| March 3, 2009 2:14 pm

When dealing with creative types, I’ve always felt like there were two separate camps: the artists and the artisans. Artists are those people out on the fringe — experimenters, big thinkers, creatives. Many amongst these types would probably say, “Fine art exists to do new things. Ya know, push the boundaries.”

Then there are the artisans. Compared to the artists, this group is probably a bit dull. Because, someone has to do the actual work. Illustrators, soundtrack composers, advertising and design people, and writers. While creative, an artisan is usually much more concerned about craft than about launching cultural revolution. Moreover, the output is usually subservient to some larger purpose: sale a product, tell a story, whatever.

And while it might not be completely fair, I think it is safe to say that these two groups don’t like one another very much. Artists look down their noses at artisans. Artisans aren’t really creating art, after all.

And I’ve met more than a few artisans which feel like artists have thoroughly wrecked fine art. The pretentious, latte drinking, beret wearing snobs! Who do they think they are, creating sloppy work and calling it “experimental.” I mean, what do you really get for that experimentation? Art so bizarre that few people recognize it as such. What is the point of art which no one understands?

In the fight between high and low art, I’m partial to the cause of the artisans; particularly in literature. If there is one area where craftsmanship really matters, it’s wordsmithing. Any three year old can finger paint, not every three year old can sling a coherent sentence. This is probably why I don’t really like “literary” or “experimental” fiction. It’s hard to read, it’s weird. If it were difficult for a reason or a purpose, that would be one thing. But most often it’s weird simply for the sake of being strange. The odd plotting techniques, dialogue, or structure most often gets in the way of the story rather than aiding it. You can keep your polycosmic perspectives and dimensional dialogue. I just want read a good story which is competently written.

This is why I am grateful for “genre fiction.” Like great artisans everywhere, the goal isn’t about doing something new, but creating something enjoyable. A solid piece of work rather than a striking new piece of art. Artisans don’t bog down in the style while trying to be innovative. Rather, they focus on the story first and then revel it in its delivery. I find this approach to be so much more satisfying. A good story drags you in and compels you to turn the pages. Then you can relish the language. When both come together, that’s brilliant literature.

Which brings me to the point: high literature stopped trying to tell stories quite some time ago. After all, storytelling is so old hat. It isn’t new, it isn’t experimental, it isn’t exciting. And while they were trying to invent a new art, high literature stopped being literature. Which is probably why it’s dying. It’s ironic that when art comes before craftsmanship that both suffer. But any artisan know this, which is why they keep good company: da Vinci, Shakespeare, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, and most other great “artists” were artisans (craftsmen) first. They weren’t artists till some 20th century scholar got around to calling them such.


One Response to “Of Artists and Artisans”

Andria wrote a comment on March 27, 2009

Word to this, brother! I love my artist friends but they’re whole “If it looks like a bad acid trip, then it’s ART” thing is so pretentious! My poor humble words never can quite compare to smearing cow blood all over a gallery for the schlock-factor.

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