I enjoyed your column, “The arts and/or crafts debate” in the June 21 edition of the Review [Jill Wagner, Opinion].
You ask two important questions: “Is there a difference between arts and crafts?” and “Is it possible to ‘blur’ the lines between different points of view, especially ethical points of view concerning right and wrong?”
If I may, I’d like to offer my perspective on the second question first. I believe — indeed know — that it is possible to ethically hold contrasting points of view; in fact, I work in an art form that exists fundamentally to demonstrate that it is possible, even essential, for human beings to do so: the theater. In the theater, playwrights create conflicting points of view (the greater the conflict, the stronger the drama) not in order to resolve which view is better, but to demonstrate that this is how humanity works: we are dialectical creatures, and we create ourselves by thinking through different sides of arguments. The poet Keats had this in mind when he wrote about how much he admired Shakespeare’s “Negative Capability,” that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” The theater says to us that it is a diminishment of our humanity to think we know the answer. That way lies madness. The truth lies in radical empathy; in suspension of one’s own beliefs in order to hold in one’s hands the beliefs of the other.
Regarding your question about crafts vs. art: it’s all a matter of vision. Craftwork is meaningful in and of itself, whether for therapeutic reasons or for simple enjoyment. It can also rise to the level of art if it results in the creation of an object whose vision speaks to the world at large, in a way that transcends the maker. The craft involved in quilt-making, for example, requires a great deal of time and effort to master; however, not all quilts are art. The African American quilt makers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama created some of the most extraordinary examples of modern art in American history: in design, imagination, experimentation, and overall vision, their collective work is held to be the equal of any modern artist and to speak to the fundamental strangeness and disquieting nature of 20th-century life. Something bigger is happening with them than mere craft.
Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.
Producing artistic director
Forest Park Theatre