Today was the local arts day at Memorial Park, complete with cannons. I walked over in wretched humidity--it was like being with craft on a camping trip from hell. Rows of white tents with hipped rooflines and the occasional artist roughing it a table out in the open. One tent was immediately inviting--configured in an L shape, a cozy shelter, guiding people in. And even more welcoming were the signs that said "Please touch" and "Please touch. That means you. I really mean it." Clay artist Eric Boynton(who I would link to if I could find a link) had lovely glossy glazes on his tiles, rich colors in relief. But I didn't touch, reflexively falling back on years of "Don't touch" practice.
I make mosaics in part because the sensations delight me--the smooth glass, the crisp sound of the nippers cutting through, even the thin film of glue that glazes my fingers after a morning of mosaicing. I love the color, the sparkle. Most of all though, it's the touching, the relationship of my hands to the materials, and their transformation. Sometimes this means I have bandages on several fingers--glass has it's hazards--but I'm oddly able to return to mosaic again and again, in spite of usually feeling faint when having blood drawn. The eye is satisfied as well--but for me a fuller experience because of other senses joining with sight.
I once went with an art major, who at the age of 20, solemnly and vehemently informed me that craft was not art because it was functional. This baffled me. I knew nothing of the philosophical distinctions between art and craft. Function sounded like an obscenity. This summer I went to a museum and my foot touched the line on the floor, and the guard told me to step back. It was like playing hopscotch--when touching the line meant you lost your turn. Art as something to be protected from our oily hands and contaminating bodies. Emily Carr, a Canadian painter who is wonderfully compelling, made many of her works on cheap manilla paper, or mixed oils with house paint and gasoline to make her materials go farther--she wanted to explore and experiment, to paint without fear of running out. I feel torn between the fear that her works will disintegrate, and grateful that she made them as she did, being present in the moment, bringing beauty to paper.
Craft has the ability to acknowledge the body--the visceral response to objects that feel good to the hand, the pleasure of being creatures and alive to sensation.