A Milestone

As long as I can remember I have loved stories. I don’t remember when I first understood that people made up stories, or when I first thought of making stories myself, but by high school I had an established dream, an assumption even, that I would write stories.
On and off through the years, I have written, attended classes and writing groups, and piled up unfinished works.
In early 17, I found the gumption to begin taking all this seriously. I joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and sought out a critique group. I was fortunate to find a group of people of similar mind, who understand the importance and power of fiction, who love to nurture other writers who nurture them in turn.
My writing skills are growing under the attention of this group of story-tellers.
And just last week, I received glorious news, that the 2019 WhimsyCon anthology will include a story that I wrote. Note that this is not a major market, not national in scope, and the pay is only a token.
But this is huge for me. I have never before had a piece of fiction published.

A milestone, indeed.

Craft and Art

The distinction between how we use the words “craft” and “art” has been on my mind for a while, recently.  As a matter of fact, it has been a topic that has occupied my attention on and off for a number of years.

As you might guess, there are a lot of essays, videos, blog posts, podcasts, rants, and comments on the Web that address the topic, and if you poke around in a library or bookstore, you can find dead-tree equivalents.

If you spend some time with all this material, you begin to catch a number of themes.  I think they are all missing the point.

Let me summarize the various attitudes about art and craft, then I will explain why I am the only person who has penetrated the mystery.

  1. Art is about itself, and craft is just decorated useful items
    1. You can find this attitude all over the place:
      1. Denis Dutton proposes that “These two symptoms of craft, that craft involves the application of intelligent skill (often some kind of handwork), and that it commonly results in the production of useful objects, are uncontroversial
      2. Craft is functional, yes.  And it can be exceptionally well-rendered, but ultimately it lacks the importance, the impact, and/or the emotional currency of art.
      3. The concept of craft is historically associated with the production of useful objects and art well, at least since the 18th century with useless ones.
    2. Emmanuel Kant heavily influenced this attitude with his ideas that art produces “disinterested pleasure,” meaning that the observer has pleasure in the work of art, but has no use for it.
    3. There are a number of issues with the consistency of this approach.
      1. If an object has utility for observer A, and no utility for observer B, could it be art for B and not for A?
      2. What about objects from cultures who never found this distinction necessary or useful?  Is a Ming vase or Classical Greek red figure pottery art?  If not, why is it displayed in art museums?
    4. R.G. Collingwood seems to be viewed as “the last word” on this topic.
      1. The second paragraph of section 1.1 of this document seems to suggest strongly that Collingwood never learned to make anything with his own hands.
  2. The definition of Art is based in racism, sexism, and cultural bias
    1. This is another attitude that is easy to find on the Web
      1. How about a book called Media and Ethnic Values?  “Elitism and ethnocentrism are embedded in art history and criticism.
      2. The basic argument is that the only things considered “great art” are paintings, stone sculpture, and architecture from Dead White European Males.
      3. The problem with this argument is that current work seems to be dominated by artists who do not fit in the narrow range of this argument.
    2. Laura Morelli argues for a historical viewpoint that the difference between art and craft is largely a matter of historical accident and ground-floor marketing, and that European culture first began to make the distinction in the 15th Century, while most other cultures never saw those distinctions as significant.
  3. The Tate Museum (one of the UK’s heaviest hitters in the art world) has this to say in an article about art and craft:  “It’s not a new question, the boundaries between craft and art have long been contested.”  The comments on this article contain a sampling of most of these prevalent attitudes.
  4. Sometimes, we find expressed the idea that craft is just an attempt at art that did not make the final inexpressible leap to Artiness:
    1. “the main difference is the concept behind an idea, how deep is the idea presented. By deep I am talking about the level of thought and the research behind”
    2. “trying to define something as either one thing or another, when in fact, the two are on a spectrum”

Okay, that should cover the current state of the Art/Craft debate.  I dug through all that for a long time, far past the time when it remained interesting.  You are welcome to look for something new or different there.

So, what is my brilliant solution to this question?

The difference between Art and Craft is that “art” derives from Latin through French, and “craft” derives from Germanic languages.

“Really?” I can imagine you asking, “That’s all you have to say about it?”

Well, no, of course not.  But that is the essence of it.

When we look at American and British culture, and to some degree the other British-influenced cultures, we see a bias associating French-derived words, practices, and artifacts with higher social class.  Anglo-Saxon (that is, Germanic) culture is associated with lower social classes.  This goes back to the Norman French nobles of a millenium ago, ruling over the Anglo-Saxon peasants.  If you want to know how those groups felt about each other, read some Robin Hood stories.

So, when something is labeled “craft”, it is automatically placed on a lower rung of the social ladder than “art.”

But, tracing the root meanings of the two words into their mother languages will yield nearly identical meanings, each of which boils down to something like “skill or ability to make or do something.”

To put it another way, the high-end art scene is just like the cliques and tribes of high school.  They get away with telling the rest of the world that they are a better class only because they use the language of conquerors, and we believe them, at least a little.

So, the next time someone asks, “But is it art?” be sure to tell them, that of course it is.  It is also craft.

Because they are the same.

Tea Tray

Some weeks ago, Barbie got a plastic tea set for our granddaughter Zoe. Zoe absolutely loves to play with it, handing out pretend tea to any humans or stuffies who happen to be in the room, sometimes for nearly an hour at a time. That’s a lot of focus for a two-year-old.

So, I decided that she neeeded a tea tray to keep and use her tea set on. Since the tea set has a Disney Cinderella theme, I used compatible colors, and cut out a Cinderella image from a sheet of scrapbook paper. Here is a picture of the finished product.

Tea Tray

I did not take photos of the build process, but here are some lessons I learned:

1. Do not use cottonwood lumber for anything. It was too soft to bear the joints I wanted to use, and I ended up pegging the joints with dowels to keep everything together. YMMV; perhaps it was just this particular cottonwood board that was the trouble; I have no intention of trying again.
2. Every step of a project builds on the foundation of previous steps. If you choose the wrong lumber, the whole project is on a shaky foundation. Because of the cottonwood lumber, I ended up making decisions and choosing paths that I would not choose for a project built with cherry or maple.
3. One finished project is much more satisfying than a dozen unfinished.

Zoe seems to like the tray, but I don’t think she really understands what it’s all about at the moment.  That’s okay with me.

Lexi’s Brain

My niece Lexi wants to be a brain surgeon, so I decided to get her started.

Inside the Brain Box

It’s like the buzzing “Operation” game, but customized for Lexi.  The items in the cavities represent things she likes or thinks about, and a couple of inside family jokes.  I got some inkjet-printable shrink plastic to create the items.  Getting the sizes and color density right took some trial and error.

Outside the box

It’s all in an ordinary cardboard box, with scrap-book paper glued to the outside.  I suspect that the rubber cement will fail, because I didn’t tuck things in and clamp or weight them, for the most part.  But rubber cement is strong enough and fast enough to use when you are scrambling to get a project together at the last possible minute.

I used a dollar-store battery-powered fan for the buzzer.  Removed the foam blades and screwed a washer to the side of the hub to provide an off-center vibrating effect.  I interrupted the current path at the fan switch, and ran one side to the sheet of steel, the other to some garage-sale tweezers, with a globby, ugly solder job.

I should have taken more in-progress photos, in particular of the process I used for the cavities.  They are just holes drilled with Forstner bits into a scrap of MDF.  The sheet steel was easy to perforate with a stepless drill, then connecting the drill holes by cutting with a Dremel.  Not real neat, but I finished the project in time.  Barely.

The brain image is just printed in ink-jet.  I probably should have laminated it, or at least used a laser printer for a slightly more durable image.

I’m fairly happy with the project, and very happy with Lexi’s reaction, especially when she touched the edge of a cavity and it buzzed at her.

This project was inspired by this one from Make Magazine.

Yes, I Have the Kit

No, I haven’t started building it, yet.  I am dealing with a space problem in the garage.

It’s a Rush Hour problem.

Right now I the tools and work space in the garage are pushed toward the back, waiting for the space at the front to be freed up from an under-dresser I have on sale on Craig’s List.

My ShapeOko Project Ideas

Not an exhaustive list:

  • Milling circuit boards for prototyping devices
  • Printing plates made from plastic, metal, wood, linoleum, or rubber
  • Badges and emblems made from laminated sheets (plastic, metal, wood)
  • Direct carving of molds for resin casting (physical copies of virtual objects)
  • Doll-house furniture
  • Engraved boxes
  • Engraved knife blades
  • Lithophanes

Activity in the ShapeOko Forum

Just a few of the kinds of things being discussed on the ShapeOko forum:

  • At least three different motor driver boards
  • At least two different ways to send G-Code to the interpreter
  • At least two different G-Code interpreters
  • Two distinct pick-and-place systems based on the ShapeOko 3-axis framework
  • At least two different 3-D printers based on ShapeOko
  • Several different drive belt modifications
  • Two additional alternatives for driving the Y axis
  • Longer X or Y axis modifications
  • Reinforcing the Z stage to handle a beefier tool
  • Spoil board and clamping options
  • Geographic sub-groups based in Asia, New Zealand, and Europe, driven largely by shipping costs from the U.S.A.  They are discussing making linear bearings by other means, or contracting with a local extruder, or making bulk orders.  No one, including Inventables, is discouraging these activities.
  • At least two alternatives to the MakerSlide material being used to construct ShapeOko

Why is all this significant?

It indicates a very active community of people who have already encountered every problem I am likely to see when I get my machine and start setting it up.

When I have successfully cut projects for a while, and I want to consider extending the capabilities, lots of people will have already blazed a lot of interesting trails.

If I decide none of the extensions fit my fancy, no one will freak out at me for going in a new and different direction.