Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hung Up On Definitions

Everyone has an opinion on everything they believe and hold dear.  Deep down we tend to believe that our opinion is the right one, even if we say we are open to other ideas and opinions.  It's human nature and it's completely normal.  In truth each of our opinions is the right one...for ourselves.  We have based our opinions and formulated what we believe due to circumstances and episodes that have shaped our lives.

But we have all seen what happens when people get mired down in debating who is right and who is wrong.  Wars break out, people fight and lose respect for one another, they will go the distance to prove they are right even if they aren't entirely certain the other person really is wrong.  In the end it's a waste of energy and things fall by the wayside and don't get done because everyone is caught up in the debate.

Regardless what business you are in, chances are you have an opposing view of it that differs from one or more people in that same business.  If you are new to the business that can be very confusing.  If you have been in the business for a long time, then you have your set of ideals already in place and all the debate in the world probably won't change them very much.

When it comes to the handmade world there are two debates that rear their heads quite often.  The first one is whether something is truly one of a kind or not.  Some people believe that in order to be one of a kind a thing has to be genuinely unique in every aspect.  That's kind of a tough one.  If we get down to brass tacks, no one makes a one of a kind anything.  I certainly haven't made the only mohair teddy bear the world has ever seen.  Therefore it could be said that no teddy bear is one of a kind ever.  On the other hand, I rarely make anything that is identical in mohair and costuming..thus making it only one.  So it's one of a kind since it's not two or more of a kind.  But I use the same patterns for a period of time on each of those individual bears until I design a new one.  Is it one of a kind or not?  Hmmm....that's where the debate enters.  But let me ask you this; are you one of a kind?  Is there another human being exactly like you?  The answer is no, you are unique.  You are one of a kind, and yet you are made from the same nifty pattern and materials as every other human being.  You have your arms and legs and eyes all in the right places and you are easily definable as a human being when people look at you.  So who decides what the definition of one of a kind is and what it isn't?  I went to the best authority I could think of...Merriam-Webster.  This is their definition of one:

In particular I liked the reference to "one day."  It reminded me that each day is the same....24 hours.  Dusk is always in the evening and dawn is always in the morning.  But each day is unique and one of a kind for each of us.

I think we worry too much over this phrase.  As far as I am concerned if there aren't more exactly the same, then there is one.  When I buy a bear, a loaf of bread, a pair of shoes, or anything else in the world...I buy it because I like it.  I have never once bought or not bought something because it was or was not one of a kind.  I am not sure collectors care that much about that sort of thing unless they are buying it solely as an investment which they intend to sell for profit at a later date.  I have found that the majority of collectors who purchase my work buy it because it speaks to them in some way.  That makes me happy.  It's what matters to me and makes me want to keep working.

The second debate that rears it's head in the handmade world quite often is whether someone is an "artist" or not.  Again I went to Merriam-Webster, and this is their definition of artist:

I really liked the part about "one who professes and practices an imaginative art."  What's more imaginative than a teddy bear?  Bear artists employ all sorts of techniques.  Things that are not specific to the genre, like painting and sculpting.  If you tell someone you are a painter or a sculptor, no one questions whether you are an artist are not, it's simply accepted that you are.  While I don't use marble, I take a two dimensional piece of material and sculpt it into a three dimensional bear.  I may not use canvas, but I do "paint" (liberal use of the word there) them to give them a certain finish that creates a vintage look and changes the original "canvas."  Does that qualify me as an artist? 

Now for me, I have used the phrase "bear artist" for a long time.  Does that mean I think of myself as an artist?  To be honest while I apply the phrase to myself for the ease-of-a-general-definition factor, I don't sit around thinking about it. I am too busy working and I have more interesting things to ponder most of the time.  The definition I take away from it is that means I am one person working alone creating the entire piece from start to finish out of my imagination, as opposed to being a designer or assembly line worker at a manufacturer or cottage industry.  Also that I go that extra distance to specialize what I create.  It's a quick and easy definition that people can identify.

But again when I buy a bear, I don't care if it was made by one person or fifty.  I buy it because I like it.  I don't worry if it's art or not.  I am only concerned with whether it tugs at my heart and if I feel the price is justified for the work involved.

In the end, I think we need to stop getting hung up on all these definitions and just work. Why define everything?  Art and artists are subjective.  Enjoy our work and the works of others.  Live and let live, let others create and define it how they choose.


Kays Kids said...

Very interesting.

Katy Cameron said...

Ooh, thought provoking Tuesday! I have to say that thus far I've mostly designed a new pattern per bear, however that's mainly because I was starting from scratch, and I think you need to build up a baseline from somewhere! I'm now getting more into the 'borrow the body from here, the arms from there, and the legs from another' stage, but regardless what we make, because we are not machines, we can't possibly produce any one thing the same! There are some very obssessive people that I've see who are particularly keen to ensure that theirs it the only one ever that an artist produces, and even artists advertising that they cut up their patterns after use - this seems rather a waste to me, but perhaps that's because I use template plastic for mine!

The definitions of things that people get hang ups about always perplex me...

Robyn@Mimas Bear said...

I love what you have written here! :0)

EmmasBears said...

oh my goodness Kelly. I just read your response to a debate on another blog that has left me feeling quite discontented all week. But I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that had bothered me so much. Then I read your comment and I was amazed. You have said exactly what I was trying to process in my mind! Thank you for being so eloquent and for putting forward such a rational counter argument! You have put a lot of thought into what you said. And I whole-heartedly agree with you!

Kelly said...

Thank you all very much!

Abbey Rochford said...

What a lot of hogwash...and I can see why you are so sensitive about this subject, but you are entitled to your opinion.

I will say people are unique...no two DNA's are exactly the same.

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