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Craft in Artistic Practice

Growing up, my childhood was punctuated by days on craft courses with my mum. She would learn to bead, felt, embroider.... and depending on my age at the time and the complexity of the course, I'd either be placed in a corner with a big stack of paper and pencils, or I'd join in the class, learning a broad array of loosely converging skills. So by the time I was a teen, I could make clothes and jewellery, I could decoupage, quill, embroider and bead... The mechanisms of making came easily to me, and felt embedded into how I would later come to make art.

Over the same period, my dad - a statastitian and amongst the least 'handy' people I've ever known - would take us to galleries (much to my brother's dismay) and talk to us about the quality of the light, the fragmentation of the image, the compositional form. He couldn't draw or make but he loved art and would spend hours looking, reading and analysing.

My own instinct lead me to the creation of image over object. I wanted to create works that were more about ideas than usefulness. As someone who is both curious and bemused by the conditions of the world - of humanness, of identity, of place - I was more inclined to find ways to ask questions than to assist our existing ways of living in the world. I spent hours drawing and painting, and found in images a language to present ideas that I found hard to articulate in words.

Artist Anna Masters smiles whilst working on a floral mixed media artwork
At work in the studio

In my heart though, the separation of art from craft felt arbitrary. Why couldn't I 'craft' my questions through the 'making' of images? At the same time - having spent much of my art education painting detailed and realistic respresentations of the world - I was forced to ask myself what was the point? Why did the world need an image of something that already existed? What was I adding to the conversation?

In the end, I found myself carving a practice for myself that combined my natural inclination to make with my hands with the learned analysis of form and composition that I'd gained through painting. Within my artworks now, I guild, paint, weave, collage, bead. I have one of the world's best collections of tiny scissors. My knowledge of sewing machines led me to new ways of weaving my frames with nylon. The result of these diverse and converging influences is a practice that is, as far as I'm aware, truly unique.

Artist cuts clear nylon with scissors in studio
A craft-based approach to art

Yet it's not without its challenges.

Whilst to me the boundaries between fine art and craft are blurred and somewhat irrelevant, others disagree. As an emerging artist, one of my galleries put me forward for a craft-focussed art fair. The fair declined to show my works because they were "too crafty". 'Craft' can be a dirty word in the art world - alongside beauty, of which my works are also accused. For some, these principles reduces the importance or significance of an artwork or an artistic practice. But why is that? Have we properly interrogated the assumptions that we make when categorising artworks as one thing or another?

A detail of an artwork by Anna Masters featuring watch and clock parts suspended on clear nylon
Detail of Sweet Reunion, Mixed media with watch and clock parts

A fine art practice is about finding the best means to convey a message about the world. Whether done through paint or craft (or any other) practices, your job is to navigate questions and communicate possibilities in the most appropriate ways. So for now, I'm sticking to these liminal spaces, the practices that are blurry and defy categorisation. Because how do we ask questions of the world whilst creating works that sit neatly within accepted norms? How do we challenge conventions whilst sticking to them? I can guarentee it's not by assessing if I went to too many craft classes in my youth.*

*I certainly did. Shout out to all the Young Embroiderer's Guild Alumni out there.


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