By Scarlette Quille
Editor’s Note: This week, SQ takes a break from her usual topics to write about something near and dear to her heart: crafting.
As a formally trained artist, complete with a bachelors of fine arts degree, I’ve always had a preconceived notion about crafters. In college we were taught essentially that crafts were low-brow art, not really art, and devoid of meaning. The woman knitting doilies isn’t creating work that challenges a societal belief … blah, blah, blah. Home décor isn’t going to change the world, and your work can be as ugly, simple, complicated or vague as you want it to be as long as it is making some kind of statement. This was ingrained into my 18-year-old mind. As the years have passed, I have come to realize so many times in so many ways that I don’t know shit.
As an art teacher, I’ve learned to do a healthy mix of traditional fine art and yes … crafts. I rejected crafts and their place in the art world in the beginning, only to slowly cave in to the expectations of parents and whining of students. Kids like to make things for their parents — this is a universal truth. It doesn’t matter if the kid is 6 or 16, they enjoy using their hands to create something. As a high school teacher, the challenge is to get them to create something they can be proud of —not overly simplistic and not hideously garish. As a parent I know the pain of having a handmade Christmas decoration that has to be resurrected each year despite its continually deteriorating aesthetic. This has been a challenge, as I didn’t start out in this profession with a full arsenal of crafts. Many late nights experimenting with only the guidance of Pinterest and wine has helped me pick up a few passable crafting projects that are equal parts challenging and aesthetically pleasing. The finished examples elicit awe from my students, and they are excited to learn how to create them. They’re far more excited than they are when I do a lesson on Picasso or watercolor techniques. The simple task of creating something beautiful to display inspires them, and now I question every preconceived notion I ever had about art.
I have the privilege of working in a therapeutic school, where students have struggled in tradition institutions. This gives me a bit of leeway in what and how I teach, I am not confined to a traditional set of lesson plans or standards. My job is to inspire, encourage, and teach young adults to use their hands, create and explore. When they find something that sparks their interest, whether it is oil painting or wood carving, I guide them as they practice and challenge themselves to get better at it. Watching them come out of their shells and develop a sense of pride is the greatest perk I have ever received from a place of employment. I had always resisted calling crafts art until I had this job. No matter how much I enjoyed doing a craft or how beautiful the final piece was, I felt embarrassed to call my work art.
It took one student to change this preconceived idea for me permanently. He came to my facility having carved a wooden spoon in a previous facility. He asked if he could continue to do woodcarving in my class, after a couple weeks of getting to know him, and forcing him to do some of the regular lessons, I caved and allowed him to start carving wood pieces. He carved, and struggled, and we both learned a lot of things about wood and tools. I watched him work through so many struggles in the process. Creating art was healing his soul, helping him cope with the world around him and the position he was in. He found something he loved, and a way to deal with life that wasn’t destroying his soul. When I met him he was a troubled kid. When he left a bit more than a year later he was a confident young man. He is in college now, has his own business and continues to show and sell his work. To think I had even a small piece in his journey is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. The truth is, what I did for him is absolutely nothing compared to what the experience did for me.
It opened up my mind, I stopped hiding the compulsive crafting like a dirty secret. I even participated in my first “arts and crafts” fair. Again my mind was blown. The other crafters weren’t making shitty little hotglue gun projects — the items for sale were beautiful and painstakingly created. The people who stood at the booth had spent hours creating their wares, and to say that they did it for the money is wrong. Behind every crafter and every artist is a story. There is something that motivates us to use our hands to create, there is intention, meaning and passion behind Grandma’s doily. To say anything different is, in my opinion, wrong.
When I am handed someone’s late mother’s rosary or a piece of their grandmother’s wedding dress and asked to create something for one of my customers, I am honored. The idea of someone enjoying my work in their home inspires me to challenge myself and fills me with a sense of pride. I seldom feel that way when I create what most would consider traditional fine art. Art is so much more than the piece on the wall. I learned that from a bunch of troubled kids. I am grateful, and I feel more like an artist now than ever.
My request to you, dear readers, is to give crafts a chance. Go to that “arts and crafts” fair this weekend, find something one of a kind and buy it. Support the arts, support that crafter who works a day job and crafts to cope. Ask an artist about their work and how they got into it. You might be surprised.
Maybe all you need to get through the holiday season is your own glue gun and some yarn!
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