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Arts-nor-Crafts a makerspaces project

A critical reflection of my personal "making" practices and the tensions between them.

Am I still an artist when I'm not making art?

I have recently taken up knitting as an easy and meditative hobby because juggling full-time graduate classes and a part-time job during a pandemic has left no time or energy for continuing my artist books and drawings.

My newfound love for tactile yarns and creating blankets and scarves is represented by the woven cover and pages, allowing the colors and textures of the yarn to show through.

Even though I enjoy each of these projects, my studio art schooling has taught me that knitting is just a "craft;" it's meaningless beyond being a soft scarf.

I am constantly reminded of the stereotypical “arts and crafts” definition while knitting, where crafts are thought to be childlike and simple, or associated with female gender norms, and don’t prompt much critical thinking but embrace the enjoyment of just making something.

After flipping through the woven pages, the viewer comes upon another book behind the woven one--a collage of science illustrations and vintage ephemera to create a narrative about the intersection of human technology and nature. To view this portion of the book, the viewer must intentionally flip the book around.

Behind my current love of knitting (a craft) and staying inside of my comfort zone is my studio/fine art training. My studio art background pressures me to create "real art" that has specifically constructed meanings, from format to materials, into something complex and thought-provoking. Every time I start knitting, the art professor in the back of my head scoffs and I feel guilty about not pushing myself harder.

Getting my Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree gave me the freedom to experiment and hone the mediums that best suited me. I was able to take full time studio classes and find my passion for printmaking and book history. Coincidentally, it during my undergrad job at the UF Special Collections, which solidified my love for book arts and inspired me to become an archivist so that my studio practice and professional career could enhance each other. It was a very formative moment, as I finally had a clear career choice that would inspire me, while still giving me an opportunity to be creatively satisfied.

And now there is a third definition--making--as supported by makerspace technology. From what I have seen on the MAKE: Community website, most of the projects are centered around STEM technology, such as Arduinos, 3D printing, and laser cutting, etc. While these are all good tools to learn, and certainly can be integrated into different fields of art, it further pushes the perspective that “feminine” crafts such as sewing and knitting aren’t as valuable. This creates further conflict in my mind between my need to be seen as an “artist” and not a “crafter.”

I am still struggling with this battle between "art," "crafts," and “making.” They have such different social and professional connotations that include their worth and importance. All of my definitions between these concepts are problematic and create different pressures on the creator, for better or for worse. I’m still struggling with my own artistic identity and having a lot of constraints around my practice, and how those constraints define me (or my perception of myself).

But, while in this in-between state, I feel as though I am doing neither arts-nor-crafts.

Even though it felt like a big project to take on, since it incorporated bookbinding, weaving, and collage, I'm still very proud of it and happy with how it came out. All three of the techniques used in this project relate back to my studio art and hobby practices. The woven pages illustrate the texture and tactile interaction that knitting provides, with the converse being thick, flat book pages. The collage pages are hidden upside-down behind the woven ones, requiring the viewer to rotate the book to see the collage pages, shows how my knitting is currently covering my art practice and the change of mindset needed to take on a "fine art" project. The book covers and collage materials and subjects (vintage and modern scientific illustrations) carries on my studio art philosophy. Even the original double bookbinding also shows my book art skills that encompass my overall passion for books and archives.