“Hobby Lobby,” the man repeated with disgust. “Hobby Lobby is for people who do crafts.” That last word came out as though it tasted repulsive, and the look on his face was one of disdain. The man was an artist, a painter and a college professor, urging his students to buy their supplies at a “real” art store. He spoke with zeal because the store in reference was an offense to the very definition of art as he knew it. To him, and to many academics these days,there is an ever widening chasm between the arts and the crafts. Artists are original, innovative, and experimental. An artist needs to have something to say and preferably something that challenges the status quo. But somewhere in our search for the next shocking idea, we have lost our respect for the beauty of craft. We have instead developed a disdain for it.
What is a craft?
There are a few possible definitions. In
Hobby Lobby terms, it may be mass-
produced merchandise marketed to the
“artsy-fartsy” bunch who desire to make
something that is cute and convenient. If
this is it, then perhaps crafts are an
offense to creativity that is marked by
In Ancient Egypt, a craft was a unique and
valuable skill set inspired by the gods.
Artisans who honed their abilities as sculptors, painters, stonecutters, carpenters
and metal smiths were revered and respected as a special class of people. In
fact, throughout most of history, success as an artist would require years of careful
study to refine one’s craft.
Try to imagine how Michelangelo’s David or the Sistine Chapel might have turned
out if the man’s hands had not been skilled with a chisel and brush. Add to that a thorough understanding of human anatomy, architecture, and the science of pigments and paints and it becomes clear that this artist’s success required a whole lot more than a novel idea.
Webster's 1828 dictionary defines craft as “art; ability; dexterity” or “skill.” The very idea implies that the creative task in question can be done well; measuring up to an established standard of rightness and excellence. This is why modern art has a bone to pick with craft.
A century of war on craft
For westerners of the modern and postmodern eras, science has become god.
It is a dreary outlook for the lovers and dreamers of society when beauty becomes more quantifiable than mysterious.
In response, artists today would like to pretend that the most beautiful things in the world are the least restrained. One
by one we kick down the pillars of disciplined design to see if anyone will notice. We forget that without limitation there can be no creativity. Our audience stares in disillusion at the masterpieces of modernity thinking "anyone could do that."
Students are taught that random smears and splatters are more profound than carefully placed strokes. Professors are
left wondering if it useful to grade their students on craftsmanship at all. Do successful painters really even need to know how to paint? When works as raw as "the Rebel" are selling for millions, the question becomes altogether logical.
What every artist knows
Have you ever met an artist who considers himself profoundly creative? I have not. Next time you admire someone's work try
telling him how creative he is and you, will see what I mean. The "unprofessional" hobby sculptor will likely laugh and assure
you he has very little skill. The conscientious carpenter might shrug and tell you it is not real art. The budding designer will probably blush and defer you to all his sources of inspiration. None of us think we are completely original and anyone who says he is, is probably selling bad art.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. Every effective artist is truly expressing his own pursuit of a timeless truth that existed before him.
We ourselves are creations! We are limited by the context of our own existence. We can dream. We can connect the dots. We can learn. We can grow. When we are honest, we will admit that we must connect with something outside of ourselves to create any work that is truly profound.
Let's get crafty
The beauty of craft can again be realized when we learn that "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works," (Eph 2:10) We are a bunch of empty vases just waiting to be filled with something beautiful. It is only by encountering true Beauty that man can learn to express this beauty in a work of his own.
Fine Art is a craft of glorifying, interpreting, and displaying that beauty as an act of worship. Again and again we must hunt it down, know it better and express it in a way that resonates with ourselves and our audience. Every artist knows that this takes hard work. If you want to be sure it will happen at all, you will dare to say it takes discipline. A disciplined artist must get crafty. He must know his tools and hone his skills artfully.
"Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work." - 2 Timothy 2:21
He must sharpen his strengths and know his limitations. He is not a mindless machine, but an earnest messenger and a ready workman. A disciplined artist understands that if he is to create at all, he must do so honestly, and that where there is honesty, there must be eloquence.
The disciplined artist will learn that in order to find beauty he must serve it.
He must become a humble craftsman.