Chapter 2: Craft, Design and Art


How to Make Your Creative Dreams a Reality:
Strategies to Cultivate Your Talent

Chapter 2
Craft, Design, Art


Once you begin to produce and experience a modest amount of success namely through finished work, set aside time to experiment. This is the main way you will advance your aesthetic. It’s difficult for people starting out in any field – whether it’s art, music, writing, or whatever – to take time away from what’s familiar. It can be a financial gamble, especially when the market is influencing the results of your creative effort. 

This can be a very challenging dilemma, when you begin to experience some success in the marketplace, because your mind will be telling you to keep at “what works.” 

But experimentation is the lifeblood of art. 

I specifically cited “art” for this reason: There is craftdesign, and art.  These categories involve motivation toward different objectives. 

The goal of craftis to advance your skills, enabling you to execute quality work that is dictated by instruction.  The quality of the work can be calibrated by comparison to the past.  

Design is mostly about meeting the needs of the marketplace, a process in which you attempt to enhance the function, attractiveness, and economy of function.

Art, however, is where you explore fresh concepts and imagery, building on the new for the sake of the new. 

How do I measure excellence in craft, design, and art? Each category has its own criteria. As mentioned above, the success of craft is often measured by the quality of the effort. Design is mainly calibrated by success in the marketplace. But art is measured and celebrated on a personal level – you decide. 

This is not to minimize the value of good craft and good design, which can rise above these generalizations into an artistic realm. 

But in the way I use the word “art” I am referring to an intimate process in which you are learning from the work, and your innovative decisions are based on your creative efforts – the results of your experimentation. 

In my case, experimentation has made me more aware of the intricacies of nature and allows me to express those nuances of forwarding motion on an artistic, personal level. For about twenty years I worked and studied to interpret the plant kingdom with a truth to the botanical characteristics of a flowering plant. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. But when I moved beyond the representational mindset and started to present nature in a referential way. This led to more experimental efforts. I became inspired by the fresh results as the process was teaching me how to be more innovative. 

What I mean by referential can be illustrated by the figures that I refer to as “root people”: They are small human forms that for the most part I tuck into the root system in my floral designs, a development that nurtured my referential body of work. 

The figures became suggestive of myth, my idea was to suggest an unseen world. 

Oddly enough, as my work became more referential it reflected more detail and in some cases was interpreted by me and by the viewer as more “realistic” than when I actually tried for realism. I knew which details evoked a depth of feeling in me, and because of this, I felt more creative. Consequently, the work attracted a growing audience. 

This evolved as I felt more comfortable making the work personal. I didn’t have the limitations of the botanical parameters I had imposed on myself earlier in my career. 

I’ve destroyed a lot of the experimental works that led me through the process of turning craft and design into art. In 2006 I shattered hundreds of test pieces, experiments, studies, and “failed” efforts – a category I will more closely define. 

Now, at age 76 I am editing material clutter out of my studio. I realize that I or my family will have to cope with the stuff that was always very important to me. But in fact, at this stage of the game, I know that my attachments are largely sentimental. 

I don’t want objects to have value because I made them; I want them to have value because they are complete. Experiments, by their nature, are never completed. 

Let me reinforce the idea that even though what I destroyed were technically failures, they were successes because I learned from them. 

Thomas Edison was once asked whether he was dismayed by so many failed experiments when he was developing a system of electric illumination. He said that these were not failures; they were small successes. 

While there are different versions of Edison’s quote, the essence of it was captured in an article in Forbes, which cited Edison as saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times…I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”