash in addition to their regular jobs. Mom did some embroidery on shirts that my aunt sewed, Dad made some flowers out of wire and a liquid film and they both did some rug making with yarn, burlap and a metal punching device. Mom also painted. She mostly did Pennsylvania Hex Signs, but also some painting on shirts and mailboxes. The two of them would bundled us into the car on Saturday mornings and we would go to a local craft market and they’d sell what they could. It wasn’t a lot, but it did make a difference.

I always remember Mom painting, often taking classes or belonging to a national painting group. She entered county fairs and won in her categories, she sold her work often and really mastered many different mediums.

This was passed over as not right for a gallery.

This was passed over as not right for a gallery.

Both parents encouraged me to try different things – weaving, tatting, sewing, embroidery of many kinds, etc… Painting however was beyond me and drawing was a real stretch. The process of making something made all of us happy, even though none of us did the same things.

After a while though, Mom wasn’t happy about painting anymore. She had run into that segment of the art world that has definite ideas about what Art is and they had informed her that she was not an artist. Mom quit painting for a while, but eventually she started again. Again, she ran into people who told her that her work was not art, but it was really well crafted. Even to this day, her art gets looked down on as Quality Craft.

Apparently, not Art either.

Apparently, not Art either.

I’ve encountered the same prejudice many times, in many places. So many times, in fact, that I got fed up and decided that I didn’t want to make art; I wanted to make things that people use, things that people liked touching and wearing, things that people interacted with and felt good about doing so. And so I did just that.

Oddly, now I get critics who identify some of my work (usually things that I have to make for an actual class – things I put away and never look at again) as Art.

Fold formed Copper, glass pearls on stainless steel nuts, hand forged bar links chain and a 10mm Bar Cut Silver Topaz.  This is Art Jewelry -  as described by a teacher.  I won't ever wear it.

Fold formed Copper, glass pearls on stainless steel nuts, hand forged bar links chain and a 10mm Bar Cut Silver Topaz.
This is Art Jewelry – as described by a teacher. I won’t ever wear it.

I started WeaselWerks with William Morris in mind. Art Historians identify Mr. Morris as a friend of the group of artists who labelled themselves The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood when they think to include him at all. Sometimes he is identified as part of the founding of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Actually, he’s the man who created a business that brought the artistic endeavors of his friends into the homes of people as things to interact with, not just things that hang on walls and stand on tables or pedestals.

Morris felt that the things that are in your home should be beautiful and functional, well made and pleasing to see and use. This weasel couldn’t agree more.

Craft is so important, so critical to the process of creating Art that without Craft, Art wouldn’t be. Basic Craft is pretty identifiable, but as the creator persists, skill increases and the crafter masters the use of their tools, their perceptions, their medium and their bodies. Quality and Value are present in the crafted items of journeymen, while the items produce by a Master Craftsman are often breathtaking. Given the passage of time, those same masterfully crafted items get treated and displayed as Art, even if they are not actually labelled Art.

Without that first watercolor paint set in the hands of the child, without the sidewalk chalk drawings outside of family homes, artists never emerge. Every artist has to learn their Craft, even if it starts with gluing macaroni to construction paper to make a picture of a building.

I don’t worry about the label anymore – Art or Craft – I aim to produce value, quality and pleasure in items that are used because they are satisfying and fulfilling to the owner. I know that the value and quality are because of the craft and the pleasure is the result of the art.

People love these.  I love these.  They are fun to make, fun to see and fun to wear.

People love these. I love these. They are fun to make, fun to see and fun to wear.

Someday , if something of mine ends up in a museum as Art, I’ll probably be glad for the thought, but sad that the piece is just sitting there collecting dust instead of being used for its purpose and, in doing so, making someone a little happier.

After all, weasels hate dusting!

Why Weasels?

It’s got to be one of the oddest names for a studio – WeaselWerks.

In spite of almost always being misspelled in program books when I do a show, visitors to my table usually laugh and read the name out loud from the banner.  It’s nice to give people a smile even if that’s all they take away from my display.  Actually, especially if that’s all I can give them.

No one ever asks – why weasels?

There’s a lot of reasons, really.  I have the same coloring as several varieties of weasels (brown and tan),  I tend to be unnoticed in public and the alliteration factor makes me happy.

Additionally, weasels work pretty hard in the wild.  In the studio, we work pretty hard as well.  It’s sometimes a very long day with not a whole lot to show at the end, sort of like spending all day collecting tiny seeds and hunting down your dinner.  I imagine that sometimes even the smoothest weasel has moments of dismay when reviewing the day’s accomplishments.

Some of the work that an artist has to do in the current world of hyper connectivity has nothing to do with the art form itself.  There’s a ton of pictures to take, to post to the web on various sites, descriptions to write and then blogs with tutorials or updates about your work need to be done.  You need to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, at least one online store front, keep up with your personal email, have a picture gallery on a site like deviantart and a blog.  It’s pretty hard to balance the online work with the actual production.

It’s easy to spend half a day just doing the outreach and not even picking up a tool and some metal.  That’s where werking like a weasel is really important.

Weasels spend their day doing the things they need to do to survive, but they take the time to be aware of their surroundings, explore the unusual and enjoy their favorite places.  Watching a weasel scamper on it’s way, you’ll see them stop and check out some new blossoms, run through a stream a couple of times and search out some tasty snacks, all while digging out a nest, grooming, hunting and soaking up some rays.

It’s a great reminder that I can get some work done, then take a break and work on a blog post for ten minutes while I enjoy a cup of coffee.

Not everything has to be done start to finish every time without any breaks.  At the end of the day, it’s important to have enjoyed the time I spent on the things I accomplished and on the things that aren’t quite done, but are further along than they were.    There’s always tomorrow to stop in on the things that still need to be done, and the things that need to be enjoyed.  Weasels werk every day, so they have to play every day too.  Those flowers aren’t going to last forever so you need to find them while they are there. 

Plus, those tasty snacks show up when you least expect them, so you’ve gotta keep an eye out for them.