How Crafting has Redefined the Art World
During the pandemic, many people faced more free time than they could have ever imagined. Schools and workplaces shut down, and life felt as if it were on pause. The normality of everyday life was suddenly replaced, with the monotony of being stuck at home with seemingly no end in sight. If you turned on the TV to try and distract yourself, you would be bombarded with the reality of “the new normal”. A constant loop; reiterating news of increased risk, staggering death counts, and continued political strife. With how mentally draining the pandemic has been, it is no wonder that so many turned to different methods of escapism.
One of the most popular methods that have been taken up by many is crafting kits! DIY projects have always been a great way to get creative and connect to the crafting community; without the stress of having to learn a new skill completely by yourself. DIY kits also limit wasting money on an excess of materials that you very well may never touch again. The kits come with the materials pre-prepared so that all you have to do is follow the instructions. With how accessible and user-friendly these kits are, it is no wonder that people began to use their newfound free time picking up new hobbies risk-free with crafting kits.
However, as with most things in the art world, a discourse has emerged surrounding this art form. There has been debate on whether or not pre-made crafting kits should qualify as ‘art’. While they come with instructions, a considerable amount of time and effort is necessary for creating these pieces, and how do we define the line that separates ‘fine’ ready-made art from ‘craft’ pre-made art?
While the concept of pre-made art is by no means new to the fine art community, how is the definition set and how is crafting breaking this mold? The formal introduction of ready-made art came in the early 20th century in the form of ‘Dadaism’. Dadaism was a politically charged art moment; it was a response to the public seeing the violence of the trenches of World War 1. The movement itself takes a very anti-war stance, and its artists used the absurdity of their pieces to highlight the absurdity of senseless violence.
Pre-made art has disrupted the art world and made it so the definition of ‘what art is’ is constantly expanding. For example, pieces like “The Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp took an everyday item, in this case, a urinal, and told the viewer it is art. Duchamp has not added anything to it, he has created art simply by telling the audience that it is so. Dadaism itself, especially the works of Marcel Duchamp, highlights that the standards society previously associated with art can no longer exist, and instead, each piece is fully reliant on the ideas that they are communicating.
With that said, what does a DIY crafting kit communicate? Does the intention behind its creation form the value? Even though each person follows the same guide to reach the final product, the piece itself will vary based on each individual. With both the skill level and the effort they put into their craft, determining the outcome.
Author Virginia Lee Owens wrote about how there is no valid way to measure the value of art, as there are too many underlying factors that would go into the way the pieces would be critiqued and assessed. Owens goes on to state that the very existence of this form of craft, where multiple people can mass-produce relatively the same outcome, is over-saturating the art market, and overall diluting the market for fine art entirely. This then calls into question whether this form of art is positive or negative for the art world. If we are losing both the uniqueness and creativity that comes with creation; while also making it more difficult for artists who are still trying to keep these values alive, will the popularity of crafting come with the downfall of art as we know it?
In addition to the economic implications of mass production, DIY kits are impacting other facets of the art world. Specifically, the accessibility of crafting and art. Art in itself can oftentimes be a classist and limiting community that is out of reach for many people. Author Sally J Markowitz notes that the way that the art world interacts with ‘crafting’ is evidence in itself that the community has a superiority complex that stems from elitism. By separating the two forms under different names, the art community has placed itself as more worthy of prestige when compared to crafting. While the art community thrives on recognition and works that have both aesthetic appeal and room for contemplation, the crafting community instead highlights tangible works that are either functional or have aesthetic qualities. The criterion to be considered craft is much looser and in turn, more people can take part. Something as simple as painting by numbers allows for a completely different audience to be able to participate in the arts. No longer having to separately buy a canvas, brushes, or a surplus of each color of paint, they can just explore their creativity without as many financial barriers.
While your paint by numbers or latch-hooked rug may not ever go into the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gallery or the Louvre, I certainly believe that it has a significant place in the art world. Each work that was created throughout this pandemic represents the experience we have been challenged with and is a testament to creativity as an outlet. Participating in craft as well as fine art, no matter how you define either, is contributing to the story that will be told when reflecting on how this pandemic has affected the art industry. Although the fine arts always will have an important part in history; the community of art should be welcoming, and allow for everyone to participate. So while you are out buying your next DIY crafting kit, know that you are changing the very definition of what art is.