When Does Woodworking Become Art?
If you are curious about what genuine wood art is, then you must know woodworking as a visual art. Today the term wood art is used quite broadly and in ways that it should not be.
Woodworking has always been a form of art to the ends which it serves. Yet when does it become actual art?
Calling something a form of art can speak to its craftsmanship and skill required. Yet when a creation is made for the intent and purpose of it being art then it becomes art. The materials, canvas, or media which is used transcends the typical and generic uses we commonly see.
While my statement is broad, too broad in reality, it is a general rule of thumb. The next problem comes from those who would call anything and everything art, including a banana taped to a wall. This is not classified as art.
Qualifications For Being Wood Art
There are principles and elements of art which must be found within anything, including wood art, to qualify as being art. If a work does not meet these basic foundations then it cannot qualify. This will eliminate a large quantity of products on our market which claim to be wood art.
Among these principles is the question of artistic expression. What was the work created for? The intent and purpose of a work as mentioned before is fundamental. Yet let’s delve into additional qualifying elements.
Does the work have genuine subject matter? A subject is more than a logo, saying, or decorative wood carving. A subject within art will have a relationship to art symbols. In other words it shares a story. This takes us to two additional principles.
What are the art symbols within the work? While not all art will have symbols, a work which does has impact. It is a clear qualification as it relates to the subject and message which is projected by the wood art.
Would art theory apply to your wood art? In other words does it share common element with more traditional arts in classification, meaning, depth, the elements which make art what it is?
If your wood art meets these basic foundations, art appreciation should be able to be applied to the work. If appreciation cannot be applied then it most likely is not wood art.
The one unique factor with fine woodworking is that there will be works which can qualify as art that do not posses some of these elements. I will soon go into why, and how further application of art principles apply.
If your woodwork is made in a mass produced setting for the intent and purpose of selling it is not art. This goes back to what a work is created for. It is rather a product.
Why Use These Standards In Art?
These standards have been used since ancient times in various ways. Of course through reflection, philosophy, and theory they have changed over time. Nevertheless these foundations have always been with us. They are the beginning standards at an elementary level of what qualifies something as art.
Everything is not art. I know this is contrary to the popular saying that everything is art. If you disagree I dare anyone to step within a fine arts university to make that popular claim. It will not survive for very long. Principles such as this is part of the reasoning for art education.
Wood art is more than simple woodworking. It is a type within a set of woodworking.
There can be many different forms of woodworking. General carpentry, deck building, fence making, and even cabinetry can all belong to their own set while each is individually their own unique type.
Within fine woodworking things begin to cross lines depending on what is done. Yet custom furniture making, at times custom cabinetry, wood carving, box making, can belong to fine woodworking. Within this set wood art exists.
It can be said that the definition of wood art is: when an application of fine craftsmanship is used to create an object, then art principles are applied for the purpose of creating beauty and reflection then it is art.
With this will come the elements within art to that work. The craftsmanship will also seek to minimize carpentry elements such as nails or screws for the art.
Why Standards Matter For Qualification
If one makes signs typically this is not ever classified as art. So why call it art? It is a marketing ploy. When has anyone been within a fine arts gallery and seen a sign as the art? Signs point the way to find the art.
Intarsia wood cutting is another prime example of how an art has been made into a craft. Much will depend upon the scope of the work as to whether one can begin to call it art.
If one were to use principles within art there would be imagery depicted within the work to communicate what the words would say. This is an example of the difference with the Tree Of Life. Today too many things are allowed to be called wood art.
There are small shops which crank out hundreds, if not thousands, of any given item. They then push them to markets being called wood art. These individuals are makers, not artists. Here we begin to delve into the medium and its differences in purpose behind wood art.
The Medium In Wood Art Matters
A maker will often acquire their wood from the cheapest source. It may be species specific yet the canvas is generic to its purpose. Quantity is needed for production rather than quality or rarity in kind.
A wood artist rarely deals with larger volumes of average lumber. Spalted variations, wood that holds unique qualities, colors, and hard to find grain lines are preferred. The difference in cost is substantial.
While a maker will pay anywhere between 10 to 30 dollars per board, a wood artist can pay hundreds to thousands per board or slab. Every part of the lumber matters from visual aesthetics to tactile texture of the wood.
From the very beginning the two are set on different paths based merely on the materials used for the medium.
If an artist is very lucky they can find a supplier of quality wood at lower prices. Yet this is extremely difficult to accomplish. It requires someone locally as a hobbyist mill who enjoys this aspect in woodworking.
Often when found the resource is not shared with others liberally. While knotted wood may not be desired by all for construction, beautiful pieces for wood art are coveted and kept secret.
A wood artist does not wish to be put into the fit and finish form of products. Rather it is about unique creation and enjoying the art. Instead of producing hundreds of items they may only have a few, and often one of each creation.
Why Is Genuine Wood Art So Expensive?
Allow me to make a comparison by relationship of mass produced to handmade in a hobby and craft. This is important in order to understand wood art for the principle applies.
If one were to compare mass produced quilts with a handmade quilt by price the difference would be alarming to many. You can have mass produced for under 100 dollars. Hand made quilts can range upwards of 5 thousand dollars.
Within wood art we see the same divergence in price and what is made. Much will depend on the process which an artist uses. If one wishes for me to hand carve 100% of a work few will be able to afford it. Here tools aid in making art affordable.
You are paying for the time within someones life, in addition to their craftsmanship, and the art which is applied. In addition to this, within wood art you are also paying for the unique medium which the art is put on. You will never find genuine wood art at hobby lobby prices.
The same is true within traditional arts. Reproductions can be had for around 100 dollars for nice works. Yet obtaining authentic and original works do not come cheaply. There is always the artist who is seeking to get their name known at lower prices, yet they sacrifice a lot in doing this.
One place to see a clear difference in woodworking standards can be found within traditional Japanese woodworking. Seeing the level of skill and philosophy within this art sets a high standard for quality and beauty.
Does Fine Woodworking Qualify As Wood Art?
To answer this question I have to say it depends. Fine woodworking is an art form. It does not necessarily mean that it is wood art. The skill and craftsmanship required to create something in this line of work is set apart from most other woodworking.
In this way many creations made by a woodworker can qualify as wood art. A piece does not need to have art carvings within the wood to be called art. Again here we go back to the purpose of the creation.
Within fine woodworking often there will be elements of art which are missing. It is an object which is made typically of a three dimensional nature. Yet it is not a sculpture or a carving.
Despite missing these elements within art it still qualifies on other fronts within art. Here is where the unique medium of wood sets itself apart from other mediums. Wood itself made by nature can be a work of art that nothing else can compare with.
This is why wood artists seek out unique lumber to create with. Once the creation is made the craftsmanship adds to the natural beauty giving it shape and form. By comparison this would be more like working with pottery or clay, yet a far superior medium in terms of natural beauty.
There are times when a fine line exists between what is, or is not wood art.
Difficulties Faced By Wood Artists Today
The arts in general face many difficulties in our modern era. Wood art is no different in its challenges. Among them are the makers and larger corporate mass production facilities which tag their items as wood art. These are a constant thorn in the side not due to prices but rather in hijacking art terminology.
We then move to technology which has been both an amazing innovation for the arts, and also its worst enemy. The scale of creation in intricate detail and depth technology has brought us allows for great art. At the same time replication and production capability has devalued the skills of an artist.
This has caused a unique shift within some arts, and is especially true of wood art. Historically decorative molding for homes was made by hand. Today a craftsman artist must seek out the truly unique to stand out in their creation.
Understand that I love technology and all it gives us. What I describe is not in anger or loathing its existence. Rather it is merely a challenge which we now face. To that end it is more important than ever to create the necessary distinctions which separate us from the masses within woodworking.
Leaving The Guild Systems Behind
The time for leaving the old guild systems behind has long come and gone. Yet many still reside within their confines. I want a reader to know that I love the guilds. They are absolutely amazing. Yet market forces and how our work is classified has led to its near extinction.
This is a part of the battle with technology that is a natural evolution through time within wood art. It is much the same way for traditional arts and galleries. They too suffer from a similar dilemma albeit many have performed better than some guilds.
The unfortunate part of guild system decline is the loss of history within the art of what fine woodworking is. People may find other markets and gain new skills to display their work to the world. Yet the history which is lost cannot be easily carried forward once the venue is lost to time.
The guilds served for many woodworkers much like an art gallery which allowed them to display their wood art. As I have stated before in other places, the forces of markets themselves dictate that we seek out other opportunities for our artwork to be seen and known.
Closing Notes For Artists
If you are a wood artists do not allow the challenges which the present world brings hold you down. There is a rare opportunity now more than ever to stand out from the mass makers we see. Setting oneself apart is rather easy, yet the vehicle to be seen is the challenge.
In order to have your work noticed one will need alternative paths to the old ways our fathers and grandfathers knew. Yet do not abandon those tried and true paths just yet. Learn from them then apply the lessons to this new world.
We have commonly thrived within local community environments and there is where our names have been known. For any new artist this is often the best place to begin. Yet overcome fear and the lack of skills to learn new ways in reaching the broader world around you.