Devotional Arts and Crafts: a roundtable discussion

This post is the result of a roundtable discussion held on the Bacchic Underground in February and March. The discussion didn’t get as much participation as hoped; alexeigynaix wrote fully two-thirds of the below words, when they had planned on at most one-fourth and had hoped for a smaller proportion. But hey! There’s a comments section! If you have anything to say in answer to any of these questions, or any responses to make to any of the roundtable participants or earlier commenters, leave a comment!

Opening Questions:

1) How do you define “art” or “craft”? Is there a distinction, or an overlap?

2) What makes art and/or craft “devotional”?

3) What sorts of art and/or craft do you do? For what reasons? For what purposes?

4) Tell us about the process of one of the devotional art and/or craft projects you are or have recently been working on.

5) Are there any particular experiences with devotional art and/or craft that you want to share?

6) What questions would you like your fellow roundtable participants to answer?

fi:

1. Art is anything made or done with the intention of invoking feeling or conveying a message. While this can be done, and most often is done through craft, crafts are not always art. Sometimes crafts are done without the above intentions.

2. For something to be devotional, there must be a religious intent from start the start of the process to the finished product. During the process of creation the artist/crafter maintains a focus on the deity/spirit to whom they are devoting the work and/or final piece.

3. I dance, sing, write, and do a variety of textile crafts. Dancing in a ritual context is one of the most purely devotional acts I can offer, as is singing songs that I associate with various entities (I can’t compose my own to save my life). My poetry is my way of breathing life into memory, which is part of my role in both sets of mysteries which which I am involved. With my textile crafts, when done devotionally, it is usually to create something for use in a ritual or as an installment on a shrine.

rebecca:

1. I tend to dislike distinctions between art and craft, since so many of them seem to be imposed by art snobs to discount anything they don’t like as less-than-art. There clearly is some kind of distinction between the two, simply connotatively and descriptively, but I won’t attempt to define it.

The best definition for my art that I’ve ever found is from a novel called The Etched City. I’ve lost the author’s name for the moment. KJ Bishop, maybe? (Ed.: it appears so.) The definition is something like, “Art is the conscious creation of numinous phenomena.” But I use it only to mark the line when something I create becomes art. I don’t attempt to define other people’s art.

Perhaps craft is the skill and desire to make beautiful things. But I’m not at all sure about that.

alexeigynaix:

1) Art, I think, is the intentional effort, or the results of intentional effort, to create beauty or send a message. Ideally both beauty and message, but it’s not necessary to have both. Craft, I think, is context-dependent: all art is, or requires, some level of craft, but not all craft is art—some craft is intended for functionality only. In “Art and Craft: a Gender Divide?” on Femme Feminism, Greta Christina defines them thus:

Craft is defined as technical ability; art as creative ability. Craft is defined as producing useful objects; art is created for its own sake. The process of creating art is seen as open-ended; craft has a specific goal in mind from the beginning. Art is seen as expressing emotions or ideas; craft isn’t. There are dozens more definitions and distinctions, each hotly disputed by artists, craftspeople, critics, and audiences.

But that’s part of Christina’s second paragraph. Her first paragraph reads When men do it, it’s art. When women do it, it’s craft. The rest of the article explores this thesis. As a feminist, I find I can’t disagree with Christina’s analysis of how things are.

Equally, as a feminist, I find Christina’s analysis has little to do with how things should be. (That pesky is/ought distinction!) Thus I argue that the distinction between art and craft lies, or perhaps rather should lie, largely in the creator’s intentions. (Which, granted—the author is dead, you know—are often difficult to discern.) Is the creation meant to serve some purpose, or merely to look well on display? Alternately, is the creation meant to beautify or to communicate, or merely to serve some purpose? And some things, of course, are both—the quilt my mother made me, for example.

rebecca’s definition of her own art as the conscious creation of numinous phenomena makes sense to me, but seems to take my defintion a step further, into the realm of the devotional: I do not argue that all art is or should be devotional, but it seems rebecca may argue that all her art, at least, is devotional. Which…knowing rebecca, that might well be true!

2) The difference between ordinary and devotional art and craft again lies, I think, in the creator’s intention. As fi said, the creator focuses on the Power throughout the process of creation, and thus the creation is devotional.

I often find that my focus narrows through the process: I began, for example, the process of cleaning up and clothing and decorating this thrift-store doll to be a representation of Athena with (of course) intent to focus on Athena throughout the process. But I know I was not thinking of Her when I was trying to get this (pencil?) mark off the doll’s face; I was just thinking of how to get the mark off without damaging the painted ceramic. I know also I had no thought of Athena while shopping for the cloth for the doll’s peplos and himation; only of what would most closely resemble the period clothing woven beginning at Khalkeia, without requiring skills I do not possess. So while it’s certainly my intent that this doll project be devotional, by fi’s definition I’m not sure it is.

jesse:

I’ve been sitting with the question of the benefit of distinguishing arts & crafts. We use different words when we achieve some goal(s) by the differentiation. I tend towards Greta Christina’s we call it art when men do it & craft when women do it, and would extend to add a racial/class element. White Western men do art; when done by indigenous folks, we call it crafts. I’m not convinced a differentiation is needed.

alexeigynaix:

Christina addresses race and class in the body of the article. But yes.

jesse:

2) I think arts & crafts can also be devotional if one does them at the direction of Gods etc, regardless of mindset.

(Didn’t read the whole article obviously, not surprised that she would get into that too)

alexeigynaix:

Good point about “at the direction of Gods”.

rebecca:

I find that concentrating on the craft can itself be devotional. When I wove Neve’s dolls, I concentrated on the making, with intent behind it, and the intent and concentration made space for them to become embodiments.

I don’t think touching the numinous is necessarily devotional. Atheists can have numinous experiences, through art or nature or whatever, without that aspect.

I think of it as more the deep sense of wonder that we get from making contact with something beyond and greater than ourselves.

I mean, for me, numinous experience is always spiritual or magical to some degree. But it’s not necessarily actively religious or devotional.

And I believe I do agree with the gender and racial analysis of the difference between art and craft. With one exception. There is a sense in which craft is not denigrated, but is simply referring to the technical skills an artist employs, and I think that’s a valid distinction.

I also think that Spider Robinson’s metaphor for the difference between talent and skill (or craft) is relevant here: skill is the flower you get if you water your talent brush enough.

Also, I want to draw attention to a word choice in my definition of art. It’s conscious creation, not intentional creation. Because art can happen by accident.

I find the best thing to do when you find yourself creating art that accidentally is to get out of your own way and let it happen.

Oh. But by my definition, all devotional craft is art.

fi

I agree with rebecca about all devotional craft being art.

rebecca:

2) Intent to devote the art to a spirit or deity.

3) Many many of them. Spinning, weaving, dyeing, felting, beading, bobbin lace, lino cuts, e-textiles… the list goes on. I do all of them because they’re fun for me, and in order to make pretty things. I’ve done devotional projects of everything on that list but bobbin lace and e-textiles, both of which I’m still learning.

4) My last devotional art project was a couple of lino cuts intended to honor the Dead. One depicted six skulls as if in an ossuary, and the other a Victorian-style Memento Mori skull. I decided on a subject, sketched it on the lino block, carved it out, and printed it in white ink on black cardstock. The subject matter encouraged me to return my thoughts to the Dead every so often, but simply beginning with intent and ending with intent is enough to make the process devotional, for me.

alexeigynaix:

Returning to jesse’s point about art at a God’s direction being devotional: I’m thinking about the exercise practice I have been trying to start on account of Athena has been making it pretty clear I need to. I may finally have hit on something that will work for me (with adjustments): dance.

And dance is art, no question in my mind, and this exercise practice is equally unquestionably a devotional activity, but for some reason I don’t want to think of this as devotional art. Even though, looking at what I just typed, it should be.

Maybe my question is, “is exercise craft?” 😛

jesse:

Some might be intent. If I put on Zumba on my Wii & dance, I don’t really think of it as art or craft tho I could see it having a devotional element since part of why Zumba as opposed to others is it increases my dance vocabulary for the Afro-Cuban dancing we do in my religion (which then is devotional)

rebecca:

I think that exercise has a craft to it, because you must learn to do it well, but that exercise itself is not craft.

An activity can have craft but not be craft.

There is both an art and a craft to writing, but simply putting words on a page does not necessarily partake of either.

fi:

I think exercise can be devotional but I’m not really sure if I consider it a craft.

I know a few runners who dedicate their running to various heroes (Atalanta being one)

rebecca:

And, of course, all of the athletic games dedicated to the gods…

alexeigynaix:

3) Do is generally the wrong tense verb, because there are so many more types of art and craft that I have done or intend to do than I am ever actually doing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I write lots. Poetry, mostly, but also fiction and essays. My most recent finished poem (Ed.: as of this writing) is a hymn entitled “The Wrath of Athena for a Worker Shortchanged”, based on Parthenius’s account of Alkinoe; it’s a sonnet because I like sonnets.

(I also have a poem in progress, which looks to be a sequence of at least ten but probably more like twenty sonnets because I’m writing it for a challenge with a thousand-word minimum that expects writers to be working in prose. I say “probably more like twenty” because I’m on sonnet four, more than a third to minimum word count, and I only just got [redacted due to the don’t-discuss-your-story-in-public-until-story-authors-are-revealed challenge rule] and [also redacted] looking at each other. Kill me now.)

(Ed: the poem is “King and Queen of the ‘Neath-lands“, a heroic crown of sonnets—be very impressed—that retells Hesiod’s Theogony and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, reversing the poem’s two title roles.)

I draw. Pencil and colored pencil and gel pen and—what type of pen is the other type of pen—Faber-Castell artist pens with india ink, apparently. (Fancy. Can’t be that fancy, though, I got this set at AC Moore.) I just now finished two drawings, one showing Athena in peplos and helmet and one showing a great horned owl, for a pocket shrine I promised someone. I plan to do more pocket-shrine-sized drawings in the near future, so I can actually put some such shrines on Etsy where maybe they’ll sell. (Incense costs money. So do colored pencils!)

We can probably debate whether cooking is art, though it certainly can be art, and it’s certainly craft. When ~the stars align precisely~ I have enough executive function for enough consecutive time to plan menus, grocery shop, and cook (as opposed to “…oh. I’m hungry, that’s why I feel like shit. let me go cook up some rice and throw some peas and cheese and salad dressing on top”), I cook. Right now I’ve got a hunk of beef in the crockpot with some marinade; it should be real tasty in about an hour, and I ought real soonish to make sure I have plain rice ready when it comes out. (yes, it is currently one-thirty in the morning; why?)

I am working on restoring a doll I found at Goodwill such that she becomes a statue of Athena. The main problem I was seeing when I started this project is, doll’s eyes are brown, and Athena’s eyes are gray. Or blue. But not brown. The actual main problem I’ve encountered is, if I’m going to do doll’s hair all fancy like the Hairdresser Archaeologist video I found, I…have to actually do doll’s hair. That’s the point at which I’ve been stuck for weeks.

I really honestly am trying to get up and dance every two-three days. No choreography, just me and the music and me trying to use the music (and a good store of patience) to shape my body stronger. Problem here is exercise-triggered asthma, I think.

I have done knitting, crocheting, spinning, cross-stitch, weaving, and simple sewing. Simple jewelry design and crafting. Metal stamping. Painting glaze on pre-shaped pottery pieces. Those are all on the intend-to list as well, as are painting generally, pottery, sculpting with polymer clay (to begin with), and assorted more in-depth metalwork—I am positively longing to sign up for a bunch of continuing education classes at Delaware College of Art and Design; I’m not sure exactly what Metal Manipulation I and II entail but there’s a Torch-Fired Enamels course, too. DCAD also offers Bookbinding. At Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, I saw someone making the most beautiful little glass masterworks. I’m going to shut up now 🙂

My purposes are often practical—well, obviously cooking makes for food which makes for an Alex who is not hungry and can therefore function at higher capacity than otherwise. Any art I make with intent of selling it is practical, or at least to the extent that it sells. Especially with my writing, I’m often intending to make some sociopolitical point, subtly or blatantly, and thereby nudge the world a little more in line with how I want it to be.

My reasons, though? As far as I’ve ever figured out, I create art because how can I not?

4) So lately I’ve been working on creating pocket shrines. Altoids tin, small box of matches, tealight candle, and a couple prayer cards with original art of mine on one side (colored pencil and india ink on index card) and a brief prayer I authored on the other.

…the end result, if I left it at that, would look remarkably Altoids-tinny.

So I have been learning decoupage! I’m applying fabric directly to the tin, inside and out, in two colors for visual contrast, being careful that the tin can open and close easily at all times. Then I’m applying paper with the Deity’s name in Greek letters and also a magazine clipping or two to the fabric on the lid. It is…definitely a learning process. But I think the Ares pocket shrine came out all right, and I’m working on the Aphrodite one now.

Things I’ve learned:

Measure, measure, measure, and then cut. And try to err a bit large when cutting anyway, because it’s easier to trim down a too-large bit than to attach extra to cover the gap caused by a too-small bit.

Mod Podge sticks really well to your manicure. Chipping off the nail polish will get the Mod Podge off (I haven’t tried nail polish remover yet), but obviously has a deleterious effect on the manicure.

Finding appropriate bits to clip out of magazines and decoupage to things is at once a lot easier and a lot harder than it sounds. Depends entirely on which Deity you’re looking for magazine bits appropriate to!

When using a hard straight edge to smooth the decoupaged material onto the surface, making sure all the bubbles and wrinkles get out, it is wise to have wax paper between the material and the straightedge. (That gets excess Mod Podge on the wax paper, not the tool.) But when trying to apply this technique to the inside of the tin, especially the inside base because it’s deeper, be careful or the wax paper will tear.

Don’t then set the wax paper directly on the table Mod Podge side down. I mean, this is not exactly an antique heirloom dining set, and I did scrape most of the dried Mod Podge off, but still.

I am also thinking I should compare the dimensions of a standard business card (you know, the kind you buy in ten-a-sheet packs of blanks at Staples or wherever) to the dimensions of my Altoids tins. If the dimensions work (that is, if I can fit the card in the tin without trimming), I should be able to print the prayers onto the one side of the card, which might even allow for a longer prayer because the text would be legible at a smaller size than I’ve been writing, and then draw on the other side. Even when I am trying to write most neatly, it’s…not very neat handwriting.

5) I have a collection of prayer cards from Galina Krasskova’s Etsy shop. I want to highlight the Mnemosyne card.

Grace Palmer’s depiction of Mnemosyne is visually stunning, as Palmer’s work always is, but what really struck me about this card—and strikes me again every time I pray the prayer by Jennifer Lawrence on the reverse of the card—is a segment of the prayer itself. Krasskova has a policy against sharing the prayers on the prayer cards, which I shall respect by not quoting any part of the prayer, but the gist of the striking bit of this prayer is that the realm of Mnemosyne is tied up with—no, that’s wrong. The realm of Mnemosyne is all knowledge—all knowledge. The realm of Mnemosyne is the definition of “human”, as juxtaposed with “Deity”. (And perhaps also with “animal”, though Lawrence’s prayer doesn’t say that.)

6) What is your favorite piece of devotional art that you created? What is your favorite piece of devotional art that someone else created?

Now it’s your turn! Here are the original questions, lightly edited:

1) How do you define “art” or “craft”? Is there a distinction, or an overlap?

2) What makes art and/or craft “devotional”?

3) What sorts of art and/or craft do you do? For what reasons? For what purposes?

4) Tell us about the process of one of the devotional art and/or craft projects you are or have recently been working on.

5) Are there any particular experiences with devotional art and/or craft that you want to share?

6) What is your favorite piece of devotional art that you created? What is your favorite piece of devotional art that someone else created?

7) What questions would you like your fellow commenters to answer?

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