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The Passion of the Craft

The Passion of the Craft

Google search “craft” and you’ll get crafts for kids near the top position. No one disagrees that quilting, basket weaving, balloon animal making, flower pressing, bead working, or corn doll making are crafts – of course they are. There is, however, an age old dispute distinguishing art from craft. Craft often gets the bad rap, especially from self fashioned fine artists. Do we dare call Picasso or Pollack craftsmen? How about David Burne, Santiago Calatrava, or Steve Jobs?

Craftsmen have guilds. Master Craftsmen apprentice, gain skill and make money – or, at least they once did. The industrial revolution reduced many craftsmen to hobbyists, but that doesn’t change their awesome skill, only the income stream. If a craftsman no longer makes money do they involuntarily turn artist?

Social validators maintain that craft and art separate via intent: function or personal expression, profit or pure aesthetic. Make reproductions of art work, no matter how fine, they become product – the reproduction is transformed into craft that performs as art – confusing to say the least if you accept the premise. A Ming vase was designed to hold flowers, made rare by antiquity, magically becomes a work of art. When the two are bundled together as in “arts and crafts”, does kitsch over take the result by virtue of its label?

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I occasionally ponder contemporary art that I simply don’t “get”. Feel the emotional void? The artist’s supplied blurb doesn’t help generate an emotional connection; it succeeds only at revealing the creator’s intent. Do artists keep the work’s significance obscure so they can dictate interpretation, or are they miserable failures at their craft? Chances are good they’d claim to be ahead of their time or too insightful for mass consumption.

Creativity is an ingenious mix of the familiar with the unexpected. Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee, in their book, On Intelligence, describe remarkable creativity as using uncommon past analogies to make uncommon future predictions. In other words, we combine previous experiences, knowledge, or thought patterns in imaginative ways to create new patterns that solve problems or shape artistic expression. We solve new problems using what we know worked and combine life experience with our understanding of the current challenge. Success creates new solutions that are pressed into service as past analogies the next time we’re challenged, hence skills are built.

With artistic endeavors, if too much “new” is introduced, it ceases to resonate with an audience. It’s as if we pull our audience along with a delicate string. Pull too hard and the connection breaks; too slack and attention is lost. Proceeding with a broken string makes for self indulgent artistic expression. True innovation breaks convention and violates predictions, but if shared unsuccessfully with fellow humans, otherwise significant creativity is either uniquely useless or massively self-indulgent. Craft is the connecting string.

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To be skilled at a craft is not craftiness: i.e. adept in the use of subtlety and guile. The craftily skilled are not artistic fakers. Craft is what we see, hear, read, taste and feel about creativity. It’s the “Do” share of creativity. Craft is the vehicle of personal expression and innovation. Craft is what we hone in order to push our imagination out to the masses.

From Kitsch to Avant-Guard, craft is what connects us to the artist; it’s the difference between satisfying a challenge and indecipherable theories. High craftsmanship is rooted in human skill, expertise, dexterity, ability, and technique; machines can’t demonstrate craftsmanship. If machines produce high quality objects, it’s the result of fine machining by the innovative humans who created the process. Did you make an aesthetic decision in your crafting process? Then the outcome is art, aka – human expression. No decision? Then you’re a machine or an exceptionally good plagiarist.

Craft gets polished through building on patterns of a skill pyramid: simple early skills topped by highly developed sophisticated abilities honed through repetition. Once learned, the exceptionally gifted own the power to penetrate the sensations of others. They inspire awe and excitement. Their skill opens our emotional and intellectual receptors – we hunger and covet. Our souls play emotional hosts to admiration, envy, and eagerness to take part in the fine art or creative innovation demonstrated through extraordinary craft: an enrichment of the human spirit.

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With audience receptors unlocked, artists and innovators are released to share their creativity. Creators at their skill peak report feeling emotion flow from each note of music played or every nuanced dance movement performed. Each fine stroke of a brush or every architectural detail designed makes a meaningful human connection. Remarkable craft is present in both the height of artistic expression and purposeful innovation. Fine craftsmanship is the mouthpiece of creativity.

The objects we call Art or Craft are members of a continual spectrum under the creativity banner. Odds-on, the most purposeful and predictable will be labeled “crafts”, while the most abstract and useless will not. Where do we put the fulcrum in this teeter-totter? Intuition may tell us, but it matters little unless you’re a government bureaucrat required to levy import duty, or an art dealer primed to cash in on the next Rembrandt.

It may also be a matter of context. Display objects heretofore perceived as crafts in an art museum, they cease to be useful and therefore perceived as art by virtue of surroundings. A rare Ming vase is no longer useful behind bulletproof glass. New York’s Museum of Modern Art is a renowned venue for the exhibition of artworks that were – or are – mass produced and purposeful. There seems to be no rule for which we can’t find an exception.

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Why are “art objects” valued higher or fine artists held with greater esteem than those perceived as Crafts or Craftsmen? Exclusivity and purity I suspect. For the same reason art increases in value post mortem, objects perceived as crafts appear to be more easily reproducible. They often have a product-like appearance such as an unlimited edition photograph or a Charles Eames Chair.

What’s more, Artists claim a purity that is unaffected by profit or committee approval. Artistic “sell-outs” lose a piece of their soul [so I hear]. While profit motives can be problematic for artistic expression, I don’t believe it is the fulcrum of the creativity teeter-totter. Countless great artists and innovators respond to commission, and the galleries are full of art for profit.

Those who spawn what we label “art” or “craft” use the same creative essentials. Self designated artist or craftsman, approach personal expressions or innovations from different perspectives but achieve parallel results. Intensity of emotion, imagination, function or intent dictates the resulting perception. Uncommon creative passion is delivered through worthy craft; it’s the essential skill for successful transfer to an audience.

Bruce DeBoer
Visit: http://brucedeboer.typepad.com for more articles and information

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Last Updated on December 2, 2018

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

When giving a presentation or speech, you have to engage your audience effectively in order to truly get your point across. Unlike a written editorial or newsletter, your speech is fleeting; once you’ve said everything you set out to say, you don’t get a second chance to have your voice heard in that specific arena.

You need to make sure your audience hangs on to every word you say, from your introduction to your wrap-up. You can do so by:

1. Connecting them with each other

Picture your typical rock concert. What’s the first thing the singer says to the crowd after jumping out on stage? “Hello (insert city name here)!” Just acknowledging that he’s coherent enough to know where he is is enough for the audience to go wild and get into the show.

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It makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of something bigger. The same goes for any public speaking event. When an audience hears, “You’re all here because you care deeply about wildlife preservation,” it gives them a sense that they’re not just there to listen, but they’re there to connect with the like-minded people all around them.

2. Connect with their emotions

Speakers always try to get their audience emotionally involved in whatever topic they’re discussing. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, such as using statistics, stories, pictures or videos that really show the importance of the topic at hand.

For example, showing pictures of the aftermath of an accident related to drunk driving will certainly send a specific message to an audience of teenagers and young adults. While doing so might be emotionally nerve-racking to the crowd, it may be necessary to get your point across and engage them fully.

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3. Keep going back to the beginning

Revisit your theme throughout your presentation. Although you should give your audience the credit they deserve and know that they can follow along, linking back to your initial thesis can act as a subconscious reminder of why what you’re currently telling them is important.

On the other hand, if you simply mention your theme or the point of your speech at the beginning and never mention it again, it gives your audience the impression that it’s not really that important.

4. Link to your audience’s motivation

After you’ve acknowledged your audience’s common interests in being present, discuss their motivation for being there. Be specific. Using the previous example, if your audience clearly cares about wildlife preservation, discuss what can be done to help save endangered species’ from extinction.

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Don’t just give them cold, hard facts; use the facts to make a point that they can use to better themselves or the world in some way.

5. Entertain them

While not all speeches or presentations are meant to be entertaining in a comedic way, audiences will become thoroughly engaged in anecdotes that relate to the overall theme of the speech. We discussed appealing to emotions, and that’s exactly what a speaker sets out to do when he tells a story from his past or that of a well-known historical figure.

Speakers usually tell more than one story in order to show that the first one they told isn’t simply an anomaly, and that whatever outcome they’re attempting to prove will consistently reoccur, given certain circumstances.

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6. Appeal to loyalty

Just like the musician mentioning the town he’s playing in will get the audience ready to rock, speakers need to appeal to their audience’s loyalty to their country, company, product or cause. Show them how important it is that they’re present and listening to your speech by making your words hit home to each individual.

In doing so, the members of your audience will feel as if you’re speaking directly to them while you’re addressing the entire crowd.

7. Tell them the benefits of the presentation

Early on in your presentation, you should tell your audience exactly what they’ll learn, and exactly how they’ll learn it. Don’t expect them to listen if they don’t have clear-cut information to listen for. On the other hand, if they know what to listen for, they’ll be more apt to stay engaged throughout your entire presentation so they don’t miss anything.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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