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 Woodcarvings by Maura

So, You really want to be a woodcarver?

The State of Woodcarving in America Today

 

Chapter  9

Art vs. Craft

 

 

He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.
St Francis of
Assisi

 

Art    1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation,    

       2 a: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2),

       3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill,

       4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also: works so produced,

       5 a archaic: a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful,

       6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

 

Artist    1: one skilled or versed in learned practices

              2: one who professes and practices an imaginative art, a person skilled in one of the fine arts

              3: a skilled performer;

              4: one who is adept at something

 

  Craft 1: skill in planning, making, or executing

              2: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill

              3: skill in deceiving to gain an end

              4: the members of a trade or trade association

 Craftsman   1: a worker who practices a trade or handicraft

                       2: one who creates or performs with skill or dexterity especially in the manual arts

 

Fine art 1 a: art (as painting, sculpture, or music) concerned primarily with the creation of beautiful objects-usually used in plural b: objects of fine art

               2: an activity requiring a fine skill

 

       reference  Merriam-WebMerriam Webster online dictionary   <<http://www.m-w.com>>

 

"There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.

Sir Ernst Gombrich

 

 

                  What is art?  This is an age old question that will never really be answered to anyone’s satisfaction.  Everyone knows what art is but can it really be defined?  Young children, without being taught, know what art is but if you show them a painting and ask them what it is, they will tell you it’s a painting, not a work of art.  Art to a child is a big freeform sculpture placed in a park setting or building lobby for all to admire.  You can take a bunch of High School kids to a modern art museum and watch and listen to their reactions.  They will laugh at most modern art, they instinctively recognize B.S. when they see it and it is only after they have been admonished by their teachers and told that they are showing their ignorance, will they quiet themselves and keep their opinions to themselves.  It is those without training who immediately recognize pure art.  As we grow, our ability to recognize art becomes clouded.  We allow ourselves to be told what art is by those who supposedly appreciate such things.  We are taught art history and theory as we grow up.  We learn that the value of certain works of art runs into the millions of dollars.  It must be art if so many people are willing to pay so much for it.  As artists we understand the art world differently.  Just try to get your work into any art gallery and you will most likely be met with a polite rejection.  This rejection is not based on what you have produced but on the dollar amount that a gallery dealer assigns to your work.  Unknown artists probably produce more than 99% of all art, quietly in their kitchens and home studios.  There are a handful of people in the world, who determine what is to be considered art at any given moment, museum curators, gallery corporations and scholarly educators decide what art is.  Their determination of what art is ultimately decides which works are worth money and which ones are not.  Does that make any one piece more worthy of being called art than any other piece? The majority of philanthropists, who consider themselves patrons of the arts, do not pick and choose which sculptures or paintings they will invest in. They do not stand in front of an item and make a connection to it.  They are advised by their bankers and accountants which items have value and are worth investing in.

 

A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.
Michelangelo

 

The Gates by Christo

 

                   In recent history we have seen a crucifix put into a jar of urine by Serrano and called art.  We have seen Christo’s miles of flowing fabric curtains hung up in New York City’s Central Park.  There was a man enclosed in a glass box who played with lunch meat and made things out of it.  I recently watched a television program about a 4 year old child who splashes canvases with paint and is supposedly the reincarnation of Jackson Pollack.  Andy Warhol’s  famous painting is a reproduction of a Campbell’s soup label.  I have personally seen suits made out of newspapers, a display of different colored string laying in random piles, and hundreds of painted or otherwise decorated cows being displayed in areas of New York City.  Supposedly, these are all considered “art” by the people “in the know”. And huge sums of money have been connected to all of these “works of art”.  If you ask the average man or woman on the street, what is art?, the most prevalent response will be that they don’t know what art is, but that they know it when they see it.  It is not so much that you can see art, but rather that you can feel art.  By this definition alone, anything can be considered art.  What is art for me will be different than art is for you. The subject matter or style does not have a bearing on whether something is art.  Art is fluid and has changed its definition through time.  Different forms have been more appreciated at certain times than others. Things that once were functional items in long ago cultures are taken out of context and placed into Museums, where the lighting is fiddled with, enclosed in glass cases, little explanation plaques are attached and it is called art.  Does its antiquity make it art?  Or is it the way that it is presented?  Would the same item be considered art if it were lying in a cardboard box with other bits of trash around it?  

 

"True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist."
Albert Einstein

 

                         If anything can be considered art, how can we differentiate between art and craft? There is a trine to be considered, that of the artist, creation and viewer.  There is a relationship between each.  The artist is not an artist if he doesn’t create and is directly dependant on the patron or viewer.  The creation needs the skills of the artist and the emotions of the observer to become art.  The observer is the subject of the artists’ intention and places the value on the creation.  One part of the trine cannot exist without the other two.  Can a creation be a work of art if it is created and then locked away forever never to evoke emotion from anyone?   Let's look not to the art, but to the artist.    There are two opposing sides to this argument. Some contend that a true artist cares nothing about the reaction to his work.  He is compelled to create for the sake of creating itself.  He does this with unconscious intent and with unrelenting determination.  His art is his perception of the world, whether it is beautiful or perverse, optimistic or hopeless and he expresses his opinions freely without regard to the outcome.  The other school of thought is that the artist creates in order to stir emotion and elicit a reaction from others, that the artist and the viewer dance a philosophical dance together, one putting forth, the other taking in.  This artist seeks to challenge the viewer and forces them to question their perception of the world around them and shake them from their complacency. The temperamental ego-driven artist falls into this category. 

 

I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say 'he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.'
Vincent Van Gogh

 

 

La Gioconda

 

How ever we wish to see the artist, we must still go back to the intent of the artist.  Art is only art if the artist intends it to be so. Can a commission work be on the same level with a work that springs forth spontaneously? Can works that duplicate nature equal those brought to life through imagination?  Was the work born of passion and is the result beautiful, even if only in its perversity?  Was the creation of the work a process of giving birth to an emotion? Does it clearly express that emotion?  Does it enrage, or engage the casual observer?  Art is often created to shock but the shock is not personally aimed at the viewer, it is aimed at an idea or “truth” which the artist wishes to challenge.  I often hear it said that art is open to interpretation.  I don’t think that’s true at all.  The emotions an artwork elicits from you may change and may be different from what other viewers around you experience but the intent of the artist cannot change. You can interpret art and read into it your own experiences, but that is a reflection of you, not the creation nor the creator. The intent is what it was when the object was created.  The Mona Lisa was a portrait, and may or may not have been a commission work.  It also may or may not be a portrait of a real person. Da Vinci may or may not have had a personal relationship with the woman.  She may or may not be smiling. The painting we know as the Mona Lisa is a remnant of a larger piece of artwork as is shown by the cut off columns on the sides of the canvas (this is hidden under the frame).  No one knows what the original dimensions of the painting were.  We are seeing the woman in the picture out of context.  We are not seeing her in the original manner that she was intended to be seen. We can speculate all we want, we can read into the painting what we want but without knowing what the true intent of Da Vinci was, we can never know the paintings true meaning.  The Mona Lisa is undoubtedly the most famous piece of “art” in all of history. What makes us so sure that it is art if we don’t know why it was painted?  Yet it is one of the most celebrated and contemplated works of art ever produced. 

 

I never intended to make art.
Walt Disney

 

David

 

                  Michelangelo’s’ David is a mastery of technique in sculpture and an enduring testament to the artists skill.  It was a commission piece.  In fact, the sculpture was begun by an unnamed lesser artist who was found to be a unreliable artist and Michelangelo, as a famed young sculptor was called in to complete the unfinished David.  It is an impressive creation, standing 17 feet tall.  The body is perfectly formed and proportioned with the exception of the head and hands which are larger, yet  in proportion to each other.  Some theorize that the young adult Michelangelo sculpted the figure as a celebration of his homosexuality and created his idea of the perfect male nude.  The oversized head and hands supposedly pay tribute to the artist himself in stressing the importance of his mind and hands in his work.  David is serene and majestic as he prepares to face and conquer Goliath.  Michelangelo built walls around the huge block of marble so that no one could see the work in progress. We can only speculate on the artist’s intent but few will deny this piece as true art. We can not help but admire the craftsmanship.  David is more perfect than any man has ever been, there are no scars or blemishes, and his sculpted muscles are the epitome of male form.  We can not ignore this imposing figure and the feelings he imparts to the observer standing below him.    

 

In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man. 

Leo Tolstoy

 

The Starry Night

 

                  The misunderstood genius of Vincent Van Gogh created The Starry Night. The starry night was completed while Van Gogh was confined to the asylum of Saint-Remy 13 months before he took his own life at the age of 37. He most likely suffered from bi-polar disorder. He attempted to murder Paul Gauguin and committed himself several times in hopes of finding a cure for his madness. He was an artist who was compelled to create regardless of the reaction to his work or perhaps, in spite of the reaction.  The great body of his work was painted within the 10 years prior to his death. Starry night is not a true landscape but was painted from the imagination. The town is not a real town but as he imagined a town should look. The style of the wavy lines of the roofs and fields were not the results of his insanity, as some would like to believe but rather an imitation of Japanese woodcut styles that he became interested in.  His swirling sky is vivid and indicative of the feverish style in which he painted.  The painting is believed to have religious undertones to it, with the reference to eleven stars supposedly being taken from 37:10 Genesis. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime.  But eleven years after his death, his paintings were bought to the attention of the public and have been among the top selling paintings in history ever since.  Don Mclean immortalized Vincent and The Starry Night in song,  “……Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”

 

        It would seem that in today's art market, even the intent of the artist is disregarded. All three of the above mentioned works are included in every art history book and are held up as standing out above other works as classic examples of art.  Even though they have been bought and sold, they are considered priceless and any art museum would give anything to have in their collections.  I will not argue whether or not they are art, they are.  But what is it that makes them so appealing to a worldwide audience of viewers and scholars.  We cannot compare subjects, values, styles or the artists intent.  It is this enigma which makes art so difficult to define.
     

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.
Frida Kahlo

  

To continue in my attempt to define art, I have removed the importance of the subject matter and now have discarded the artists intent also although both continue to be crucial elements of what makes art “art”.   All I am left with is the viewer.  What I may consider art, you may not. What moves me should have no influence on your perception of “art’. Most artists do not see profit from their work in their own times.  Walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here in NYC and of the works displayed, tell me what is the percentage of living artists to deceased ones. Does the age of an artwork alone bring it into the realm of “art”?  Are ancient relics elevated to “art” simply because they have survived, when so many other things did not?  If a painting or sculpture is not appreciated in its own time, is it still art? Or does it only become art when there is a value placed on it? Are the works of the “old Masters” anymore “art” than the painting completed yesterday in someone’s kitchen. If a work was intended to be a work of art by the artist as he created it but yet, it elicits no reaction from a viewer, can it be considered “art’?  Without a patron willing to support the artist, will the artist still create?  Without a viewer to feel the emotion of a piece can it be considered “art” at all? Why do we allow a handful of people to define what is art for the rest of us.  Is it true that one must be educated in the theory and history of art before one can truly distinguish “art” from the irrelevant?  Or is it only  necessary for a viewer to stand in front of a work of art and have his emotions interact with the creation?  Artists’ intent, subject and style of creation and the implied value of a piece placed on it by the viewer or patron are all equally important in determining what art is.  Whether a piece is deemed worthy of being offered for sale in a gallery or presented for display in a museum has no bearing on whether a work is “art” or not.  As an observer I know what art is, I know what moves me and challenges my way of thinking about the world.  As to its value, art is only worth the value that I am able to assign to it.  Each individual will have a different perspective and each individual will have to assign their own values and judgments upon a piece.  I believe it is inherent that man was hardwired to create, but not everything that he creates can be considered art.  “Art” truly is in the eyes of the beholder.

 

                                           

"Shall I tell you what I think are the two qualities of a work of art? First, it must be the indescribable, and second, it must be inimitable."
Pierre Auguste Renoir

Alois Lang

 

Iimages and article courtesy of www.reredos.com

This article was taken from the American Seater newsletter, dated March 19th, 1946.

 

Draw him out in conversation and Mr. Lang likely will tell you that he does not consider himself an artist, or woodcarving an art. “It's an art craft,” he will carefully explain, “and primarily a craft. When I say I am a craftsman, that is enough-that is enough for anybody”.  Many of those who have watched him at work would dispute his delineation between the artist and the craftsman. To them Alois Lang the artist merits recognition for his contribution to contemporary art. Recently the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters presented him with a special award for his contribution to art in Michigan.  It was not by accident that Alois Lang pursued the woodcarving craft. His has been part of a family of woodcarvers since the 1700's. The Bavarian village of Oberammergau was noted as a woodcarving center as early as the eleventh century. Famed also is the village of Oberammergau for its decennial passion play. And like other members of his family Alois Lang as a boy had a part in the production. But between these productions woodcarving was the heart and soul of the village, and at 14 Alois began his training in the craft which he made his life work.  Alois Lang came to America at 19 and found work in Boston carving elaborate mantelpieces for Back Bay families. Shortly after the turn of the century he moved westward to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to join the American Seating Company organization. There and later with removal of the Architectural Woodworking Division to Grand Rapids he became famous for his ecclesiastical carvings.     His feeling regarding the future of woodcarving in America. “American boys are too interested in getting money for dates and the down payment on a car, and are not sufficiently interested in learning the craft”.

The last supper

The Nativity

"Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish"
Aristotle

 

                   There are many things which are debatable in woodcarving circles but there seems to be one universal truth, and that is that the public, on the whole, does not view woodcarving as an art.  Although it is usually said in jest, the only difference between art and craft is the money that you can charge for it.  Yes, there are areas of the country where wood sculptures may command high prices.  There are many wildlife carvings which sell for $10,000 or more. They are exceptions to the rule, rather than the norm.  Woodcarving, in and of itself is a craft.  There is no debating this.  Woodcarving is all about technique, which can be taught and learned by most people.  So are painting, clay sculpting and turning.  They are crafts and in some cases, sciences.  A painter or sculptor does not become an artist through technique, whether he/she perfects his techniques or not.  A painter or other craftsman only becomes an artist when he unleashes his emotion and infuses it into his craft.  You cannot use a pattern, carve it and then have it considered a work of art.  Yes, it may be beautiful and you may have mastered the techniques involved, you may even ask for and sell the carving for big bucks but it is still not art.  Art is original and emanates from the heart, soul and mind of the artist, and then translates itself down his arms and through his hands into his chosen medium.  This is something that you must accept because it is what separates art from craft.  Craft is technique and repetition of that technique.  Can we all agree that a paint by number is not art, no matter how well done it is?  Do Bob Ross’s painting techniques produce works of art?  Is tole painting an “art”?  Art must be distinct from craft, although the two frequently intermingle until where the craft ends and the art begins is completely obscured.  Works of art must be unique, not particularly as to subject matter, but in sense of style and interpretation.  Our handwriting is unique and when interpreted by those who study such things, it tells a story about who we are.  It is the same with our artwork.  There are little subtleties among the tools and techniques that we carvers use.  When finished, our carvings should have their own signature look about them.   It is fine for a hobby carver to use patterns and to look at other carvers’ works and try to duplicate them but an artist must truly create, not copy.  Without an artists’ intention, the work may be a fine piece of craftsmanship, but in my opinion it will never be art.

 

"But all categories of art, idealistic or realistic, surrealistic or constructivist (a new form of idealism) must satisfy a simple test (or they are in no sense works of art): they must persist as objects of contemplation."
Herbert Read

 

One of the first woodcarvers whose work I became familiar with on my carving journey was Maricha Oxley.  I was drawn to Maricha’s work not only because of the fine craftsmanship but because I perceived it to be art.  Why?  I can’t give you that answer as art is relative but it did evoke feelings from me.  The more I learned about Maricha, the more I considered her an artist who also uses wood as a medium.  Though she is self-taught, she once had aspirations of pursuing a fine arts degree.  She sketches and draws in a variety of mediums and also creates wood sculptures. I believe her to be an artist first and foremost, who has mastered the craft of woodcarving.  While there is much attention given to abstract art forms in the art world, Maricha also excels in realistic sculptures.  Detailed planning and research are essential to Maricha's realistic creations. When she completed her masterpiece, ‘The Clydesdales of Yerranderrie’ it was put on display in Australia.  While the work was beautifully crafted and detailed, no one wanted to believe that a woman had produced such a fine piece of art.  To counteract this sexism, Maricha asked her husband stand next to the sculpture to legitimize it and it was he who told the admirers to direct their questions to his wife.  Maricha has become a much respected artist in her Australian homeland, working with native timbers and incorporating Australian subjects into her work. 

                                         

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way -- things I had no words for.
Georgia O'Keeffe

 

Maricha Oxley

Australia

 

 

         In replying to your art verses craft chapter, I have enjoyed refreshing my memory referring to several books , some of which are from E.J. TANGERMAN,   one of my mentors. In his book Design and Figure Carving he makes some great comments, one of which is that the cave of Altamira, Spain, which I was fortunate enough to visit and see he talks about the art and cave paintings on p.144. he also mentions how little we know about the Wooden Age, Stone Age, Metal Age and Primitive...but indicated that "Along the Mediterranean, the Wooden Age flourished about 6,000 years ago; in New Zealand it flourished as recently as 100 years ago when the first white man came.  Tange also mentions Alexander the Great captured Egypt in 332 BC.....p.149 "It survived in Alexandria for a thousand years longer and developed Coptic art--mainly textiles and small carvings distributed over the Western world by the Crusaders", which is also corroborated in a book "Women's Work The first 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

 Tange's book Whittling and Woodcarving is also tremendous...in his introduction...." Jesus of Nazareth was not a carpenter: he was a woodcarver and supports his statement (p.3) by saying ..."The original Greek word that bibliophiles have interpreted as "carpenter" means "smith" an artisan. Moreover wood was too scarce in Nazareth to permit its use for anything besides interior decoration and carving...

 Moreover  on p. 4, and I quote Tange  ""At the time when Jesus was a boy in Nazareth, a woodcarver had these tools: rule, measuring line, compasses, plane or other smoothing instrument, saw, hatchet, knife, awl, hone, drill, mallet, chisels. "  ...................

"Woodcarving flourished for a century or two after Christ, producing such works as the wooden doors of the Santa Sabina at Rome, then went into a slow decline from which it did not emerge for several centuries."  This was also corroborated in a book "SPAIN'  A History in Art ..Bradley Smith.

 

The Clydesdales

  

All the definitions that have been given in the various dictionaries on Art and Craft seem to have a fine grey line dividing one from the other.  In the first 20,000 years men and women worked together to survive and created all sorts of things to make life more livable....everything was hand made. Language itself was developing, yet at the glimpses we have of early real people of all sorts - peasants- entrepreneurs- queens, slaves, honest souls- crooks- good and bad, high and low, for all the strangeness of their cultures, they seem invigoratingly like us, and I presume the language of creativity evolved.

 The following quotes help me relate to the diversity of Art since time and memory....."But always the virtue of each art is its own, unlike any other; each can offer us an imaginative experience which must extend our mental horizons." Author unknown.

 ---- and from Michelangelo----"True work of Art is but a shadow of the Divine perfection."

 Tange mentions great German artists, Tilmann Riemenschneider, amongst his most famous works "Blood Altar" in Jacob's church, Rothenburg.  Other famous German Wood Sculptors were Wohlgemuth, Veit Stoss, Pacher, Multscher, Bruggemann and Borman. Albrecht Durer preeminent German artist gained his fame from his woodcarvings.  ...Tange also states... Probably the greatest of all woodcarvers was Grinling Gibbons, part English and part Dutch. ....Most wonderful of his human figures was a copy of Tintoretto's great picture "The Crucifixion" at Venice, in which there were over 100 figures. 

 Therefore we can be thankful for the great gift of being able to carve and sculpt in wood. Now after all that background information, you will see my intention to be seen more as an artist ....carving really comes from having a strong interest in art from a young age.....actually starting as a painter.   The wood carving has essentially followed from a passion for art and ideas.   For each carver I suppose it is about how they see themselves... ... To make your work as craft is too limiting and maybe even boring.  As an artist the challenges are greater.

 It is all in the eye of the beholder ---- whether one sees a carving as art or craft----- Art essentially is more about ideas.  The way an artist conceives an idea into a carving.  Craft has always had more of a lower status (because it encompassed folk art, naive art, tribal art) .  We now have seen a transformation in the way people view e.g. Aboriginal art/craft, we now acknowledge the strong spiritual, sacred significance of these works.

 Woodcarving is steeped in tradition and a 'folk art' past.  I think people's views are changing and that it isn't the material used that defines "art or craft" it is what the ARTIST brings to the medium.  Breaking with convention and tradition is an important step in shedding away stereotypical views.

 The hobbiest market is only one aspect of the carving market----it will always have a place there.  It is essential to promote the art of carving/sculpture --- in training colleges, universities and communities.  But both can exist, hobby and art.  ---Art--- contemporary art uses many forms there are no boundaries there.  But it is about seeing yourself as an artist first.  The medium is secondary.  It should not dictate the art/craft dilemma.  It is always about who creates the work and the idea being explored. ............and what fascinates me so much is that elusive-----IT--- the hardest thing to notice is what is not there ----yet it may be every bit as important as what is there...

 

 

 

Corroboree,
by Maricha Oxley, 2000

 

Artists Press Release

 

 

 

"That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art."
John A. Locke

 

          I have had the pleasure of discussing the art vs. craft dilemma with Artist and instructor Chris Howard.  At first glance, Chris seems to come off as a “good ol’ country boy’, with his signature white cowboy hat, jeans, a cherubic friendly face and a great southern drawl.  Chris is known for being one of the best story tellers around and his colorful life gives him some great material.  In the 3 days I spent with him recently, I laughed more than I had in the last ten years and it left me feeling wonderfully connected to this multi-faceted man.  I was first drawn to Chris as an instructor with lots of personality.  As my first class with him began, I found him to be an intelligent, competent teacher, who understands the proportions and nuances of the human expression.  As I sat in his class contemplating his beautiful Native American busts, I was struck by his excellent craftsmanship and his attention to detail.  Over time I have gotten to know him on a more personal level, and we both agree that art is born of emotion, particularly pain.  There are external tragedies and internal conflicts in all our lives.  Carving is often used as a form of therapy but also as an avenue to embrace and use our pain, to try to understand and temper its place in our lives. 

          Chris has begun incorporating some surreal aspects into his creations.  Before this infusion, he was undeniably a highly skilled craftsman, but the more I see of his work now, the less I need to hear his words to feel his soul.  The artist within him is coming to life.  He communicates beautifully through wood.  Chris makes no bones about the direction that his work will be heading in as he tries to explore deeper places within himself, he cannot help but have them translate through his carvings.  He is seeking to create ‘art’ rather than craft although he relies heavily on his craft background to do so.  When I first viewed his “She’s Only in My Dreams” carving, I immediately sensed that it was different from his life-like busts.  It was one of the first woodcarvings that I had ever seen in person, that I truly considered to touch upon ‘fine art’.  As he explained his artists’ vision to me and took me through the carvings intentions, I understood that he is already the artist he aspires to be.  His restlessness with his work and knowing that he must take the next step on his journey is part of a true artist’s compulsion.  I hope that one day he achieves his goal and is recognized more as an ‘artist’ than as a talented woodcarver.

 

"Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further."
Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

Chris Howard

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

 

 

 

What distinguishes art from craft will vary person to person and can be argued with much conviction either way. First I believe we all start as craftsmen, and then become master craftsmen, then  artists.  The artist is inside waiting for the opportunity to come out. In the beginning, the most important aspect in painting, writing, music, or woodcarving is control of the medium. This sets the tone of the artist. 

      


True art is not a teachable object nor can be learned in a step by step process but is a creation born out emotion and applied to a medium. My father spent 33 years building cabinets for Magnavox.  He is a Master Craftsmen but not an artist.  He takes a blueprint then turns it into an object. He does not "design" but replicates what engineering presented to him.

 

 

She’s Only in My Dreams


 I had a close friend that helped me when I first started carving full time. He carved realistic animals since he was 15. He began carving with Tom Wolfe.  His quality never faltered from the smallest animals of 2 inches to the largest of 12 inches. He was not an artist but master craftsmen because he was duplicating nature.   Duplicating nature can be done so precisely it becomes an art form, but is it truly "art"? Can duplicating anything capture or evoke emotion?  True art is a perception, not tangible.
After production carving for 4 years I changed direction and started teaching. I wanted to try to become an artist. I strive for that and teaching allows me to carve what I want instead of what I have to do. Teaching also allows me to meet and share ideas with a quality group of like minded people. As I said before, I feel I am now beginning to understand my art. I like to call it story telling in wood. Looking at a compilation of an artist work you can get a sense of who and what that person is like.  I want viewers to feel or to be moved by what I create. It does not necessarily have to be what I saw when I carved but how it relates to something in their life.

“This one is called Thoughts of Suicide. You can see through the girls eyes the light that leads to her heart is not there because she is a spirit. The man in the back has his finger over his mouth because even though he contemplates suicide, he tells no one because it is a personal choice.

 

  True art to me should flow as nature does, it will have highs and lows but it will build on itself causing one to focus on the emotion the artist is trying to represent. Michelangelo has two pieces that come to mind that are good examples of true art. In the painting Le Creation the hand of God touching Adam, I can feel the power of the hand touching the limp hand of Adam. In the sculpture “The Pieta” this shows a young Mary holding her dead son Jesus. This particular piece had been painted and sculpted before, but Michelangelo added his own interpretation with Mary being young and serene instead of an older broken down woman.  Rodins’ sculpture “The Thinker” was originally sculpted as a piece for the Museum of Decorative Arts In Paris. It was to be just one piece for the representation of the main characters in the poem Dante. The piece had a much broader appeal and has stood on its on merits for centuries. Some more recent examples can be found in Fredric Remington’s work such as “Cheyenne”  and  “Bronco Buster”.  James Earle Fraser’s “End of The Trail” stirs emotion with the wind blowing and a weathered and beaten horse and warrior. I feel the loss of the riders family and friends, dead, his way of life erased forever. All the sculptures I have mentioned and there are many more are not only anatomically correct, more than this, they stir emotion. For a sculpture to be art it does not have to be anatomically correct, but first the control on the medium needs to be attained of a master craftsmen then an artist is able to take it a step farther and “create” continuous flow and stir an emotion in the viewer.

 

"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.' The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.'"
Edgar Allan Poe

 

                  How can woodcarving be perceived as “art’ by the general public when carvers themselves do not present it as art? The price of ‘art’ cannot be whittled down in order to turn a profit. Devaluing one small carving affects the price of every other carving in the marketplace.  Electricians, plumbers and doctors do not discount their services to the general public, woodcarvers do. No surgeon ever said to a patient, “I usually get $6,000 to remove a gallbladder, but I can let you have it for $4,500 and if you come back at the end of the day and I haven’t made enough money yet, I will let you have the surgery for $3,000”.  If your doctor ever says something like that to you, run and don’t look back.  Imagine a plumber says to you, I will do the job for half price but I will save on my materials and use inferior pipe.  Would you want him to work on your house?  Woodcarvers do it all the time.  They try to guess how much a person will be willing to pay before they set a price rather than feeling comfortable with the value they believe their work to have.  Mass produced carvings are imported from Thailand, Bali, Indonesia and other cheap labor countries.  The items are hand carved but yet bear price tags of 14.99.  These carvings are flooding the market and some carvers attribute the decline in appreciation of carving in America directly to the influx of imported carvings. What they fail to understand is that for a carver to be an artist, he is not really selling carvings, but is selling himself, his image and reputation and all the other carvings that he has ever produced in order to be who he is today. You would not know Andy Warhol’s name today if he asked $14.99 for his copy of a Campbell’s tomato soup label.  You cannot compete with the mass-produced carvings and must offer something other than your carvings, namely yourself.

 

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it."
Frank Zappa

 

                  Too many times I have heard a carver ask what the going rate for a particular type of carving would be but there is no going rate for ‘art’.  Andy Warhol did not consult the general art world in order to fix a price for his works.  He asked for millions and he got it, quite early in his career.   Art is not created part-time.  Artists do not have day jobs, artists live ‘art’ day in, day out.  They are by nature, compelled to create, do not keep schedules and may be considered eccentric in manner or appearance. Inspiration can and does rear its head at any given moment and he must turn his full attention to it immediately, not just on the days that his carving club meets.  To be an artist, one must live as an artist, think as an artist and exist for no other purpose than to create art.  A true artist will determine his own prices and will not sell for less.  His confidence comes directly from his ego and allows him to truly believe in the prices he sets. Be advised that not all artists are successful in their marketing skills. And oddly, once an artists finds an audience for his work and begins to reap the financial benefits, he is considered to have ‘sold out’ . How many carvers hem and haw over a reasonable price for a particular piece of work?  It seems as if most carvers lack the confidence to believe that their own work is actually worth lots of money.  Why should the general public?  Most of you will say that the life of an artist is not the life for you.  Perhaps you don’t wish to starve for a living? Then do not complain that your work is not bringing in the prices you think it deserves.  Only an artist can create ‘art’.  If you do not live your life as an artist, don’t expect to sell for the higher prices that artists can command.

 

"Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can only be explored by those willing to take the risks."
Mark Rothko

 

Art is not functional, nor decorative and though it may be pleasing in its appearance and offers some form of service, it exists just to exist, to fill a blank space with an idea.  Art does not copy nature but interprets it and presents it to the viewer’s eye through the vision of the artist.  No disrespect meant to any of the bird, fish and wildlife carvers out there, but duplicating nature is more of a science than an art.  Yet,  those are the types of carvings that fetch the highest prices consistently.  What is being paid for is the skill, time and dedication of the craftsman.  One of the biggest reasons that woodcarvings are considered craft rather than art, is the concentration on technique rather than originality.  Woodcarvers generally can be pigeon-holed into neat categories, such as caricaturists, cane makers, chip carvers, etc.  An artist can not be neatly placed into a small box but must explore his chosen medium fully to the extent he is capable.

 

 "Art is the most intense mode of invidualism that the world has known."
Oscar Wilde

 

Woodcarvers are not taken seriously as artists.  The word ‘woodcarver’ conjures up the image of either a whittler or craftsman. In an attempt to be taken more seriously in the art world, many carvers have taken on the title of ‘wood sculptor’.  A sculptor, very simply put, is an artist who makes sculptures. Sculptures are a three- dimensional art form that interacts with the space around them to present a visual image.  Whether realistic or abstract, sculptures serve much of the same purposes as do other ‘fine art’ forms, to engage the viewer through contemplation and emotion.

 

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Pablo Picasso

 

A woodcarver once told me his secret to being a financially successful marketer.  He said he simply observes what other woodcarvers are producing and attempts to create something that is not being offered for sale by everyone else.  Many carvers have turned away from the ‘American’ styles of woodcarvings and have attempted to find their own voices in woodcarving.  Dot Schwartz, of Queens, New York is one such carver.  Originally a stone carver, Dot chooses subjects which have traditionally been sculpted in stone.  She takes her inspiration from the pages of ‘fine art’ publications and reviews.

 

Dot Schwartz

Queens, NY

 

 

"Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?"
Paul Gauguin

 

 

What’s the difference between art and craft?

 

About $1000

Art is not for the average person, craft is.

Craft comes with instructions and art doesn’t.

Crafts requires skill and art doesn’t.

Craft is external, art internal.

Craft has judges, art has critics.

Craft sells, art starves.

Craft is learned, art born.

 

 

Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.
 Robert Motherwell

 

 

Chapter 8     /     Chapter 10

 

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©2005 Carvin' in NYC

 

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