Monthly Archives: June 2011

Is it Art or is it Craft?

I know I recently posted a very philosophical post on “The Zen of the Process”, and it just might be the mood I’m in right now.  I’m creating a lot and have a lot of time to think while I’m at my bench.   So I hope you will read this, as it’s the best definition I’ve ever heard of “Art” verses “Craft”.

My mentor Harold O’Connor was recently visiting.  As we sat after breakfast discussing what’s going on in the European jewelry scene, we got on the topic of craftsmanship in our jewelry.  Now, if you have even seen Harold’s work, you know it as immaculate craftsmanship and it is pure art.  I respect and admire both the man and his work. In fact, Harold’s work is in the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian, the Victoria and Albert Museum in  London, the State Art and Work School in Pfozheim, Germany, and more of the world’s most more prestigious museums and galleries.  Need I go on? (Just Google him, he’s probably the most famous art jeweler/teacher in the world, and totally makes every piece himself.)  Let’s just say the kid knows his jewelry.  I am so honored to have him as a friend.

So I asked the simple age old  question:

 ”Harold, what is the difference between art and craft?”

He picked up one of my very old first pieces and said:

“If you forgive me for saying so, this is craft.”

Chinese Writing Stone PendantThe piece was simply a large sharped angled piece of Chinese Writing Stone fromGary B. Wilson that I bought years ago.  The silver backplate extends beyond the stone, and has some holes and a cut out space that replicates a shape in the stone.  Design-wise it’s not so great, this I knew, but the craftsmanship is excellent.  The bezel is tight against the angled stone, and each point is a tight angle with no  rounding of the corners of the bezel around the stone.  I was not upset that it was looked upon as “craft”, for I kind of felt that myself.  But I loved the piece for its simplicity.  (OK, for the “Zen” of the piece.)

So I asked Harold, “What’s the difference?”

and Here It Comes: words of the master,  though he said he could not take credit for this, it came from someone else…

“A maker of chairs makes 6 chairs.  They all look alike, the first one and the last one.  Each is identical.  That’s a craftsman.  The artist doesn’t know exactly what  his finished piece will look like.  He may have an idea, but doesn’t know exactly because he may change his mind during the construction. That’s art.”

So I added “The true artist knows when to stop.”  Harold smiled.

I have held these words close to my heart since he said that.  Its the best I’ve ever heard.  And now I know how to design.  Thank you, Harold.

The Zen of the Process

As I go around the country teaching jewelry making workshops, the students are astounded when I push certain techniques like hand filing and burnishing.  To my full time students at Baum School of Art in Pennsylvania, and at the different colleges I have taught, it’s just part of a natural process.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, it was joked that if you took my classes, you would learn to make Amish jewelry….that is, I use no electricity, and expected my students to do the same thing.  Yes, it has paid off, like the night that I had my pieces due for a gallery show the next morning, and one of those severe Pennsylvania thunderstorms struck, and I was without any electricity all night   So I finished the pieces with hand sanding and by the light of 4 candles and my cell phone!  They looked just fine.

While teaching a week-end workshop a few months ago, a student from the third semester class left the room, and I asked where she was going.  She said  innocently, “Over to the belt  sander to  sand my piece.”  ”Oh NO NO NO!” , was my horrified expression as I handed her an #0 Grobet.  ”Here. Learn the old fashioned way.” She grumbled a bit, and sat back down at her bench,  tried to sweetly glare at me, and a few moments later  was learning to work a file.  I was shocked that she had ALWAYS just put her work on the belt sander, and had never really held a file, much less a #6  finishing file (Oh be still my heart–such a delight to hold and fondle–such a magnificent little file!  But I digress.) But, 15 minutes later she said she was really enjoying putting her “spirit”  into the piece.  And she was humming and smiling.

Last week, Kathleen Krucoff, my sister, student and best friend, wrote a post on herTalking Tools blog about files.  While she was really writing about files, if you read between the lines, what she was really blogging about was The Joy of Filing, kind of like “The Joy of Cooking” and that other more infamous “Joy of”  book.  (blush). But anyway, as my student,  she has learned to sit at her bench and simply file.  We recently participated in the Boettcher Mansion Arts & Crafts festival, which celebrates the joy of the Art & Crafts period.  Yes, there was electricity back then, and even a treadle buffing wheel or two around.  But part of the the Arts and Crafts philosophy was the rejection of the industrialization of goods,  furniture, pottery, jewelry, etc.  and the lack of fine craftsmanship as everything was made by a machine.    However,  the joy that came to Kathleen as she sat there and simply filed one of her elegant  pieces was a thing of beauty.  She smiled, no, she beamed, as she looked at her handiwork, and I know her blood pressure dropped.

So as I think about it, yes, as I get ready for 3 large upcoming shows,  I do find myself panicking and wanting to whip out 5 pieces this afternoon.  But life is full of compromises.  I don’t make my living through doing shows, so I admit I’m a bit spoiled. But I do have a hectic teaching schedule, so  I only make about 150 pieces a year.  While I’m not saying this will work for you, give it a try some afternoon when you are not so rushed.  Cut your pieces out by hand, and go from a #0 file  to a #2, then a #4 and finally, if you have one, a #6 ( pattter-patter-patter goes my heart again).  And then hand sand, (YES!)  using the 3M finishing film, no buffing wheel or flex shaft.  AND THEN…..use a burnisher and hand burnish your edges.  (horrors!  No one uses a hand burnisher any more, do they?!)  Hey, I even have a set of Thrumming strings…. I’m really antiquated!  But by doing this, and when I hand my piece to someone at a show, they usually say  ”WoW!  This piece feels powerful” , or  ”This has a great feeling to it.” It makes me smile.

So what I’m saying is, enjoy the “Zen of the Process”.  Maybe you already do this, but if not, try it.  It’s not for everyone, but give it a try.  My mentor and good friend Harold O’Connor says “If you don’t enjoy the process of making jewelry, why are you doing it?”  He has given me so much good advice over the years.  My “Conversations With Harold” series is dedicated to him and  his years of sage wisdom.

And  if you are in a dry spell right now, with no new ideas coming to you, don’t dispair.  Know that as you were full of creativity  and ideas 2 months ago, now you will need to plant new seeds to germinate for your new ideas.  Its a simple yin/yang thing… involution and evolution …yin…spiraling inward to darkness,the esoteric, the involution,  and contemplative self examination,  growth. Then, sometimes, and even without warning,  here comes the yang, the evolution, as you spiral outward,  and you create and manifest your new project. It’s something I believe in strongly, partially because I grew up in the American Southwest. The people of Taos Pueblo celebrate “The Quiet Time,” as Mother Earth sleeps and prepares for Spring,  when her greatness bursts forth in all it’s glory.  But it’s a natural process, and its all around us with Mother Nature, with the dark seasons and the light seasons, the dark of night and the brightness of day.  So enjoy the entire Zen of the Process….the involution and evolution, the contemplating and the creating. And know that when your evolution comes, the sun will shine brighter than ever before.   Enjoy the blessed Zen of the Process.  End of lecture.

Crying may endure for the night, but joy commeth in the morning.  Psalms 30:5

Love and peace to you all–

Lexi