Roxanne made me a spoon.
In sixth grade here in Wellesley you take Industrial Technology (don’t call it “wood shop” or you’ll be sternly corrected, trust me). The culmination of the class is carving a spoon from a block of wood.
I put the spoon to use immediately. The day it came home I stirred lentil soup with it and last night I used it to scrape caramelized onions from the bottom of the pot while getting ready to assemble some pizzas.
In addition to its usefulness I immediately loved the beauty of this spoon. I love that it’s handle is curved, that the top looks like a bird’s face, that the bowl is bumpy and has a hairline crack. I love that my child who can’t stand the sound of sand paper sat in IT class for a week wearing thick gloves and noise cancelling headphones while she sanded it smooth. I loved her daily dinner time updates on the stages of its creation and her excitement in presenting it to me on the last day of the term.
In high school I took a lot of art classes and made a lot of paintings and drawings I was proud of. By the end of senior year I had a big folder full of finished work. What always frustrated me about making fine art, though, was that I couldn’t think what to do with it. My mom framed a few pieces, but the rest of the contents of the folder ended up in a pile under my bed. It was beautiful, but not useful. I knew I didn’t want to be an artist.
Craft is the solution to that problem. Making a mug or chair or a quilt takes just the same amount of specialized skill, time and effort as painting a landscape, but in the end you can drink from it, or sit on it, or snuggle up under it on a cold night.
Of course craft suffers from this utility, too. Craft is typically seen as lesser in value than art from a commercial standpoint. It’s made to be used and worn out. The spoon will get stained, perhaps even burned, and one day the hairline crack will grow too wide and the spoon no longer function as a spoon. But to me the difference in commercial value is arbitrary. Between now and then the spoon will enrich my life by infusing the daily task of making dinner with the beauty of something carved from a block of wood by my first baby whose feet are now larger than mine and is nearly a woman herself.
Craft is art gone productive. It’s art you can stand on or drink tea from or lie underneath. Craft is art you can stir lentil soup with.