Family Knitting Pause for Thought Photography

Art and Craft and Creativity

07/04/2016

Space for the Butterflies - On Art and Craft and Creativity - what if I told you art was what you do with your mind not your hands?

In the quiet of the evening, when the children are tucked up in their beds, blissfully dreaming of sunshine and ice-cream and holidays and hockey sticks and whatever else it is that my children dream about, it’s then that I can slowly creep downstairs, trying not to make too much noise despite the stairs protesting their use, and head to the studio, or the computer, or the sofa, or just to sit in a big puddle of crafty things on the floor and dream up my next project. It’s my time to recharge and my time to stretch out a little creativity and make the balance to my days.

Or so I thought. If you had asked me I would have said in a heartbeat that I was being creative and inventive every single time, but the other day H and I were talking about how he wanted to paint more in the days (actual pictures, not walls) but was just so tired by the evening that all he could manage was a little light colouring in. I must have looked rather pointedly at the knitting in my lap, the other knitting next to me, and thought about the quilt slowly growing in the studio, because he met my gaze and calmly replied:

“Yes, but you’re following a pattern aren’t you.”

Ouch. I take a lot of pride in my knitting; I’m good at it because I’ve practiced a lot (my Grannie taught me when I was about Kitty’s age) and I love the things I make because they are beautiful and they are useful and keep my family warm and my sanity intact.

I bridled silently under the implication that my knitting was ‘just’ following a pattern; that my art had been reduced to a mere textile paint by numbers. After all even if I’m following a pattern to the letter, which doesn’t happen that often, I’m choosing yarn (texture and colour) and the right needle size and making sure that the finished fabric has the right drape for whatever I’m making (socks are a lot less floppy than cardigans). And when I’m knitting socks that’s a pattern that I’ve evolved over the years that I hold in my head. Is painting a picture really so superior? Could all my hard work be denigrated from art or creativity to a mere craft just because I make it look easy? Do I simply have better stamina than H and should he just man up and start painting? (I didn’t suggest the last one to him)

Space for the Butterflies - On Art and Craft and Creativity - what if I told you art was what you do with your mind not your hands?

And then I finished the easy bit of the pattern. I’m knitting another Milo for Pip because tank tops seem to be the perfect way to keep little boys warm without having to be constantly washing damp muddy sleeves, and my plan was to knit the yoke in a single colour and then knit snowflakes into the body, copying a mitten pattern for the colourwork. The snowflake pattern is absolutely amazing, but it has no repeats within any line so you have to watch the pattern for every stitch, and the pattern used 45 stitches fewer than I had on the needles so I was picking and choosing which bit of the line to repeat on every round. I know that sounds complicated, especially if you’re not a knitter but it’s completely within my skill set, it just requires a little active concentration.

And that was the rub. After a full day at work and then time spent with the children, and then supper, bath and bedtime, my brain protested any attempt to engage serious thinking. I was just too tired, and so I abandoned it on the arm of the sofa in the hope that the children might pick it up one morning and accidentally knit in the exact perfect snowflake pattern that I needed. Alas they didn’t, I decided the two yarns I was using were too similar, and I ripped out several snowy inches in favour of stripes, but that’s another story.

The truth is that perhaps we’ve stumbled upon a distinction between art and craft that I think I can get behind. So often the definition is based on perceived value (a painting costs more than a jumper) and sadly that value can oh so frequently find its roots in a gender distinction between pursuits that are more traditionally male or female (if a girl can do it, it must be easy, and therefore worthless). And those are the definitions that have me clambering onto my soapbox to shout to the world, “open your eyes! Look at a Millefiori quilt! Look at a Bohus jumper with 10 colours of yarn in one round! And then tell me you think that isn’t art”

Textile art and fibre art is as valid as sculpture, or screen printing, or good old fashioned beautiful watercolour, a dippy brush and a clean fresh sheet of paper.

But what if I said that what makes something an art form isn’t what you do with your hands, so much as what you do with your brain?

Space for the Butterflies - On Art and Craft and Creativity - what if I told you art was what you do with your mind not your hands?

(a snippet of H’s current work in progress of the Rialto Bridge in Venice)

When I pick up a new pattern, and choose yarn and needles and decide on whatever tweaks and changes I want to make, that’s art, that’s creativity. But when I’m actually sitting there knitting away and not thinking about it, that’s more in the craft realm. Why H finds painting in the evenings harder is because he has to be mentally switched on for every single brushstroke; he has to think about the colour and the placement and the strength with which he touches the canvas and a whole lot of other bits and bobs (you can tell I’m very much not a painter!). All of that is art; every stitch I knit of the snowflake Milo that is no more, and every stitch that I will knit of the snowflake Milo I will make next winter, they were creativity.

If you’re thinking, you’re being creative.

The beauty of it is that it applies just as much to writing (an art) and photography (sometimes an art) as it does to knitting socks (an art to choose the yarn, craft once my fingers take over and make them on autopilot).

Space for the Butterflies - On Art and Craft and Creativity - what if I told you art was what you do with your mind not your hands?

And when you put it all together: I am an artist, I am a crafter (and proud of it), I am creative – and most importantly, I’m wearing fluffy warm socks.

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  • Amy 07/04/2016 at 9:38 am

    Absolutely knitting and craft is art! It is an effort to break through that overwhelming tiredness and just get started on creative projects though. I have learnt just to pick up the needles/crochet hook etc and tell myself I’ll do five minutes……more often than not it turns into half an hour. Gorgeous vest and lovely painting, what an artistic couple you are.

    • Carie 07/04/2016 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you – and yes, sometimes the biggest hurdle is definitely just getting started!

  • sustainable mum 07/04/2016 at 10:26 am

    This is something I have mulled over myself in the past, creativity vs artistic. I was worried that I didn’t have enough of either in our lives. When I read about both I realised that neither is clear cut, that like all areas of art/craft/creativity they are subjective and don’t even have to result in a physical project. But I do believe that we need a bit of all of it in our lives. Have you read any Julia Cameron?

    • Carie 07/04/2016 at 9:03 pm

      I actually bought a copy of The Artists Way a couple of weeks ago but I haven’t read it yet – I hear good things though – what did you make of it?

      • sustainable mum 11/04/2016 at 9:56 pm

        I have read the Artist’s Way for Parents which I really enjoyed. It is a book I often go back to, to re-read chapters. I think some of it is also in The Artist’s Way. I found it useful to give me a sense of perspective at a time when I felt that we did not have enough creativity and artistry (is that a word?) in our lives. She reassured me that we did!

  • Maddy@writingbubble 08/04/2016 at 8:09 pm

    What a wonderful post! I’ve wondered about the difference between craft and art before because craft does seem to be looked down on a bit. I think textile art is completely gorgeous and I’m very impressed by it because it’s not just visual art, it’s textural art too. I like your definition involving engaging your brain – the other day I drew the outline of a picture in the afternoon but left it till the evening to colour it in – I think because I knew I could still do that part when tired but would have struggled more with the outlining. I can definitely empathise with your husband on that! Mind you, I wouldn’t call my pictures ‘art’ although they are very definitely creativity. Lots to think about!Thanks for linking to #whatImWriting

    • Carie 08/04/2016 at 9:39 pm

      Oh I LOVE your pictures, they’re definitely art!

  • Sara | mumturnedmom 12/04/2016 at 12:24 am

    Oh, this is very interesting. I’ve always thought that the creation of a craft is artistic, because it requires imagination and artistic vision, even if the end product isn’t what might be defined as art by some. I have a fairly broad view of what constitutes art though, in that if it is visually appealing and gives pleasure, then to me it is art. Whereas my husband has a very narrow view, it must be a photo realistic painting! But, that’s the thing with creativity, it’s so personal. Hmm. This post has really got me thinking!

  • Dana 12/04/2016 at 12:31 pm

    Wow, I just love this super thoughtful post. I agree in a broader definition of art and absolutely include knitting and other “crafty” ventures. It’s brain plus heart. But the automatic pilot knitting or crafting is in a way like free write journaling – it may not be art persay, but it builds creative muscles and isn’t just rote work. Lovely to read and muse over this today. Wishing I had some of your fuzzy socks 🙂

  • Cara 12/04/2016 at 10:47 pm

    I think it just comes down to gender though really. Stuff women do is often derided as craft, and to take things that women do like embroidery and pottery into the ‘art’ realm takes a bold and challenging artist. But something that’s hand crafted by a master craftsman showing craftsmanship is surely art made useful (usually by a man… If a woman does it it’s called socks). Is something really less ‘art’ if it’s well practiced?