Welcome to The Well Of Overthinking. Draw up the bucket and ladle out a draught of the cursed waters. Introspection will follow forever after.

For a long time I’ve obsessed over a stupid and wasteful question. Is what I do in the shop an expression of art or craft? Artisan? Craftsman? Is there a separation? A distinction?

The problem might stem from finding woodworking after a foundation based in art classes and not in shop classes. In fact I managed to get through all my formal education without ever taking a single shop class, not once.The problem might also pull from the fact I do not make my living, support my family or fill my belly based on a flurry of sawdust. 

I dislike placing the skills involved in the creation of work up on some lofty shelf and into the esoteric quasi-majesty of the “artists talent” where people can say stupid shit like "I could never have the tallent to draw like that," or "I could never make a box like that," when the Art of a thing comes from the visualization and imagination of a work and the craft, the learned part, is the execution of that intuitive creation. I believe, and Bob Ross proves the point well distilling an "Art" process into a "craft" presentation. There is a lot of real estate where the Venn Diagram of art and craft intersect. And in the end you just have to figure out where on the chopping block your neck stretches.

 I came to a realization this afternoon that puts my own thought process to bed. For me, my time in the shop is making art.

How do I know?

While I can push past it. Typically speaking at the very end of every project, once it’s finished and out of the shop, I need a period of time away from the shop to recharge before I jump back in. It can be a few days, a week, there is times it’s been a month before I do anything past shambling into the shop just to visit with my tools. (I can't tell you the scandalous things we talk about. Politics, Religion, Prejeduce and Justice. It's all on the table between us. No secrets and no hiding.)  

Craft implies, in my mind, a workmanlike quality - a punching the clock mentality. There is something to be said for the skill of hands turning out a hundred spoons, or hand forged nails, or Windsor Chairs - one after the other, then turning around and puking out number one hundred and one. 

I mostly envy that mentality, dedication and ability. It's just not where it is for me.

I’m in the midst of a couple day break. I just finished a desk box sized walnut chest for a client who needed a place to put some good and bad memories. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster project for me because of the subject matter. So I’m recharging my soul by laughing through a couple of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” paperbacks and taking notes on my own stories that no one else will ever see. I expect I’ll be back in the shop by Thursday or next Monday (the hospital eats me Friday through Sunday.)

I hope the world is treating everyone out there well, (though I know it's probably not) I wish, in many ways, I had the magic or the heroism to right the world for all and I've wished that longer than the last six months. Unfortunately I'm not a character from the books I enjoy reading and writing. The fact that I was asked to build a chest like this one is evidence of a chaotic world. 

The only thing I can do is work on myself, recognize my faults and shortcomings as a human being, and make amends for my mistakes. As I see iit the thing this world lacks is a sense of empathy, in all directions. It's not my line but I'm gonna steal it from the late Michele McNamara (via her husband Patton Oswalt)

It's all chaos, be kind.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Derek,

    As you know, my youngest is an artist. I remember talking with him one day when he was in his mid-teens and drawing pretty much everything Marvel, and doing a pretty fair job of it. We knew that he would eventually be attending an art school and we were just starting to learn about college and such for his older brother. When he realized that his education would consist of more than just copying his favorite artists, he was a little scared I think. “Why should I have to learn about art history, different techniques and mediums?” I explained to him that there is a difference between art and craft. The best house painter in the world may, or may not have a picture in his head that he would love to bring to reality. And if he did, the craft he knew may or may not be able to make that happen. Without vision, craft is a job. Without craft, art is a dream. You and he are fortunate to possess both.

  2. I also hate the word "talent". It implies that some of us don't need to practice/ haven't practiced for years to get good at what we do.
    But I'm going to store your pot a little.
    Artists loath copying. Abhor "derivative" work. Artists and their critics insist on original unique works...
    The craftsman expects to copy, imitate, and then add their own something.
    Dinna fash yersel over words that put you into small boxes.
    You are both and more,

    Be well and be safe

  3. Just to add my two cents, I decided a while ago to break it into three categories.
    An artist creates original works for the purpose of communication.
    An artisan creates original works for more practical purposes. It may just be decoration, but it still serves a purpose.
    A craftsperson uses existing designs and techniques as a basis for their work.
    A persons skill or ability has no bearing on which category they fall into, and it may change from piece to piece.
    As you say, there is a lot of overlap and if you think about it too hard it all becomes very muddy.


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