Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Artists run amok

Have recently had web discussions on Art, artists and craft. I don't have time to really spend on this but is seems like an important topic that constantly goes astray.

I always find that people want to call themselves "Artists". This is strange to me. Why isn't it enough to be a potter? or a painter or a sculptor? No ...people want to be called Artists.

I can only assume that this is to add validity or prestige to their activity. It isn't just pottery it is Art. I am an Artist - meaning they participate in the grand social structure of Art. They are creating and thus participate in a similar activity as the great Creator!

But then you get to asking what "Art"is or what an "Artist" is and it is a confounding mix of  denial and hostility. Things like "I hate the Art vs craft " debate or an "Artist is anyone who makes Art". This definition seems strange to me because it is so broad as to include everyone. And yet the entire purpose of being called an "Artist" is adding prestige. So if everyone is an artist, it isn't that special. If Artist is an all -inclusive term then it is a useless word indicating nothing.

Another attempt was: "Anyone who designs and makes an object". Well it seems to me that would include an engineer. They design and  make objects. So do cooks, they design and make many objects that you eat. Or a cake maker at Wal-mart. They design and make cakes, sort of like slip trailing with sugar. Or birds like the Bower bird, they design and make beautiful nests that vary. What about bees? So you see, if a cook, engineer, birds and bees are all in the definition of Artist then what good is the definition?

What if I asked "what is a writer"? Many people want to be writers and to participate in the mystique of being a writer, novelist, etc. But if the definition of writer is, anyone who writes how prestigious is that? Everyone is a writer. Even a two year old can write "Mommy"? So there has to be a better definition of the term "writer" or "artist" for it to have any real meaning.

Then we come to crafts. What is wrong with being a craftperson?  Seems like a fine occupation to me.

But evidently being an Artist must be better. Craftsmen make repeats of the same or similar objects over and over. Ever look at a potter's life work? It is not life of "creating" but rather of making objects. Most potters create a line and then reproduce it. Occasionally there is variation but generally you are producing a line of work to sell. Just look at the life time products of most potters....rinse and repeat (with slight tweeks). Just because you use a different glaze on a cup doesn't make it Art. Variations on a form aren't that profound. Nothing wrong with them but color variations don't make it Art.

Nothing wrong with that! I am a potter. I have been rinsing and repeating for a long time. Sure I make some new stuff but Art?  I don' think so.

How many cups are "created' or how many are "made". There is no ambiguity in the end product..it will be a cup. It is never going to end up being an installation of "the cupness" of a cup.  ....Those don't fit in the kiln! It isn't Art it is craft.

So I know that this isn't a philosophical treatise on Art or Craft but it seems to me someone has to address the absurdity of all these Artists running amok.

I return to the initial question - Why isn't it enough to be a potter? or a painter or a sculptor?


Maggie said...

I don't know what I am...I design (engineer) pots or sculptures, I paint on pots, I sculpt on pots, I make dozens of the same item and I make one of a kind pots, or figurative sculptures, decorative, functional. I do not ...in a strict sense...make a piece of "artwork" that conveys a particular dialogue or expression of anxt or rebellion or political idea. But...occasionally that dialogue may accidentally erupt from a piece without original intention. I create...and the materials I choose are of the earth...(oh geez...)..minerals? You are right... what a quagmire.

John Britt said...

It is a difficult problem to but just give up and call everyone an Artist is, in my mind , ridiculous. I don't use the term because I can't define it very well. Trying to define it is ----difficult.

Diane Puckett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Wouldn't you also have to define the term "Potter" and figure out how that definition is different then the term "Artists"? I think of Potter as being someone who makes Pots / Pottery - with a functionality in mind. The quality of the work of either maker is what should give the status: a lousy artist is the same in my mind as a lousy potter. Therefore, everyone who paints is a painter, everyone who makes pots is a potter, and the term Artist defines those in all the creative categories that attain a certain level of quality (and this can be done by either the creator or viewer) It's a hugely broad term and almost trite because of it, but that's probably based on subjectivity as opposed to people accepting set standards of art and therefore having an objective view and therefore standards. (Art is in the eye of the beholder as opposed to Art having specific qualities that we teach and propagate)

As far as the prestige of any of theses - I believe - it's based on societal values and or collectors. As a consumer based nation, the majority of us value mass production and economics over craft. We buy plates from Walmart because they're functional, cheap, and decently designed. The majority of Americans (and the world, as far as I know) also do the same with art - the sale of posters, cheap prints, mass produced paintings decorate the majority of homes as opposed to individually made pots or paintings. It's the wealthy that determine prestige and value for us. What they use their discretionary money on is what the rest of us deem as important. From what I know, Eastern countries collect way way more ceramics then Western countries (Taiwan collects 70% of all teapots in the world - it's part of their culture and where extra money goes driving up the cost and prestige of teapot makers).
That being said, potters are culturally more collectable and highly valued in those societies - Painting, which for decades is more highly valued in America, ever since the center of the art world moved to NY in the early 20th century starting at the Amory show - is more investable, collectable, and therefore valuable here in America.

As a disclaimer - I admit that this is a way oversimplification. And generalizations are almost always too broad to be true but are the only ways to simplify and categorize answers.

AM said...

Thank you, John. This post really strikes a chord with me as I don't like to be called an artist. Just being able to call myself a potter was all I ever wanted to do with my clay work. The first time someone referred to me as a potter, I was elated (and shocked). IN fact, I am still am.

'Just' a potter

Unknown said...

I am proud to be a pottery, period.

Unknown said...

I am proud to be a potter, period.

Rob Miller said...

Being an artist is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with what is made and everything to do with how it is made. An artist may produce something no more tangible than a thought. Creativity is fundamental. This way of thinking may bring some mathematicians, junkies and homemakers into the fold, but this is just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

OK, Can i be an Ar-tiest than?

John Britt said...

I have an easier time defining potter than Artist. That is my problem. I do understand that this will change nothing and I still have to get ready for Clay Club tonight.

I also understand that you, as a gallery manager with your wife Sylvia, probably refer to your stable of potters/jewelers,sculptors, etc as “your artists”. That is much simpler than calling them all out by type.

And I understand that people will continue to refer to themselves as artists. But it just seems that everyone is now an “artist” rather than a potter or sculptor, etc.

I also agree that in the East, they think of potters very differently. I once did a talk in Korea and to my wife’s dismay was referred to as a “very important person”. Imagine my shock since being a potter is one of the most unimportant things to do here in America. (Of course we laughed and I continue to remind her of that daily.)

I haven’t even ventured into the waters of “good” and “bad” Artists. But you are right that it is determined by others. They don’t let every artist in the Met. (unless you put a piece in the bathroom and put it on your resume- but then that is an installation.)

(I won’t even get into artists who don’t even execute works, like Koons, Warhol, Rubens, etc.)

You see I was reading this book “Art and nonart: Reflections on an Orange Crate and a Moose Call” by Marcia Eaton and she came up with a definition:

X is a work of art if and only if (1) x is an artifact and (2) x is discussed in such a way that information concerning the history of production of x will direct the viewer’s attention to properties which are worth attending to.
(She then gets into Good and Bad Art.)

This was proceeded by 100 pages of defining words and refuting definitions of Plato, Kant, etc. So needless to say it was complicated! And then seeing everyone refer to themselves as “Artists” seemed absurd.

Anyway back to making glazes and Clay Club videos. Peace out bitch.