10 November 2011

Here I go again...

Warning...long post 1 picture...proceed at your discretion ;)

As defined by Merriam-Webster :

Definition of ARTIST

1 a obsolete : one skilled or versed in learned arts b archaic : physician c archaic : artisan 1
2 a : one who professes and practices an imaginative art b : a person skilled in one of the fine arts
3 : a skilled performer; especially : artiste
4 : one who is adept at something <con artist> <strikeout artist>

Definition of ARTISAN

1: a worker who practices a trade or handicraft : craftsperson
2: one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods
Okay now that the formal stuff is out of the way I'll explain...I just...and I mean just read Emma's post over at the marion house book. This post is part of her 52 objects series. In it she refers to an article she read in the New York Times regarding authenticity...read it here if you want to know what put a bee in my bonnet today.
First of all thank you the Emma for sharing the link to the article. Without her I don't think I would have come across it, and it is so very important to what I do. If you have never read Emma's blog you should, it is one of my go to's for great design inspiration and a great read.
Alrighty then...
The first question that comes to mind when reading the article is; if an artisan is mass producing (and not by his own hand) for the likes of Restoration Hardware et al, is his product artisan made anymore? I don't think so. Now don't get me wrong, great for him or her if they have made the leap into mainstream, it is great, really, it will offer them a form of financial security that few artists or artisans ever reach. However for big box retailers to sell these items as artisan made (if they are indeed doing this) is a bit misleading in my opinion. Artisan designed perhaps, or artisan inspired but not artisan made. It is important for the consumer to know the difference. Only then can they make an informed purchase.  Worse than mass producing an artisan piece is to mass produce it in China which CB2 is doing...how is that helping the economy, not to mention the environment...but that is for another day.
Often times I will have artists come into the gallery and say 'tell me what sells and I will make/paint it' I always tell them that is not the way it works. Art and handmade goods have an element of passion to them that is evident to those who appreciate art. You cannot paint birds because they sell unless you have a passion for birds, or an emotional need to paint them. A painting with no soul will not easily sell while one that jumps from the canvas with it's emotion very apparent will walk out the door. And so it is that art is subjective.
The article asks, "have we finally reached a saturation point, where the “authentic” loses its eternal quality and becomes just another fad?" as retailers like West Elm, Pottery Barn and CB2 jump on the band wagon. It is a valid question, but I ask are they selling handmade or are they selling something that appears handmade? I would suggest it is the latter. While we're here, let's define authentic (again as defined by Merriam-Webster);

Definition of AUTHENTIC

1 obsolete : authoritative
2 a : worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact <paints an authentic picture of our society>
b : conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features <an authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse>
c : made or done the same way as an original <authentic Mexican fare>
Note that original and authentic are not the same thing. Authentic implies reproduction, not original. I think it is fair to say that these two terms are oft used in the wrong way.
An artist or artisan that is reproducing, or allowing the reproduction of their work has in my opinion crossed over to the other side. That is not to imply that the other side is the dark side, or the wrong side, but I believe they are now on the corporate side of the fence as opposed to the handmade side.
Some of the individuals interviewed for this article seem to feel that their one of a kind or handmade items have lost some of their place at the hands of mass produced 'artisanal' objects ; as Casey Barber says in the article “If you spend enough time looking at this stuff” — objects that are vintage, handmade or that just appropriate those looks — “you get overloaded pretty quickly,”
Ms. Barbers feelings are worrisome for me and the the artists/artisans I represent. Big box retailers already have the upper hand where pricing is concerned, if they begin to mass produce 'handmade' (ish) items at a fraction of the cost, where does that leave me, my business and my artsists?
Supporting local businesses and buying handmade is a proactive way to 'occupy' Wall Street. By spending money in my store (or one like it) your hard earned dollars filter to me, the artists and out to my community and theirs. I just said this afternoon to one of my artists that every dollar spent here means another dollar I can use to buy local or buy handmade. He (Michael Scott) made a great analogy that buying local or handmade means the money is flowing out, not up...I thought that was an incredible observation and so easy to visualize.

Red Sky by Michael Scott
We can't buy everything local, or handmade, but where we can we should and the difference will be palpable.
It is important that I note that even I have a few mass produced items in the gallery...much to my chagrin...but I am always honest and up front about what is handmade and what is not...that way you, the buyer, can make the decision.
Thanks again to Emma at the marion house book for her post and to Michael and his brother for listening to me ramble this afternoon when all they really did was come in to drop off new paintings...which are fabulous by the way!
Happy Thursday all!


  1. Hi Jodi,
    I enjoyed reading your post (yes - ALL of it :)) after clicking through from The Marion House Book. I quite agree with you! "Artisanal" mass-produced is anything but artisanal or authentic. Interesting point about original vs authentic, i haven't thought about that distinction. I also think there is another distinction to make - you do quickly get overloaded from things that pretend to be handmade, but not from real handmade, I think. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the post. Katia

  2. By the way, that is a lovely painting.

  3. Great post! There is no way that these huge retailers are selling anything artisan made - impossible. It's very misleading.
    I've even encountered confusion with my handbags - many people have been surprised to learn that I make every single one of them with my two hands - no helpers, no child labour in China. They are original and handmade. Every piece. Every stitch. No one else can claim this if they aren't physically creating the work themselves. Creating the design and then farming it out to some factory is not artisan made.


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