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Is Writing an Art or a Craft?

An Ekphrastic poem is inspired by, and written in conversation with, a piece of art. When we think about art, most often paintings, photography, or sculptures come to mind. After that, we might think of theatre or music as art forms. Some people even claim that writing is an art form, and I can see where that comes from, but I'm not totally sold. Yes, there are authors who paint with words and have an artistic sense to their language. I just have a hard time thinking of the whole of literature, or more specifically my own writing, as art. An Ekphrastic poem is supposed to be written about those typical works of art– something visual. I've never been good at that type of art, which might be why I struggle to think of writing in that sense. Instead, I think of it as more of a craft–something that's a little bit messy, often thrown together as we're still learning, and not to be taken too seriously. There are "art shows" and then there are "local craft fairs." I belong at the latter, and I feel like most other writing does too.

I can't paint or draw, but I can sew. I'm highly skilled with Modge Podge and scrapbook like a champ. I can't sculpt with stone, but I can make paper flowers. I'm not an artist, I'm a crafter. This seems like such an arbitrary difference, I know, but there's something about it that takes pressure off my writing. When I think about trying to match the gravity of Jodi Picoult, or the lyrical prose of Pat Conroy, I start to think I should just give up on this writing thing altogether. However, when I start to get my hands dirty and distract myself by doing a craft, I feel better.

I started scrapbooking when I was about eleven years old and wanted to put all my photos from summer camp somewhere. Looking back on that little book, I can see how ugly it is. I didn't have money for stickers so I used markers to color in different backgrounds and write the names of councilors in my chicken scratch handwriting. In 2018, I scrapbooked my wedding (from proposal to honeymoon) and it's one of my favorite things I own. The book is seven pounds and filled to the brim with pictures, stickers, and ephemera from our time planning the wedding to enjoying the slopes of Breckenridge. The point is, my craft got better over time. Each adventure I glued to the page helped me better understand page composition, and what was going to look good as it aged. Doing this craft also helped me enjoy each trip more because I would look for those little things to make the book pop– whether it was a ticket to a show or a hotel key. I paid more attention in the planning phase and the execution phase.

The same thing can be said for my writing. It's been process-based work, with each short story giving me new tools, or refining old ones so that when I sit down to write, I know a little more than last time. Crafting has also given me a sense that I can figure out almost anything. When my sister-in-law was getting married and wanted a bunch of macramé, I watched some YouTube videos and figured it out. When my niece wanted a stuffed otter for her birthday, I bought a pattern and some fabric and figured it out. Crafting is grounded in the joy of problem-solving, and even this trait I find reflected in my writing. Trying to figure out a plot hole, or discover character motivations, feels like one big puzzle to work through with trial and error until my book or story is complete. I don't know if this is the same when it comes to art.

If you talk to a serious artist, they'll say they started out doodling stick figures in a notebook as a child. I look around at my friends who are artists, and I think many of them would say they're still just messing around when they go into their studio, experimenting with what works and discovering what doesn't. yet somehow it feels like it all has so much more purpose and direction. Maybe because when you go to a museum, and read the plaque you see that there is supposed to be a much deeper meaning than what's on the canvas.

When I look up the difference between craft and art, it says that art is supposed to have an emotional element and craft is supposed to be without emotion, but that seems crazy to me. Yes, there is some sense of shutting my brain off and using muscle memory to do macramé or candle making, but when even when I was folding flowers for my centerpiece book vases, there was emotion behind the act. Maybe writing is an art, if this is the definition we're going off. Maybe scrapbooking is an art form too because there is a lot of emotion in putting those together. Reliving the memories and displaying them with careful intent.

I'm still having a hard time thinking of my stories as art though. Maybe there's an inherent objection because of my own self-esteem and personal lack of credits. Yet I think about other books too, and I know there are some I wouldn't consider "art." From beach reads, to Dad lit, and even some of the classics. There is value in all of them. There is craft and dedication, but I don't know if there's art. And if it is all art, does my writing really stand a chance against some of the other author's out there? I'm not writing about big A, art, type things. My stories are smaller, cozier, and focus on character over anything else.

One book that gives my writing hope is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Don't get me wrong. I don't think about this book because of some false pride that "I could write this." Little Women is a masterpiece and has become a classic for a reason. The reason why Ms. Alcott's book gives my writing hope is that it talks about the same things my writing does, and the truth of those characters shines through in the simple language she uses. My writing isn't particularly lyrical. While I have a good turn of phrase from time to time, I write fairly straightforwardly. My audience is meant to be people like me, who might enjoy something high-brow, but generally live in the world of the middle class. I write about family– real, struggling families. When I read Little Women and see Amy burn Jo's book, I feel that intense drama coming from some fairly low stakes. Yes, it's the worst possible thing that Amy could do, but in the grand scheme, everyone is alive (for now) and Jo writes something else. This book is almost plain by some standards, and yet, it pulls me back time and time again because of the characters. Louisa May Alcott's writing isn't art when compared to some, but she is a master of her craft. Her book has withstood the test of time and continues to speak to new audiences year after year.

In my own writing, I aim to be a master of my craft. Even then, I know I'll still be growing and learning with each new story written. That's the nature of crafting, you're always moving on to the next challenge. Maybe this is true of art as well. It's a constantly moving goalpost with new techniques and mediums to try. I took a watercolor class recently and found a lot of joy in the process though my results were nothing impressive. Maybe if I continue down that path of this traditional art form, I'll find more similarities than I originally thought between art and craft. There are some books that I would consider art, and yet I cannot come up with what rubric I'm basing that on. Hopefully, as I continue on this path towards publication, and diving deeper into editing my novels and writing more, I'll have more grace for my own writing and therefore have more graces for all literature. Once I get out of my own way, I might be able to see the art in writing more clearly.

Pages from my wedding scrapbook

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