Are woodworkers artists?


Diablo
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Hello all, I wrote a blog article about this topic and I am interested in your opinions on the subject, just to see different perspectives and for discussion purposes. Let me know your opinion, and feel free to agree or disagree, opinions aren't wrong. Click here to read the article on my site.

My fellow woodworkers,

Is a woodworker an artist? Well I suppose that depends on your definition of an artist, doesn't it?

My definition of an artist? Someone who creates something that is pleasing, thought-provoking, and/or inspiring to the human eye.

Dictionary definition of an artist? "a person who practices one of the fine arts, especially a painter or sculptor", "a person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting, etc.", "a person whose work exhibits exceptional skill."

A sculptor. Okay so that includes woodcarvers. What about the rest of us? Design. Our designs of pieces are, by definition, art. How about the last definition? "A person whose work exhibits exceptional skill". Well, there is no set line for when you reach the point of "exceptional skill" in woodworking.

Based upon what I have just said, I can conclude that a woodworker is an artist, depending on the audience. In my definition I state that is it something pleasing, thought-provoking, and/or inspiring to the human eye. I do not specify which human eye. I could make a cube on the bandsaw in front of a young child, and s/he could think it is the most fascinating thing in the world. I could then do the exact same thing to a high school kid who took a shop class, and s/he more than likely would be bored and not find it interesting or fascinating at all. To the high school kid, I mean nothing. To the young child, I am a very talented artist. The difference? The high school kid can do the exact same thing, just as easily as me, whereas the young child does not understand how I did that, therefore s/he is fascinated.

How about another situation, same imaginary people. Let's say I create sand-shaded bell flower inlay on an eight sided tapered leg I made just before (this is why it is imaginary...). The young child would more than likely not understand it, and not be fascinated at all, it would simply be to complicated. That would be like showing s/he that I can do calculus. (which I can't). The high school kid who has had some exposure to the tools and the trade/art, would understand more as to the extent of the work, practice, and knowledge that would go into that leg. S/he would be fascinated, more than likely. To the child, I don't mean much this time. To the high school kid, I am a talented artist.

All in all, I think every woodworker is an artist depending on their audience. I could watch a very new, newer than me, woodworker make something and I could be less than impressed. Then I could go to the Museum of Fine Arts and be in awe at the incredible works of art by fellow woodworkers. Fellow artists. They are artists to more people than I would be, because their skill level and talent is much better. The better you are will make more people see your work as "art", and the more you will become described as "an artist".

We are all artists, the reader who has created full size grandfather clocks with goose molding and finials, and the reader who just learned how to edge join two boards yesterday. Let's keep working hard, and become artists to more and more people, and please and inspire more people.

Good luck and have fun, my fellow artists.

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I don't think all wood working is creating art in my opinion to give an example this to me is art in woodworking below.

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Where as to me in my opinion below this is simply a square box nothing creative just 4 sides a top and bottom sure it has some red felt on the inside but does that make it art could have been made with any material example if it was a cardboard box would people still class it as art doubtful.

gallery_355_99_9388.jpg

So I guess I agree and disagree some wood workers are artists while others are more utilitarian but that's just my opinion.

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Personnaly, I look at this from the the object point of view instead of the person point of view. Let me explain :

A work of art is an object that is not utilitarian in itself. It is an object that is appealing to the eye because of it's colors, and/or design and, as mentionned in some definitions, has the ability to provoke thought and imagination. This is why painting and sculptures are classified as work of art.

On the other hand, a table, even if it has sculpture elements in it, magnificient grain patterns and color, it is a table. A rich collector purchasing such a table (no matter the price) would still place it in a hallway and put a vase on it. In this case, the table is not the endgame, the vase is. This is why, in my opinion, the table is not a work of art. Even a fancy jewelry box is not a work of art when the owner puts jewelry in it. Again, the endgame is not the box but the jewelry.

So, no matter who is focusing on a piece of furniture (child, tennagers or adults), the person who makes tables and chests of drawers is not an artist but rather an artisan.

Thanks Diabo, although my view is not exactly as yours, your well written article sparked a thought process in me. Does that mean your article is a piece or art ? Well ... maybe, the article is the endgame in this case .. ;)

Simon

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I will look at that now, but how is that done exactly? And what is an RSS feed?

Thanks for the support Vic!

Mike, in your "design view" on Blogger, look for the widget that says RSS. It's really simple on Blogger. I don't know how to do it outside of that.

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Personnaly, I look at this from the the object point of view instead of the person point of view. Let me explain :

A work of art is an object that is not utilitarian in itself. It is an object that is appealing to the eye because of it's colors, and/or design and, as mentionned in some definitions, has the ability to provoke thought and imagination. This is why painting and sculptures are classified as work of art.

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i have to disagree, you take the simple act of sitting and sit in an ikea chair and i agree with your statement, you sit in a sam maloof chair and it's art and it's functional and i would rather have that chair than any painting i could imagine.

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Hello all, I wrote a blog article about this topic and I am interested in your opinions on the subject, just to see different perspectives and for discussion purposes. Let me know your opinion, and feel free to agree or disagree, opinions aren't wrong. Click here for the link or copy and paste the following into your browser: http://diablowoodwork.blogspot.com/2011/02/is-woodworker-artist.html

I am reminded of what Sam Maloof had to say on the subject. In the video/DVD profile of him, he talks about other WWs having business cards saying things like "Artistry in Wood". He pointedly shied away from such statements, preferring to call himself, simply, a Woodworker. If its good enough for Sam, its good enough for me.

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all acts of creation have multiple layers. an architect designs a building with an artistic intent, yet therein are many functional elements. The engineers construct that building with functional intent, yet an eye to the artistry on the design. and the craftsman build their individual components and areas within, with emphasis on function or form. the people that walk into that building feel awe for artistry.

a scientist discovers a new use for a natural product as a drug, a very functional process. Yet he can marvel at natures artistry of the design, so he engineers a synthetic route that's so creative that it's art. yet the actual process of producing the material is rather pedestrian. but to the cancer patient that gains a fighting chance to survive sees a miracle from nature's art.

now continue this theme and apply it to your wood working. there are elements of artistry and engineering in all that you do. where is the emphasis, what was your intent and how are the pieces recieved by others.

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I am reminded of what Sam Maloof had to say on the subject. In the video/DVD profile of him, he talks about other WWs having business cards saying things like "Artistry in Wood". He pointedly shied away from such statements, preferring to call himself, simply, a Woodworker. If its good enough for Sam, its good enough for me.

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i watched probly the same video ( i've watched many of sam's videos for i find him fasinating and very unassumeing)

one of the videos i watched, he talked of a comission he took createing a 20' diamiter conferance table with as i recall 35 swivel chairs he completed the job, and then found out they had paid $100,000 for a painting that sam considered not all that good. he had contracted his work substantionally less, and my point is he felt slighted, in the end he was compensated for a job well done. although he considered himself a woodworker which is a honest unassumeing title, but i think he considered his work functional art. and i agree with you if it's good enough for sam it's good enough for me also, but my point what he created was beautiful art and it was just a chair in the end.

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I think we are many things. We are artists, we are craftsmen, we are engineers, we are problem solvers. To say we are only one of those things is to not truly understand what we do. I don't want to be just an artist, those are those self-important people I went to college with who only wore black and never had to study. I don't want to be just a craftsman, while he is skilled and hardworking, he is often underpaid. I don't want to be just an engineer... Okay, well actually in real life I am an engineer, skip that one. I don't want to be just a problem solver. I want to be the best of all of those things.

I would rather be called a great woodworker, than a great artist. A great artist may create something beautiful to look at. A great woodworker will create something beautiful to look at, that serves a purpose, that can be recognized for its own beauty, yet intermingle with its surroundings.

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Good subject for discussion that you've brought up, Diablo.

I had a quick look at the Wikipedia definition of art and artist just to recalibrate my ideas. Not necessarily a definitive source, but it'll do.

To quote from the former "Generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions", which I agree with entirely. But that doesn't mean that it has to be beautiful, of course. Anger, horror and disgust are also thoughts and emotions.

Art can also be functional. The list of artists includes architects, designers, jewellers, and photographers. Again quoting the former, "if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art" which I also agree with, though I have no negative connotation of craftsman.

I see no reason why a woodworker can't be an artist. It's just that, as for the other professions I've listed, it's very difficult to do.

In any case, learning the craft is in itself a fine achievement. Taking that craft to produce something emotive and thought provoking is a high goal indeed, and definitely worth striving for. That, IMHO, is when you take creativity beyond the 'mere' mechanics of the problem.

John

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I have to say, definitively maybe. Really depends on the individual woodworker. I tend to think we fall into two categories:

The artistic type: I think someone like David Marks is an artist. He seems to always be thinking about the aesthetics of the piece and has an idea of color and form long before starting a piece. Lots of turners and carvers in this category.

The practical type: Norm Abrams seems to me to fall more into this category and thinks more about getting the function of the piece and form follows that thought so while he may make a beautiful arts and crafts bookcase or whatever, it is a bookcase first and anything else second.

I firmly fall into the practical category and fully admit that I have damn little artist in me. Can't carve, cant do intarsia, my whittling ability seems to center around making curly wood on the ground and turning sticks into white snakes :) I can however make a cabinet or a box without a lot of difficulty.

JMHO

-Jim

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Thanks Diabo, although my view is not exactly as yours, your well written article sparked a thought process in me. Does that mean your article is a piece or art ? Well ... maybe, the article is the endgame in this case .. ;)

Simon

Simon, I was wondering who the first person to ask this would be, haha.

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Art can also be functional. The list of artists includes architects, designers, jewellers, and photographers. Again quoting the former, "if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art" which I also agree with, though I have no negative connotation of craftsman.

John is onto it: Art is the exaltation of something mundane. My favorite example is the Japanese tea ceremony; really nothing more than the preparation and consumption of a beverage. But it elevates the means to a sublime end in its own right. Personally, I can stand tea; but the grace of the ceremony is an act of beauty in its own right. Such mundane roots can be found in any artistic pursuit: Music, poetry, painting, etc.

As for woodworking, when is a box more than a box? When Paul Nunya pulls out a sexy, curved thing that makes us all drool. Whether or not the box is actually functional or big enough to hold what we want to store is irrelevant. The box is exalted far beyond its mundane purpose of holding things.

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Diablo,

Your analogy of how a young kid (who has never touched a saw) and a high schooler (who has) respond differently to woodworking pieces gets to the question of how process relates to art overall. How familiar do you need to be with the process of creating a work of art in order to enjoy the work itself? This is a question that becomes quite prominent particularly in modern art. Put simply, much of the avant-garde is artist's art because it emphasizes process over result. e.g.

- A painter suspends bottles of paint over a canvas and then blasts them with a shotgun.

- A composer generates a logarithmic matrix of numbers that spits out pitches and then superimposes these on deep-space noise collected from the Hubble telescope.

- A poet strings together every seventeenth word from each of the even-numbered pages in Andy Rooney's memoirs

...and on and on. These are cases in which the process by which the art is created is doubtless wildly fascinating to other artists; but the resulting works may or (more likely) may not have any interest beyond the artist's colleagues. This all may have value for the artist's personal growth; but ultimately, great art has to transcend process and be enjoyable on multiple levels. Bach is the supreme example: Academics have spilled rivers of ink explaining why Bach is so great...and then there's the classic bumper sticker from the 1970's "BACH ROCKS".

As for woodworking? That one may have sourced a rare billet of West Ukrainian Bungwood or have spent a thousand hours working it with a reproduction of a 17th century tool is a.) of interest to other WW'ers and b.) significant in one's own journey. But the resulting piece still has to have that special something that catches a non-WW'er's eye.

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my take is like in photography that people who are involved can be tradesman who are good a their work and others who have the artistic vision to see a piece and put it together. wood can be a medium like oil on canvas or emulsion on paper. Yet there are woodworkers who are not artists but tradesmen who are very good at their craft. Its not that they aren't creative or artistic either, I have known plenty of tradesmen that were creative and artistic. however the body of work wasn't considered art. I dont consider what i make art. i consider myself a craftsman of sorts. everything i make i do just for my own enjoyment and dont put much artistic ability into it. although creativity is probably involved in anything anyone makes because of what it takes to solve problems when they arise and plan ahead to make sure things go smoothly.

to make a long comment short there are artists and craftsman(or tradesmen) both are creative but its about what the final intent of the work is that determines what the person that builds it is considered.

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I think part of the problem is the general lack of acknowledgment. It comes from how the majority of people are educated. Since most people are not taught about art, they do not have the eye to identify the artistry within woodworking. What we are generally taught is "Art" are the ones that are easy to identify - Portraiture, Mural Painting, Sculpting, etc. I think the need to point out that these things are not all that "Art" is. Those who seek to learn about art see where that expanse continues and see those who produce such things are artists.

I think another part of the problem is a lack of commonly used words to correctly identify different types of people who create artistic pieces. This comes from the simplification of the English Language, especially in the last hundred years or so. Turners, Joyners, Carpenters, Carvers (stone and wood), Painters, Jewelers, Sculptors, Tapestry Weavers, et al, used to be collectively known as Artificers. Artificers were people who made raw materials into beautiful things that were functional (this is also the root of the word "Artificial", which used to be a good thing). This was and age before central heating and nearly everything had a functional purpose, though through the decoration we remember it today. A painted canvas provides insulation. A standing sculpture displays wealth and power to visitors and guests. Even in this day, we all know which chair is "Dad's Chair"... then it was a little more decorated as well as more comfortable than where everyone else sat.

A century or two later, the term "Artisan" came into use to describe the entire class who were more specifically working to make functional and attractive items, but separated the Masters (lauded as Artificers) of each class from the majority who were everywhere from "Trained" to "Very Good".

But you see, the root "Art" is found in all these more obscure words. The three letter Latin root has survived while the more prestigious, definitive, and longer to speak words have fallen out of common usage.

The third part I find is the concept that tradesmen are not thought of as artists anymore due the age of mass production in the early 20th century. The manufacture of "things" became a minimally skilled practice. I doubt any of us would consider someone who pulled a lever for ten hours a day, six days a week, to be an artist of any kind. Even if that person does hit the mark for drilling the hole perfectly every time. That is a relatively *new thing* that we are at a point to correct as We Woodworkers have been able to connect and discuss this state of affairs, and by action, end this *new thing*.

It remains, however, easier to explain to the masses that we each are "Designer and Craftsman" than to reeducate them to understand archaic and more accurate terms such as "Artisan" (though this is less sounds for people to make to express the same thing).

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People consider things like Clay pots works of art. And I don't think you would get much disagreement that those who make such pots are artists. It also could be said of works in wood.

I would consider a lot people who paint things on canvas are not creating works of art are therefore not artists. The same could be said of any "artistic medium"

Art is in the eye of the beholder. I may do things with wood, attaching pieces together for various reasons but nothing I do is art.

A truly good woodworker might build a masterfully crafted piece of furniture that is a work of art. He is an artists, I am not.

Just because you make something with materials that an artist might use does not make you an artist. Art is a skilled expression of an artist.

It is the skill and artistry that makes it art, not the medium itself.

Well, that's my opinion.

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