Friday, September 14, 2012

Choosing one's words

One of the very first writings I ever had published was a little essay titled "Whatever it is, it isn't trash," a defense of popular fiction in general and romance novels in particular.  It was printed in the newsletter of the National Writer's Club in about 1982 or something like that.  I didn't get paid for it, exactly, but I got a free year's membership which at that time was worth I think $40.

The money, of course, was not the point.  I had always always always wanted to be a writer, and the acceptance of that little piece validated my writing skills as well as my conceptualizing skills.  But it also solidified my sense of artistic values.

Five years ago, I got involved in the organizing of a local artists' show.  Now, I'm no stranger to this kind of thing, in more ways than one.  First of all, I've been doing these little arts and crafts gigs since November 1975, and second, I'm the one who started PASIC.

Despite the reservations of several members, our first show was a success and planning started for the next one.  Right away, a few of the members of our artists' group wanted to "jury" the show.  I was all for letting anyone in who wanted to -- there were virtually no limits on the space available -- in a more the merrier (and anti-snob) attitude.  And then one morning, right in front of the coffee shop I frequent, one of the members argued that we needed to jury the show "to keep the crafting riff-raff out."

I have proudly referred to myself as a member of the "crafting riff-raff" ever since.

I make jewelry out of stones.  Some of the stones I actually go out into the desert and find myself.  I cut them on a diamond-bladed saw, grind them to shape, polish them, then wrap them in sterling silver or gold-filled wire.  The piece above, which I sold several years ago, is red jasper with agate from a big chunk I dug out of the ground near Brenda, Arizona.

Sometimes I buy the stones already finished, like this beautiful piece of pinkish Mexican crazy lace agate that I bought at a rock show in Mesa, Arizona a few years ago.

I don't call it art; I'm proud to be a crafter, and I'm delighted when people appreciate my work and even buy it for real money!

My earliest efforts in this field were not always as nice looking as the pieces I make now, and I imagine that if I apply myself to the craft, I will continue to improve.

Likewise, that little art show I organized five years ago is just about to start its 6th Annual event.  It's gotten bigger and better, with more and more artists participating each year.  Instead of a dorky little photocopied program brochure, we now have a beautiful full-color program.  And of course to appease the snobs in the group (they know who they are) we continue to jury the new artists who aren't members of our organization.  Each year we have a few applicants who we just aren't quite sure if their art is high enough quality, but one way or another everyone seems to get in.

This year we received an application from a local artist who works in an uncommon art medium, but one that has a long and well respected tradition.  There were no questions raised by the members of the jury about his qualifications and he was readily approved for the show.  But after the jurying was over, one of the "fine art" snobs (she knows who she is) sent me an email, in which she wrote:

I'm not sure how (his medium) is considered art......maybe I just don't understand it. Based on some of what I saw for juring I think we do need to tighten it up....some were beautiful and looked like quailty art some looked like the local craft fair....
To which I replied:

I'm pretty sure this is the guy I saw at another show, and his (...) are exquisite.  Besides which, they're all one-of-a-kind originals.  No mass-produced note-card prints.
It will be noted that this particular "fine art" snob never sells her original paintings, only mass-produced prints, including note-cards.

So what's the point?  How does this relate to writing?  The point is it's not the medium, it's the craftsmanship.  And every medium, whether it's watercolor or oil painting, wood turning or soapstone carving, spinning and weaving or knitting or quilting or crocheting or basket weaving or pottery or glass blowing or photography or welded steel sculpture -- it all deserves the respect of both the maker and the viewer.

As a craftsperson, I want to do my very best on each piece.  Sometimes they turn out pretty much exactly the  way I want them to, and other times, not so much.  When they don't turn out the way I want them to, I don't put them out for sale.  I respect my craft, I respect my other pieces, I respect my customers, and I respect my own reputation not to put out garbage.

But I also expect to receive that same respect from my fellow artists.  Not just in the words they use when speaking about my chosen medium, but about the effort that others put into their work, regardless of medium.  And to elevate one medium above another as though it is intrinsically superior is an insult.

I do not take kindly to insults.

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