Woodworking and Art with a Capital "A"

Here's the story, currently we are living in a small, two bedroom, upstairs apartment my wife, my three daughters, the dog, and me. Not a lot of room. This was a necessity for a while when we needed something right away and reasonably priced when we moved back to Wisconsin from Maine. Now that I have a stable job working full time again we have began to look for a reasonably priced new dwelling, preferably with at least 3 bedrooms. There is some new construction in LaCrosse, a large residential complex over a bus transit area. Quite the sizable build. We caught a story in the local paper the other day that listed some apartment pricing and we thought it sounded reasonable enough to check out. I did a little more research today after we went to see a very disappointing house for rent, and found out that the building was really a push to help create an artist and crafts person community in the center of the city, a interesting "revitalizing the downtown" strategy, one of the better revitalizing ideas I've ever heard of. I joked with Naomi and said "it's too bad I gave up being an artist" referring to my high school years where art is what I lived for and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

"What the hell are you talking about, you and your woodworking makes you just as much of an artist as anyone else." She said. I was speechless, I'm not sure why the two things didn't seem to jive in my mind. I have never thought of what I do as capital "A" Art before, and I'm not sure I'm completely comfortable calling it that. Art is something that is created for beauty's sake, or to make a commentary on beauty. Art is created for Art's sake. Woodworking is created with a specific purpose in mind, it can carry elements of art and beauty in it. Design, perspective, structure. but furniture is not created for it's own sake, it is brought into being to serve a function. Now it could be that those years I spent studying Art have left me with a skewed sense of it's essence.

Then I have to think about why I think I really came to fall in love with woodworking, When I started to play around with sawdust it just seemed natural and it supplied me with some things I had not felt since I had put away my drawing pencils and paintbrushes a few years previous. It gave me comfort in the outlet for my creativity, it gave me goals to meet and exceed in competition with myself and the difference between what I see in my minds eye at the beginning and what a work manifests itself as in the end. The difference for me is that, in the end, woodworking supplied me with a usable piece of furniture, and all Art supplied me with was a couple of heavy cardboard boxes full of used canvases and half full sketchbooks. I know they're heavy, I've moved them with us from house to house since I was 18.

So then I think there is a difference between the two, but then I think again. Take this picture for instance.

This was taken a few weeks ago when the whole family made a day trip to Madison so I could go to the Woodcraft store. We decided it would be cool to take the kids to an art museum and it had been years since we had been to one ourselves. To my surprise the museum had several pieces of furniture on display. Up until tonight my only thought had been how fortunate and inspiring it was for me to have a chance to look at those master works, to photograph those pieces of history. (note: this panoramic picture was taken from one floor up and across  open foyer, it was just a cool chance to get the whole display in one shot) Now tonight I have been thinking about the fact that the furniture was included in the gallery at all. and not the crazy, post modern, deconstructionist furniture that sometimes graces the show off pages of "fine woodworking" magazine. The stuff is cool and picture worthy, don't get me wrong, but sometimes one questions it's functionality, which should always be the point of furniture.

But if I think about, it that fits into Art to. If Art can be ugly, to provide commentary on the beauty inherent in Art, then shouldn't some furniture be allowed to be nonfunctional, just as a commentary on the inherent functionality. . .

So then where does that leave it. After thinking about it I guess I have to come to the conclusion that furniture is Art. but that doesn't answer all the questions. Does that mean all furniture is Art?  I would have to say yes. and I have a couple arguments to support the idea.

1. I think we can all accept pieces like those in the photo above, but what about the prefab, pressboard furniture peddled by the Wal-mart's of the world? I still have to say yes. Not all Art is museum quality Art. Infact I would venture a guess that the vast majority of art in this world does not deserve a space in any given museum's lavatory. But that does not make it any less Art. Turn the corner in Wal-mart and you'll find that they offer a decent amount of lifeless framed art and such as well. Art gain it's value when someone puts their own value into it. If I buy a mass marketed wall hanger from Wal-mart, then I have put some value into it. That value is what makes art work.

2. The Art you own and chose to display says something about you, or, probably more accurately sometimes, says something about what you would like to say about yourself. The furniture you purchase and use offers the same array of insights.

So in the end, though you may not feel that way at first, but give it some thought, all of you out there making saw dust, you are all artists. Welcome to the club.




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