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Artist definition

This is my first post; I am a painter, a novice jeweler, a "lurker"
and a great admirer of the Ganoskin community. I could not resist
sharing a quote I came across this summer:

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer, a man who works with
his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his
hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” - Louis Nizer

I think that pretty well sums it up for me. Denise Liedtka Matcek Liedtka

Hi Folks; Okay, I’m going to chime in on this one. My authority
comes from several sources; I have two “fine arts” degrees, and I
have 30 years of bench experience in the retail world where "artist"
is a term used purely as a euphemism (and that’s precisely the word I
prefer to use here, as it comes straight from Webster). I also used
to lecture at a university on the history of craft, ironically, for
the art history department.

First, the obvious: artist, craftsman, artisan, etc., are all
social constructs. Less obvious is the fact that these criteria are
subjective on both sides, that of the maker and of the observer, and
the question is not one of ontology but of agreement. Intent is the
key criteria, in my opinion. If the intent is to codify an
aesthetic, this is the job of an artist, at least that’s been the
case since the Renaissance (read Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists”).
As for Plato and the neo-Platonists. The epistemological arguments
pair off against these ideas and they force us ever more to keep
seeking new anthologies. Chicken and egg games. Suppose someone who
has conventionally been considered a craftsman wants to put forth a
new aesthetic. What is it to be? If he/she can validate a “process
aesthetic” he/she has a foot in the door, but it is always, as could
be predicted, open to question (read Paul Smith’s “Poetry of the
Physical”). The term “artisan” is less useful. It is used to
describe only the process of making and in my opinion, is rarely used
to argue the weight of the aesthetic of either the “craftsman” or the
"artist". An artisan only exists during the transformation of
materials from one form to another, albeit with skill. Therefore, in
my opinion, the craftsman refers to someone who carries on at least
some of a tradition of a craft, and the roots of that tradition are
generally to be found in the cultural heritage of a community. And,
he or she may be practicing a craft that is imported from another
time or place. Often the word craftsman is used when artisan would
be a more correct term. Now for the shot-over-the-bow for those
so-called artists. The notion that the artist is primarily
concerned with an “image” or “content” is purely a residue of Plato’s
ontology (read Edward Lucie-Smith’s “A History of Craft”). How it
got into popularity can be traced back to Vasari’s attempts to
distinguish the multi-faceted careers of Da Vinci and Michelangelo
from those of the many other equally talented and skilled artists who
stuck to a single technology and set of applications. Now is there
"craft" in the “fine arts” of painting and sculpture? Certainly,
although most artists would dismiss it as incidental. It’s not. But
any more, it’s not culture bound, it’s inbred. The craftsman honors
his/her heritage of making, the artist honors art history (which is
a dubious quadrant of scholastic endeavor, being Eucrocentric in the
extreme, even when it “studies” it’s beloved “tribal” cultures). If
art history doesn’t broaden to resolve the issue of craft, it will be
subsumed into anthropology anyway. Can a craftsman rise in stature
among the fine arts cultural subsets to be called an “artist”? Only
euphemistically (there’s that word again, and yes, I meant to use

Now that I’ve baffled you with bull droppings, let me put it in
plain terms:

An artist is someone who declares himself an artist, and abides by
the codes of recognition that are accepted by the cognoscenti of the
art world, or risks obscurity in his/her own time. It’s a political
position first and foremost. You can always call yourself an artist.
If you want significant others to call you that, you need to master
the politics. (read "Vision and Painting, by Michael Bryson).

A craftsman takes responsibility for applying his/her best physical
skill and sense of form to the making of an object, functional or
otherwise, trying to elicit heightened achievement in his or her
ability to have this accomplishment recognized by the observer. Is
it art? See the above. The way the craft fairs are going, we’re
going to have to start snubbing the so-called “crafters” the same way
"fine" artists have snubbed craftspeople.

An artisan is a handy term to add a small measure of honor to
someone doing a good job transforming materials from one form to
another, but this pertains to objects or events that will be
appreciated by the observer in some measure for their ability to
enrich our lives with satisfying sensual experiences. In other words,
he/she makes beautiful things, cooks delicious meals, makes soulful
music, etc., at best, but could be gardening, decorating store
windows. But it’s likely to be a career more than a pastime. And
the artisan can also be a craftsman, but the term artisan tries to put
him/her more firmly in a non-intellectual, working class distinction.

Before you get the impression that I am critical of those who call
themselves artists and enamored by craftspeople, let me clarify.
It’s not my problem with artists. There are plenty of them,
unarguably entitled to the name, and good ones that I love, but the
"art culture" has lost it’s bearing since DuChamp and ever since,
people like Clement Greenburg have only made matters worse. I prefer
Robbie Hughes (heads up you Aussies!). I’m just tired of hearing the
re-hash on the whole post-modernist circle-jerk. It’s been done . .
. and done and done and done . . .

Craft, on the other hand, had better start working fast and hard to
extricate itself from all the consumer culture schlock that
threatens to tear down the little credibility it has achieved since
the 60’s. I mean, if you call yourself a craftsman, and you find
yourself in a “juried” show next to a tee-shirt vendor, you better
darn well make a fuss about it unless you are the tee shirt vendor.
Everything descends to the lowest common denominator. On a similar
note, if you call yourself an artist, and you find yourself picking
out the blue jeans with just the right amount of paint on them to go
to the gallery opening, don’t go telling me all about your
high-falutin’ aesthetic priorities.

Now shoot this old gray head if you must.

David L. Huffman

David, Thanks for your well thought out definitions. After 38 years
of a combination of college level “art” dept. teaching, painting,
designing and installing exhibits, designing and crafting furniture,
and, primarily, designing and crafting jewelry, I couldn’t agree more
with your statements. Joel

Joel Schwalb

David, Congratulations on a very lucid and informative post, which
I’ve saved for later reference and quotation…In my wranglings with
my fellows here in Ibiza, the whole can of worms is complicated for
me at least by being conducted in Spanish, and also by there only
being two poles to the argument “artista” or “artesano”…the word
"artesano" is the Spanish for craftsman, so there is no distinction
between a craftsman, an artisan, and a “crafter”, so here the debate
centres on whether one’s work (artesania) is “artistic” or
"commercial", with culturally conditioned preference and respect
given to the former over the latter. I have long held the position
that to be a contemporary artist one’s priority of intention is to
communicate a personal interpretation of or reaction to “consensus
reality”, to try and make sense of life, to make tangible the
intangible or as you so elegantly put it ,“to codify an aesthetic”,
whereas the craftsman is hoping to create a tangible object which
satisfies the senses, and (coming back down to earth), make some
money. A great problem that is arising here in Spain is that to which
you allude in your post:

“The way the craft fairs are going, we’re going to have to start
snubbing the so-called “crafters” the same way “fine” artists have
snubbed craftspeople.”

I’m seeing this all the time here, as the artistic artesanos are
attempting to differentiate themselves from the commercial artesanos
by co-opting the terminology of the art world, in order to exclude
the latter from craft fairs.They paradoxically employ the vocabulary
of art culture (aesthetic) to justify commercial decisions ( the
exclusion of certain artesanos from a commercial event)…I don’t
like it…

I guess all these debates are ultimately down to our perverse
attempts to “left brain” what is essentially "right brain "
activity…but what the heck…it’s interesting innit :slight_smile: Steve Holden

I couldn’t agree more. Most of “Art” (and I mean the art that’s
worshipped in art schools and lionized by art critics) today isn’t
worthy of the title, and most discussions of it are nothing but
meaningless and pompous psychobabble. What ever happened to well
designed, beautiful things made by someone with technical
proficiency? Instead, fashionable “art” consists primarily of ugly,
poorly made things designed to shock or disgust or puzzle the
bourgeoisie. I’d rather be a craftperson and make beautiful things

Linda Holmes-Rubin (who aspires to be a craftperson someday)

Hi, David, A very interesting exposition. I have no inclination to
shoot you, but I would quibble that what one wears to a gallery
opening is communication, not aesthetics. What a ceator, regardless
of label, wears should not be relevant. Now, back to the real world.
Communication between/among humans is amazingly complex and
multifacetted. The written word alone, for example, is so inadequate
that we add “emoticons” (those little winking , smiling, frowning
icons we construct from the keyboard) to try to flesh it out.
Clothing is a very important method of communication, and I, for one,
think long and hard about the message I want my clothes to send at an
important event. I would even say that a person who truly does not
is suffering from some deficiency akin to color blindness (OK, now
shoot me!) About this thread-- I would argue that the subject is a
textbook example of a moot point. The most eloquent, logical,
well-constructed and -documented argument, though interesting to
read, will not change one single person’s opinion. In my opinion.


Thank you David…not sure I understand it all, or care, but thanks

You know, I’ve given some thought to those terms myself…not much,
but a little. My conclusion is, “I don’t really give a D… my
dear.” When I ‘create’ something…its me. Either someone likes it
or they don’t. My experience tells me that more people like it than
don’t. Therefore, I must be one of those things you describe so
aptly! Don’t know which and probably never will. As long as people
keep asking me, “How much do you want for…? (and) Is that your
bottom line?” I’ll keep creating under one term or another.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where the sun is
finally out though its raining, and where simple elegance IS fine
jewelry! @coralnut2

BRAVO!!! David, well said. I especially liked the politics of art
and the circle jerk. Once again Orchid cuts to the bone and come
through with enlightenment and truth…(standing ovation and
applause all around) . Frank Goss