When people ask me if I make art, I pretty much always answer, "No." If someone describes me as "creative," I will usually scrunch up my nose and make a self-deprecating comment. I do like to spend time creating things that are visually and or intellectually beautiful—shadow boxes or short stories or terrariums—but I decided at some point that I am predominately interested in craft, not art. I like art, but I also like the idea of craft, of making something imbued with function as well as beauty. Plus, I'm not very good with a paintbrush or a musical instrument.
Lately, however, I've realized that the line between what we call "fine art" and what we call "craft" is blurry—maybe even erroneous. The distinction between the two categories has long been subverted by the work of fiber artists, ceramicists, graffiti artists, graphic designers, and others who work outside of more traditional fields like painting, music, sculpture, and dance. Western cultural paradigms favor fine art that is divorced from function. Is this the effect of a patriarchal system (crafts such as weaving have traditionally been considered "women's work" after all) or perhaps a less sinister preference for art that is concerned with emotions, ideas, and the intangible?
Some people argue that art is about human expression and soul, while craft is concerned with utility and skill. I believe that both, possessing unique aesthetic qualities derived from the intent of a creator, can be considered art. I'm happy to do away with the high art hierarchy altogether and celebrate anything as art so long as it carries some kind of emotional currency or creative energy.
I've been thinking about the ambiguity of terms like "fine art" and "craft" a lot as I cover my "Art Watch" beat. I know it might raise some artsy eyebrows, but I am choosing to dedicate this space to the ReStore First Annual Furniture Flip Design Challenge. The challenge is a fundraiser benefitting Bend Area Habitat for Humanity's affordable housing efforts that puts local DIY-ers to task repurposing and upcycling items from the Habitat ReStore. The winners will be announced at a public showing April 25 at 7 pm at Armature, where all entries will also be available for sale.
While it may not meet your standard for "art," the crafty and creative folks competing with their designs will be channeling untold skills and emotions into a creation that has both vision (of the trash-to-treasure kind) and function (as home goods).
And then there is the potential for political and environmental impact. According to Bend Habitat, "In 2014 the ReStore redirected approximately 2.6 million pounds of materials from the dump to people's homes and businesses." If art must be expected to make a statement, what better form of social commentary than to transform a piece of trash into a piece of art?