Pride in Craft

“Carpenters were once craftsmen who knew how to make, adapt, and tune their tools to reflect their individiual needs and quirks. Carpenters are now machine operators, factory workers without the factory, assembing modular units.  Pride in craft is lost.” -Jan Sturmann from the essay entitled “Hand Tool Reflections”.  You can find it in the book “The Hand-Sculpted House” by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith, and Linda Smiley.

Just that quote brings to mind two elements of today’s art market. First, picture frames, once carefully and individually hand-crafted, picture frame moulding is now milled and finished entirely by machines and ready made frames are those same modular units Jan speaks of.  Paintings are standardized to fit the frames produced by an industry of factories that are  focused on speed, efficiency, and controlling cost with minimal thought for the quality of the end product.  Artists paint 16×20, 20×24, 30×40, because a factory half way around the world wants it that way.   Really?  Where is “pride in craft”?

Artists are usually cheap when it comes to framing their own work.  (You know it’s true.)  ’It’s the painting
that’s important.’  ’The darned thing has to be shipped around the country, why put a good frame on it?’  ’The buyer will put the right frame on it.’  ’The deadline’s tomorrow!  It’s a 16×20 – I’ve got a 16×20 frame here somewhere – done – out the door.’  The result is exhibitions of, say, 15 artists where the frames are nearly all alike both in their conveniently modular sameness and in their lack of contribution to (and often distraction from) the painting.

Time and money –  productivity over process – completion over creation.

All those artists’ reasons are valid, and I could add to the list.  ’Some galleries can’t tell the difference and bang up the good frames.’  ’I don’t know where to go for a good frame.’  ’I can get an expensive frame but it’s not necessarily good for my painting.’  ’I don’t have the money.’  It goes on, but the  value of craftsmanship is put in question.  Does craftsmanship stop at the edge of the canvas?  If the painting deserves the making by the artist, does it then not also deserve the thoughtful crafting of its frame?  Who does stand up for the art and present it in its best circumstance?  The artist, the gallery, maybe the framer, and the collector are the painting’s defenders.

“Without the stern vigilance of craftsmen demanding only the best, the modern tool manufacturer sells a quality of hand tool that is shameful.”  -Jan Sturmann

Years ago my husband and daughter were watching an interview witha Japanese Kimono maker.  He did things the old way with hand dyed and woven cloth, traditional vegetable dyes, hand stitching every bit of embroidery.  Beautiful work.  At the end of the interview, he was posed the question:  ”Down the street, I can find a kimono that looks a lot like the one you have here, but it only costs a couple hundred dollars while yours is thousands.  Why would I spend the money?”  ”When I make a kimono, every stitch carries my spirit into the garment.”

Does the hand-made, hand-crafted, hand-carved, hand-painted become imbued with the spirit of its maker?  According to Dr. David Hawkins in the book Power vs.  Force”, it does.  ”Thus, we find that computer-generated art and even reat photographs never calibrate as highly as original paintings.  A most interesting kinesiological [muscle testing] experiment, which anyone can try, is to test the strength of a person who’s looking at an original painting.  Compare that result to what happens when you test them while they’re looking at a nechanical reproduction of that painting. When a person looks at something that has been hand-crafted, he goes strong; when he looks at a reproduction, he goes weak…Dedicated artists put love into their work, and there’s great power in both the human touch and human originality.”

Which brings us to element number two: reproductions.  Giclees are the widgets of the art world, to be had for cheap.  The painter who works for the reproduction market does not have the perspective of a fine artist, no matter how capable he is.  Particularly onerous is the giclee on canvas.  When first printed, good luck telling the difference between it and the original from across the room.  Pray tell, what commodity is there that the more there is of it the more valuable it becomes?  Not diamonds, not faberge eggs, not sports cars, not fine art.  If a painting has an identical twin in the form of a giclee, can I, the collector, believe in the uniqueness of the painting?  Faster.  Cheaper.  Poorer quality.

“With only direct sweat labor, would human dignity allow the building of strip malls, tract homes, McMansions, and superhighways?  What happens to our souls encased by machine-made objects of dull perfection?”  -Jan Sturmann

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