A rose is a rose is a rose = art is art is art?

Leslie Trippy-Oliver’s “Red Etc.” Color Journal cover

My hubby picked up some cool studio equipment gizmos for his camera this weekend, so when I asked him to shoot a photo of the cover of one of the color journal round robin participant’s journals, it took him more time to shoot ONE photo (but it is rather perfect, don’t you think?) than it normally does to shoot ALL of the photos for my journals. [harumph!]

In any case, he also shot some cool photos of my dolls, which are dolls that I’d created the “beginnings” of for round robins, and have passed along and received back completed (awesome!) dolls. The two dolls pictured here are from a Gypsy Doll round robin, which originated on the Belle Papier Yahoo Group board, and the very first round robin I took part in (and my very first art doll), the Elements Art Doll round robin from the Wild Art Dolls Yahoo Group board. Each was accompanied by a journal.

My Gypsy Round Robin Doll, “Ilona” and my “Fire” Elements Round Robin Doll

Well, I received an email this morning from someone (a fellow artist), commenting on the fickle nature of art, or rather art selection… or is it art preference… or again, how one distinguishes art at all. What constitutes art? Is all art good, regardless of whether it’s to your taste or not?

I also have a story about an art doll round robin that I was in last year. There were four of us in the group. Apart from myself, there was one inexperienced player, one experienced one, but who didn’t get the whole art journal thing, and one really fabulous player. There was a theme and the journal was supposed to reflect the theme of the doll, and each person’s take on it. I picked my theme and proceeded to create a whole bunch of spreads in the journal, both the intro pages as well as my personal pages. Then I passed it along to the next player, who didn’t get my doll, and refused to acknowledge the existence of the journal. She hand wrote a one page message (well… she didn’t get my doll, either) about being stymied about what to add to the doll, blah blah blah. The next gal was the inexperienced gal, so she made a very simple layout in the journal, using a magazine image for a collage, and adding “fluff” and a very nice journal entry. The last one to work on my doll was not only an extremely experienced artist, but also someone who has contributed often in round robins, and she did fabulous work. She said she felt so badly about the rest of the stuff that she felt she needed to make up for the others. That was really cool of her, but still, certainly not expected.

In any case, I really love my journals, even the ones that had less than “perfect” contributors. Sometimes beginners don’t know until they see others’ work what exactly the possibilities are. While it’s a bummer, to some degree, that they’re learning at your expense (if you look at it that way), the next time you see their work in a round robin, a light will have gone off, and their work will have evolved. On the other hand, some people just don’t EVER “get” it, and they never stretch and develop their own style, but are perfectly happy in that space.

Anyway… it’s interesting, this whole concept of sharing art. When ATCs first were conceptualized, it was to share artwork amongst artists, for free–an even swap out. Not to make scaled down “greeting cards”, or mini scrapbook pages, but to make personalized little mini artworks, perhaps in a medium you don’t normally work it, or doodles even, but personal and original art nonetheless. So, what happened? It’s been “Somerset-ized.”

While I think Somerset Studios publications are great, and enjoy seeing the work sent in by the contributors, and find the how-to articles (on things other than how to layer cardstock and mulberry paper (finally!) ) to be informative, I feel that it has homogenized the “look” of crafters’ art. Or maybe it’s the art direction. They’re so stuck on “themes” that they don’t stretch beyond what they get from their readership, and the folks doing the picking all have the same taste in what kind of “look” they like and choose from the pieces that they receive. So, even though the themes change from month-to-month, the look of the stuff doesn’t, really. Yaaaawn. That’s also what’s happened to paper arts in general, in our little artsy community. Or is it craft? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a subscriber to several of their magazines (quite frankly, I think it’s partly OCD that I can’t seem to let issues slip through my collection–did I ever tell you that I collected Martha Stewart Living and Victoria for 10 years, and finally parted with them when my husband and I separated? ), but I do love to look through and quite enjoy them.

Everyone is using the same “stuff”… the same ephemera… the same gizmos and doodads to add to their pages. While I think it’s awesome that there is SO much more selection to pick from in the way of papers and gizmos and other various and sundry supplies, I find that it has taken the challenge out of trying to find interesting elements to add to your work. Consider the good old washer for example. Years ago, people started incorporating washers into their stuff… they stamped on them, they UTEE’d them, they painted them, they wire-wrapped them. You don’t even need to go through all that trouble anymore, because now you can purchase them all gussied up (for a lot more $$ than the initial bag of washers) at your local craft store. And they look pretty cool, too. But certainly, they won’t be original, because anyone can drop several dollars and get the same package of goodies.

Part of the fun, for me, was to troll the hardware stores to see what kinds of potential art materials I could come up with to incorporate into my pieces. Another example is cigar boxes. They sell ‘cigar’ boxes at the craft store. Well… they’re not *real* cigar boxes, but who can tell, after they’ve been painted and decoupaged? The only difference is the cost (I could get cigar box ’empties’ from a cigar store source for $2-3 per box, whereas you’ll pay upwards of $7 for the wooden boxes–it would have had to be a REALLY cool cigar box for that price). And the smell… something about a ‘punch’ cigar box that just can’t be compared to plain old new wood.

When someone comes up with a cool, novel, idea, eventually EVERYone then claims it for their own (take for example the use of found objects–EVERYone is using found objects now, and it’s all the same stuff… and not “found” but purchased, because everyone can now buy them in the stores). And vintage photos (the stuff you can purchase, not pix of your own ancestry). Can you say “plagiarism”? I knew you could…

Scrapbooking, stamping and many other art/craft techniques have now been lumped together and called “paper arts.” But… is it really art? Or is it crafts? What constitutes the distinction? And is “art” better than “craft”? Are the skill levels different? Does it depend on the craft? Working metal is a CRAFT. Having the distinction of “craftsman” is an honor. Yet the same “craftsman” will look down upon someone who does tole painting or works in polymer clay, because the materials aren’t “fine” or the skill level not as exacting (and I *am* using a live example for this one–it’s someone I know quite well). This same person also scoffs at Precious Metal Clay… a blasphemy, in her opinion, to metalsmithing. But I digress…

Just because you *can* stick down a bunch of cut out magazine images onto a page, does it mean that it is art? But then, what IS art? Is it the expression of your soul? Does it matter if it’s GOOD art, if you’re expressing yourself? If you’re making it for someone else, should you strive to make a more diligent EFFORT and do *better* than you would normally… give it 125% instead of 75%? And, since art preference is so subjective, what I might think is absolutely divine and inspired might look like a pile of trash to someone else. I dunno… this and many other things have been keeping me stymied for a long time now… but I can still sleep at night.


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