Art or craft?

Knots & Boxes, Beadweaving necklace, 17″ ©2010 Mary Ellen Merrigan

Your medium of choice may label you as a crafter. Yet, your medium alone doesn’t necessarily define your work.

Earlier this month two artisans who work in typical “craft” mediums participated in a panel on visual communication for a local chapter of American Women in Communication.

Ceramic artist Jacobo de la Serna, known nationally and internationally as a Spanish colonial scholar and painter points to youthful roots in a “craft of the month” club and attributes his success to exceptional technical knowhow and passion.

Susan Kelbanoff, a weaver of three-dimentional sculpturals maintains:

“When people are in the presence of fine art, their worries lessen, their fears abate, and their sense of abundance increases.”

The third panelist, Andrew Connors, Curator of Art, Albuquerque Museum, Connors purposefully triggered a lively conversation:

“…Art is the communication of an idea. If it doesn’t communicate an idea, it’s decoration. …decorative art is an easy sell…”

In hindsight, Connors practiced the “art” of presentation by communicating a new idea for consideration.

He further prompted discomfort with a comment implying many “artists” worked at their profession only part-time because they could not make a living practicing art in the real world.

Do I agree or disagree?

For me, the answer is not so simple.

Like weavers, beaders tend to get automatically labeled as crafters.

When I recently completed the call for entries to the 20th Old Church Artfest hosted by the Corrales Visual Arts Council, I was warned to expect rejection.

With an apologetic nod to Connors, I’d note that each of my five submissions land in the decorative art category.

“Knots and Boxes” features beadweaving around an interesting box found in an antique market abroad.

The tiniest of sterling silver-washed glass beads (from an Austrian purse) surround the box and are worked into the necklace strands. When the finish leaves one of these beads, a burnished coppery patina is created; it meshes perfectly with the copper/brass/silver of the original box.

Thirteen 9″ strands per side, some braided, all featuring accents of amber, copper, turquoise, coral and grey pearls.

Square knots on each side add interest and depth.

The box’s leather backing features a Star of David along with the whimsical figure of a girl. (NOTE: while you can see the backside below, the jury had no such photo.)


Knots & Boxes, beadweaving reverse 2.5″ ©2010 Mary Ellen Merrigan

An old-world copper hook and a sterling silver eye make the clasp interesting and easy to handle.

So what’s the verdict: art or craft?

My answer: “It depends!”

What do you think?