Arts, Crafts, and Hobbies

It’s funny how the meaning of words change by association.

Well, not so much the intrinsic meaning, as the contextualization, valuation, and assorted validations.

Birds by William Morris (1834-1896). Original from The MET Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Take the title of this post.

If you put together “Arts and Crafts“, you are reminded of the early-20th century artistic movement that encompassed visual arts, architecture, interior design, and found echoes and reflections in other movements (such as Art Nouveau).

If you isolate “arts,” your mind turns towards artistic works with an underpinning of formal training and academic knowledge — or conversely, a rejection of classical or academic standards. Either way, it’s an illustration or a conversation about formal art.

Tablet-woven belt by author.

Craft by itself emphasizes skill and usefulness over artistic expression and innovation. “Crafts” (plural) invokes hand-making skills rather than the ability to apply media to a surface and convey a message.

And yet, there is craft in art-making, and artistic endeavor in craftsmanship. There is the need for something beyond the everyday and ordinary in the choice and application of colors and shapes to ordinary objects that creates what we like to classify as “folk art” — a non-academic, non-innovative form by definition.

One could easily quibble with my definitions, but defining Arts, Crafts, or Hobbies is not the aim of this post. Noting how we regard the words is, and that does not require a formal definition, merely a little reflection and association.

And how about Hobbies? It is definitely a word relegated to the part of our lives we take less seriously, that of leisure and extra time.

But should we? Where does craft become art, and why is a hobby not an artistic endeavor?

Just because artistic creation is applied to useful, everyday forms and objects does not lessen the artistic value of such an object — after all, a medium is a medium and a substrate is a substrate, so if a watercolor painting on paper can be displayed in a museum alongside an oil painting, why not a painting on a salad bowl? Can the crafter of a salad bowl also be an artist? Does it need to be “also”? Is it self-evident?

And because an artistic endeavor doesn’t bring in money (or not enough to support oneself), does it make the hobbyist less of an artist? Less of a craftsman?

I don’t have answers. I have opinions, of course, but none so set that I would state them as a manifesto. Instead, I offer this idea: art is essential. It is as important to us, to our mind, to our spirit, to our general well-being, as food is to our physical existence.