'Craft Wars' - the celebration of 'kitsch'

As I was crocheting last night, I turned on the TV guide function in our television to see if there was anything interesting to watch. I saw that "Chopped" was on the Food Network and then I saw that "Craft Wars" was on TLC. Since I've never seen "Craft Wars" and have heard so much about it, I immediately tuned in.

"Craft Wars" has been receiving a lot of attention on crafting blogs, as you can well imagine. There was also an interesting article in "The New Yorker" about the show written by Alexandra Lange. You can read it here:

Don’t Put a Bird On It: Saving “Craft” from Cuteness

I have to say that after watching that seemingly very long 30 minutes of "Craft Wars" that Ms. Lange is correct in her assessment that the show "seesaws uneasily between the desire to make it beautiful and the desire to make it useful and usually ends up at neither."  The contestants I watched constructed what was supposed to be a "sophisticated" Thanksgiving table and mantel setting with bathroom accessories like plungers, toilet brushes, bath mats, shower curtains, toothbrushes - you get the idea.

"Craft Wars" is strangely identical to Food Network's "Chopped," a show that I enjoy watching from time to time, especially while crafting. On "Chopped," chefs are given a basket of ingredients that most people would not think of putting together. The chefs have a short time limit to make these ingredients into a delicious, well presented culinary masterpiece. On "Craft Wars", professional crafters have a longer period of time to turn weird items, like plungers, bath mats and toothbrushes, into a craft. The difference? It's actually useful to be able to do this in the kitchen, especially if you are short on money and high on ingredients that don't necessarily go together. With crafting, while many people take weird objects and upcyle or recyle into other items that are quite creative and perhaps useful, this isn't necessary for life continuance at all.

Don't think that I am knocking the creativity of contestants on the show. They did a lot with what they were given. What I am knocking, however, is the "kitschyness" (Definition? Sentimentality or vulgar, often pretentious bad taste, especially in the arts) of it all.

From "The New Yorker":

Craft used to mean something, and it would never have been made with Mod Podge. You can buy a tea towel with the William Morris quotation, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” (It is a hundred per cent linen, so it is both.) What Morris, a designer, entrepreneur, futurist, and leader of the late nineteenth century Arts and Crafts Movement, proposed was a return to the medieval craft tradition, in which objects were made by hand by skilled workmen, and priced accordingly. Rather than three sets of elaborately decorated transferware china, you would have one set of handmade and glazed plates. Rather than rooms full of elaborate Victorian furniture, you would own a few chairs, hand hewn and joined with wood, not industrial glue.

It is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that one man's junk is another man's treasure, but what are we seeking to do with the things we create? Am I a master craftsperson because I can take bathroom implements and turn them into a Thanksgiving place setting? Or am I a master craftsperson because I have taken the time to read about my craft, learn the old ways of implementation while at the same time introducing new concepts into my work for an improved product? Is my heart and soul into what I am doing? I wasn't seeing that last night on "Craft Wars."

In her article Lange examines Etsy in the light of "Craft Wars":

On the other side there was Sarah Mosle’s feminist critique of Etsy, a female-dominated online marketplace for handmade goods, as selling false hope that you could make a profession knitting, painting, sewing, or soldering. But is that the point? Like Chartier, many of Etsy’s sellers are stay-at-home parents; like Crawford, many of them find creative outlet in the goods they make for Etsy. In a rebuttal to Mosle’s post, Sadie Stein pointed out, "the question comes down to, does DIY have value? It’s easy to dismiss—part of what rankles is that Etsy seems like low-hanging fruit, and an unfair target—but its larger cultural import is of a piece with a lot of progressive movements which Mosle would be hard-pressed to dismiss.” Etsians, too, are hand-making things for their souls.

I fnd this to be true. Many Etsians I know are either just trying to supplement their income or are just having fun. There are those who would like to make a career out of what they are doing, and who knows, with hard work and diligence that may happen. In effect, Etsy seems to be helping people fulfill the American dream of pulling yourself up by your boot straps doing what you love. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Again, from Lange:

Given the interest in handicraft as an antidote to the machine-made world--and the growing desire to spend the time to make something unique, personal, and beautiful--why, then, does “Craft Wars” set the bar so low? Making things cute is not a business. It is not even a part time job. Instead, it’s a hobby. “Craft Wars” made me long for the heady early years of “Project Runway” when I was enthralled by the inherent drama of talented, thoughtful people making things (and making them well) on television.

In our crafting and art, we should always strive to have purpose in what we do. After I read this New Yorker article, I mentally examined the items in my shop and found that I do have a reason for making what I do. It is great to make beautiful, useful items, but sometimes art and craft should be fun too. A little whimsey can bring sanity to the more serious times in our lives. However, I'm not sure that "Craft Wars" provides that type of whimsey. What do you think?

Here are some comments from fellow Etsians, including myself, on The Etsy Blog.