I started with ‘Quality’ and then took a turn
The impetus for this blog post started with my examination of the word ‘quality’ as it related to the artwork that I create. I was brainstorming about the concept of quality and how as an art creator I could distinguish my own work from the work of others based on the quality of the workmanship.
How could I set my work apart from so many other artists?
Does my artwork even deserve to be called quality artwork?
What is considered ‘quality’ with regards to the type of artwork I create?!
These questions lead me in some other directions, further away from the concept of quality. However, I do think it’s important that I understand the bigger picture, before I answer the above questions. Seeing the bigger picture will help me to better define quality in my work in the future.
Words can be very powerful. They’re also quite plastic. The meanings of words are also not set in stone. Language changes and evolves right along side the people who are using to communicate their thoughts and ideas. What I find incredibly interesting is that the meanings of words can drift. This seems to happen in a short amount to time too. Words that I think have one definition, may have drifted in my own lifetime. The meanings I understand aren’t always the same as the ones utilized by other people.
How my artwork and the artwork I offer for sale in my shop is viewed by people outside of the realm of fellow creators and makers can sometimes confuse me. It has lead me to look more closely at some of the words used in conjunction with my artwork. Some of my confusion could simply stem from people having different understandings of the meanings of specific words like ‘homemade’ or ‘craft’.
To put even a finer point on it, I’m looking at how people within the United States are using these words and terms, and the definitions that they assign to them. I think that the reason I didn’t necessarily see the language drift of these words, is because English is my mother tongue. And I’m a citizen of the United States. It should be noted that I don’t think that the differing definitions of specific terminology is the only reason for confusion on my part. There’s a lot more going on here that can get very complicated, extremely quickly.
Handmade, Homemade or Both?
Each of these words have different meanings. They seem to have almost become interchangeable in the US.
Handmade is seen as something that is well-crafted, original, bespoke. Great care and detail are taken when a person makes an object by hand. There are connotations of being expensive and using the best materials as well. The person creating a handmade object is someone who is thought to have great talent and experience as well.
When clothing is handmade, it’s tailored to the specific measurements of the person who will be wearing it. It can be further customized with extras that are added at the request of the customer. A custom kitchen has counters, cabinets, and appliances that are made to fit into a specific kitchen. The same can be said for other pieces of furniture throughout a house. Handmade craftsmanship is something that is thought of as a luxury. Handmade watches, made with exquisite attention to detail, along with precious metals and stones. Custom paint jobs for cars created by highly skilled painters and craftspeople are another sought-after handmade item.
Many people within the US wish to have handmade or customized items for themselves and their homes. It seems like anything can be made better when it’s handmade or customized. Again, I should acknowledge that many of the handmade items I’ve listed above are the types of things that many people see in the media and in television and the movies. The type of handmade artwork I create cannot be compared to these sorts of things, nor should they be.
An object that is homemade connotes an air of being of lesser quality. Something that is made as a stop-gap until an item can be purchased to replace it. A child who wears homemade clothing (at least when and where I grew-up) meant that the family didn’t have enough money to buy store-bought clothing. Homemade clothing meant you were poor. And being poor was looked down on.
I have to take into account that my own personal experiences influence my definitions of the words handmade and homemade. I grew-up wearing clothing that my mother made for me. My mother liked to sew clothing. She also created curtains, pillow covers, quilts, and all kinds of other sewn items for the home. These were creative outlets for her, as well as a way to make the money in the household budget stretch further. But there were those, non-creators, non-sewers, who looked down on this. Viewing store-bought clothing as superior to anything that was homemade.
Made at Home, by Hand
What they really meant was having money to purchase clothing items in a store felt it made them better people than those who could not always purchase their clothing from a department store. When in reality, I had tailored clothing for the greater part of my childhood from birth to around age twelve.
The clothing that my mother made for me was unique and well made. I liked my clothes. I got to pick out some of the fabrics used, along with notions like trimmings and buttons as well. My clothing was different from everyone else’s. It stood out.
The drift in the meaning of these two words, as a result of set of socio-economic beliefs, connected to the concepts of a capitalist, heavily consumer-based society, are pounded into people in the US from birth (at least in my opinion). It therefore makes sense to me that when a non-creative, non-maker person looks at my artwork and says, “Handmade doll? Nope. I would rather buy a LOL Surprise Doll at Walmart.“
And that is totally okay. The person who would rather purchase one of these dolls would never have become one of my customers anyway. There’s nothing I could do to persuade them that my original doll design and construction has value, because their definition of homemade and handmade are categorically different than mine.
I’m still working on how I define quality in regards to my work. Knowing that there are differences in understandings and personal definitions has been helpful to me. Sorting these things out helps me to paint a more complete picture. While at the same time showing me where I feel the most comfortable moving forward as an artist, creator and maker.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Friday.
The links that I’ve listed are all extremely interesting reads. It’s interesting that they seem to be equally divided between artist sand creators writing about their personal thoughts and experiences, and business-types of articles. I guess it’s a good snapshot of how my own mind is sometimes divided nowadays!
Megan Neilsen’s blog post “Thoughts on the Perception of Handmade Presents”
Made Urban’s blog post “10 Reasons NOT to Complain About Handmade Prices”
What the Craft’s blog post “Why Handmade is ‘so expensive’”
Industry Week: “Handmade vs. Factory Made: Comparing Time and Cost”
Oak City Gallery post: “Art vs. Craft”
April Doyle (Unfiltered Hearts): “Homemade vs. Handmade: What is the Difference?”