Art, Craft or Hobby?

For the last two days I’ve been working on a project for my daughter for Mother’s Day. (Here’s a picture of it in an early stage and yes I know you’re wondering if I’m simply making a stack of potholders but no I’m not.)

In any event, while I worked on the present, my mind was turning over whether fiber work is an art, craft or hobby.

I have noticed that many bloggers write about their fiber work as “crafting.” Looking at their blogs, I see what they create (knit, weave, crochet, dye, spin, etc.), and wonder how that can be seen as anything but art. Other bloggers identify themselves as mothers of young children who knit and/or crochet and/or weave (etc.) in their spare time. So is each of those “just” a hobby? Again, I see the pictures they share and read what they write: There’s NO “just” about any of it! Given the beauty and creativity of their work, again, I think of it as art. Am I being overly picky about semantics?

I am of the generation where many of our mothers (like mine) attempted to raise their daughters to be “ladies” who (like me) were not cooperative but struggled to be respected as autonomous, self-defining individuals. In those days – and in my experience, at least in the U.S. – my fiber art served to label me as “domestic” and, thus, destined to be a dutiful wife and mother. My mother and I fought mightily about this – and that started when I was a little girl and certainly long before I read The Feminine Mystique.

Perhaps that’s why I am a little defensive about defining women’s fiber tell people how to describe their work?

Remembering that everything changes over time – meaning of words, fiber arts, perceptions and expectations – I pulled out the dictionary. (Okay, again, that reflects my generation … I no longer even have a hard copy dictionary.)

  • Art: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, … works produced by such skill and imagination.
  • Craft: Sometime that’s handmade.
  • Hobby: An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

So back to my original conundrum: Are fiber arts art, craft or hobbies?

The answer: Yes.

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Dyeing, Fibers, Knitting, Other Fiber Arts, Spinning. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Art, Craft or Hobby?

  1. Very nice website, thanks for share this article with us

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  2. cashback says:

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  3. Ahhh, now I understand what you meant. And I heard something about a much admired upside down painting. Made me grin. I guess things like that should keep us all humble! 🙂

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  4. Deanne says:

    True true. An intention can’t be held that way. I was thinking of if the maker intends it as art, and treats it that way, the object then takes its place as art. What someone will later choose to do with it, is of course out of the producers hands. There was a famous painting, I think by Georgia O’Keefe that hung upside down in a gallery for years admired by all:) Somehow reminded of that just now.

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  5. I was intrigued by your comment “relationship between the intention of the work and its status as art.” I think once the work leaves the artist hands, it’s runs the “risk” of being something other than what contemplated by the artist. For instance, some people make quilts to hang on walls, but it might be purchased by someone who thinks, “wow, that’s beautiful – it’ll look great on my bed.” 🙂 I don’t think it loses its art status; it’s simply applied differently. ?

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  6. Have you considered putting your pieces out for consignment? High-end boutiques might love something gorgeous, handmade and of quality fabric from a local fiber artist. I am always amazed at boutiques I visit in SF that sell very pricey sweaters, wraps, etc. – but they are poorly (factory) made out of a low-grade fiber (e.g., weak cashmere). In Davis, CA, there’s an art cooperative where local artists have come together and run a store that sells their handmade arts/crafts. The work is great, customers can meet the artists (b/c at any one time one or more of the artist is working as a clerk there), and the art stays alive. Granted, I’ve only seen pictures of your work 🙂 but I think your pieces look great in so many ways (form, function, color, etc.).

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  7. Deanne says:

    Watched a show recently on PBS on American Craft – featured a weaver, 2 quilters amongst others. They approached their work differently, all pretty intellectual/introspective. I was so impressed with their patience and the work of course, but the dedication to pursue something that could take years to finish, amazing. I like marissafh’s comment – “it’s all the above”. I know a lot of artists who shun associating anything functional/practical with art, I’m not of that ilk. I do, however, think their is a relationship between the intention of the work and its status as art.

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  8. handstitch says:

    My parents were running and trying to stay alive during the war when my oldest brother was born. They found their way from China to Hong Kong and had to work hard labor to feed the family. “Domesticity” is a luxury. “Art” is only for the richest who have both money and time on their hands to “waste.” While growing up, I used to love to draw with pencils (only thing we could afford) and fantasizing me meeting my prince charming…Not until I had my daughter, I began to make things for her and with her…eventually took way more interest in the making than any of my kids through our homeschooling journey. Funny now I think of it. It’s the self esteem issue, I am a late-bloom crafter and feel my work is insignificant when I see amazing arts created by the talented. Though I would love to be able to help out the financial burden in the family and make a living with my passion…I’m afraid that what I make has no audience. I do have an etsy store but nothing has come of it since I open the account, over a year ago. Is it a hobby then? Yes. But it’s more than that. Unlike my other hobbies, playing with fiber is my daily therapy. It keeps me sane while trying to be a wife, a mom, and a friend. Great food for thought, Karen.

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  9. I had a friend with a graduate degree in fine arts who, when she found a particularly unusual piece of fiber art, would mount it in in a sort of glass box (like people mount dead butterflies and hang on the wall. I remember once she found an unsual shirt – all hand stitched silk – and that soon made its way to one of he walls! So maybe we should try that with particularly intriguing socks. 🙂

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  10. If a pile of bricks is art, then a pair of socks can be art, too. They symbolise warm feet, and evoke feelings of… well, warm feet. Print that on a card, stick it on the wall, and now you can charge £15 entry to your house so people can watch a live art installation of you walking around in your socks.

    P.S. I completely agree. A Venn diagram of those three definitions would basically be a set of concentric circles.

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  11. Interesting topic! 🙂

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  12. Annie Belle says:

    I’m actually writing two papers on this subject for school. I agree with you completely!

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  13. marissafh says:

    You’re welcome!

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  14. marissafh says:

    LOL! sometimes I’m the opposite … always adding words in when there’s no need to …

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  15. Thanks for reading the blog post. Several people shared very interesting comments expanding on the relationship among art, hobby & craft that I hadn’t thought of!

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  16. Yes, maybe we shift over to hobby when it’s the garter stitch “busy” project and then art when we rip out 17 times and keep rewriting our notes to self! 🙂

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  17. I admit I always have a project on needles that I can do when I’m very tired – so it’s not exactly art – but one that I’m not overly concerned re being exact – so that’s probably a “hobby” project instead of craft or art. 🙂 And I saw some of your designs … there’s definitely artistry in them!

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  18. Wow, that’s a beautiful way to put it! Thank you!

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  19. Who doesn’t? 🙂

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  20. When I read your comment, I wondered what was an “Ishi Bag?” I had something printed from a Japanese blogger that I think was a couple years old. The instructions were minimal but as I tend to view pattern instructions as suggestions, I was okay with that! 🙂 So after I read your comment, I googled “Ishi Bag” … yup, that’s what it was, though I changed a few things. (My daughter loved hers too!)

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  21. I think you made a valid point: domesticity as an “option for many of [you] young folk.” For many generations of women, it wasn’t an option; it was an expectation and almost a foregone conclusion. My daughter surprised me (major understatement) by marrying soon after graduating from college and planning a family right away. But she also finished graduate school while pregnant with her first and works part-time in her professional career. I am so glad that women today can see “domestic” as their choice, not a sentence. 🙂

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  22. I know – I read your blog (and very much enjoyed it) after I posted mine! (I guess great minds … ) 🙂

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  23. And I never thought about my art as crafting until recently! 🙂 Thanks for reading my blog; I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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  24. I agree. I also think that exactly what they are to each person varies depending on where that person is in her/his life. Thor and I were chatting about this very thing today, in fact!

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  25. I am already following koruknits … 🙂

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  26. Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. I appreciate the support!

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  27. great question, better answer

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  28. I definitely get the part about knitting being all three, although I do think that, for me, there needs to be a little bit of creativity there for it to be art. At least to me, a pair of stockinette socks to keep my hands busy isn’t art, but the complicated hat design that I am currently working on sure is!

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  29. I think my knitting is far past the “hobby” stage in that I don’t merely knit to do something creative in my free time. Most of the time it’s at the “craft” stage because I’m very interested in the mechanics of it; even a pair of socks is engineered for who is wearing them and how they will be worn. But there are a few times when I’ve reached a level of artistry in my design work. That I’m really proud of.

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  30. marissafh says:

    All of the above. I think it starts out as a hobby (for leisure, relaxation, interest), then through the years it becomes a craft (as we get better at it and get more deeply involved in the mechanics), and then it’s art (when we’re so familiar and comfortable with it, that we’ve expanded our minds outside the box to create).

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  31. Ethel says:

    PS I am certainly not a writer! Always leaving words out. sigh

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  32. Ethel says:

    Through my rather long existence (so far) I have seen so many changes in word usage. I used to ‘just’ craft but now I work at fiber arts, along with the fine arts (I have a Bachelor in Fine Art) and paper arts, beading, etc. Sometimes I think I must have been born with a sewing needle in my hand. I came to knitting at age 22 which has now become my favorite fiber art to do. If I had felt as I do now about the things I create, I would have been much happier earlier in life. I remember the moment that I realized that some of the work I do is on the “professional”. I used to design and create costumes for a small Ballet company and the ballet mistress informed me of that fact. Before then I was someone who just enjoyed making costumes. BTW, are making your daughter an Ishi Bag? I made one for friend last year and it turned out beautifully.

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  33. I definitely think of mine as “all of the above”. Semantics are a funny, fluid thing. Even the idea of “domestic” which was so offensive to many women during the Gender Revolution has circled its way back around to being just another option for many of us young folk. In teaching, I find that every couple years a new PC term for some undesirable element comes into vogue, and within 5-10 years that “new” PC term has become offensive and so it’s time for yet another new term. Words are weird. It’s why I love them!

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  34. Curls & Q says:

    After all four of our kids left home, I appropriated a room for all of my “arts and crafts”. A few months ago it hit me that I was just not “crafting” in there but creating works of art. I informed my family that it is now to be referred to as my “studio”. Whenever I go up to work in there I tell my husband that, “I’ll be in the studio if you need me”. Smiled when I read ordinarygood’s reference to yarn bombing, since I had just written and posted a blog about that today. 😎

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  35. anjig says:

    How true. I never really thought about my “crafting” that way. Great post!

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  36. I think they are all three! interesting topic.

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  37. ordinarygood says:

    BTW My primary blog is ordinarygood but my knitting and craft blog is: http://koruknits.wordpress.com

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  38. ordinarygood says:

    All of the definitions are the answer but for many it is also a way to earn some money; or done through necessity ( ie clothing babies and children); to increase sustainability on the planet; to honour heritage and culture; to push boundaries through wearable arts competition and ideas like yarn bombing. Great post Karen.

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