when does craft become art

I enjoyed visiting my neighbor’s workshop. Joe’s basement had the cozy smells of pine boards, sawdust, and fresh paint. Every time I went down his stairs, I was transported to our church boy’s club where volunteers helped us trace comic book figures onto ¼ inch plywood to be sawn on vibrating jig saws then sanded and daubed with water-color paint: Archie and Veronica, Tweety Bird and Sylvester, Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny. It was a way to shift from the passive observers of cartoons that delighted us between double features on Saturday afternoon matinees to active participants in the world of Disney.

And now my neighbor, Joe and his wife Maryanne, were doing much the same thing with lawn ornaments. Some were recognizable Looney Tune critters. They could have been enjoined to ‘cease and desist’ by trademark lawyers, but then those lawyers wouldn’t have been living anywhere near the kind of neighborhoods that would have displayed that kind of folk-art in front of their homes. Nor would they have gone to the kind of art fairs that would have marketed two-foot-high versions of a Dutch boy and girl bending to kiss each other. It’s about taste and culture and lawn-art standards, I suppose.

I mean, what’s the difference between a craft fair and an art gallery, folk-art and museum artifacts? It’s all in the eye of the beholder and the ability of the artisan. Perfumed candles and polished stone jewelry, mounted paintings and photographs, clay tea pots and woven sun catchers, carved animals and handcrafted chairs…who is the artist and who is the craftsman? It’s all a matter of production sophistication and depth of vision. Man the toolmaker, we all like to create—if not marble statues or the temples to house them, then the quilts to keep us warm and the favorite meals to nourish our families. And if artistic and culinary creativity escape us, there is always the last resort of procreativity for self-expression and extension. So, who am I to judge if my neighbor Joe and his wife’s creativity ran to campy? Their products brightened our neighborhood much better than plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawn or bathtubs set on end with a statue of the Virgin Mary enshrined within. It’s all a matter of scale and talent and taste and that definitely is a sliding scale.

2 thoughts on “Lawn Ornaments

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