| 1099 words

So this is going to be another word vomit kind of about art and the creative process. I know I've written a lot about that already, but the nature of maintaining something like this kind of means I spend a disproportionate amount of my time thinking about creativity.

I've been reading a book lately Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and it's been pretty interesting. It's kind of about the process of making art, all the creative and emotional hurdles you need to overcome to make something that's special to you. After all, when you create something you put a piece of yourself into it and that's not always an easy process.

One dichotomy that the book establishes is the difference between art and craft, which I quite liked. Art is the creative process and its output - the sum of all the creative decisions that you make to express yourself and put meaning into your work. A young child feeling angry and scribbling all over the page with bright red ink would be art; they are authentically expressing themselves through their work.

Craft on the other hand is the set of skills and talent it takes to create something aesthetically or technically impressive. Stuff that can take a lifetime of practice to get right, like developing a composer's ear or an artist's eye. Textiles weaved by a robot, which is probably what constitutes the majority of our closets today, represents a high level of craft. Probably much better than even the best artisans were capable of a few hundred years ago.

The key to this distinction is that while you may expect arts and crafts to come as a package, they can be completely orthagonal. In the first example, the angry red scribbles are hardly craft at all since they don't really require much skill to create; however they would be a very pure expression of art, formed from an outpour of raw uncontrollable emotion. Similarly, the robot textiles don't really involve any creativity (aside from perhaps a miniscule amount on the part of the creator of the robot) but they are still some fine craft.

I think there's a danger in confusing these two things, both as a creator and as an audience. The writer who struggles with run on sentences or the painter who can't quite get perspective right still produce excellent art, even if their craft might be slightly lacking. This is a common issue with beginner creators, whose craft isn't yet developed to the point where it can contain the magnitude of what they wish to express. Or, alternatively, people may focus only on developing their craft. Spewing thousands of pretty sounding words without anything really to say.

As a consumer of art it's also good to keep the difference in mind. That something that looks and sounds better isn't necessarily more artistic. Not to demean some people's tastes or subjective preferences, but caring only about quality leads to algorithm optimized AI dredge replacing everything you consume. I don't want to cast a moral judgement on this - you do you! But personally, I'd take the art over the craft any day.

It's also interesting to think about how this applies to what I'm doing. Yes, the goal is to become a better creator. Working on your craft is always important, and doing so let's your work reach more people and is ultimately more satisfying. But you don't want to work on it at the expense of your art. That is, you don't want to always make stuff for the sake of making stuff. Ideally, you make things because you have something you're trying to say.

I suppose that's kind of ironic because what is a word vomit if not writing just for the sake of writing. Except that's the thing, writing hollow nonsense is what I'm trying to move past with this. If I wanted to do that, I could just join a video game review magazine or share my latest political hot takes on some newsletter. The hope is that the content here will contain meaning and value. Maybe less than a more thoughtful, considered post would, but the aggregate if I create 1000 of these will surely have mountains of insight.

Let's get back to the idea of art vs craft. I think it's much more straightforward to think of examples of good craft. Following a recipe to cook the perfect 4 course steak dinner. Throwing a pot that's perfectly symmetrical and smooth. These are all impressive examples of skill, and take years to master.

How about art though? Art occurs when creative decisions are made. When you decide to lighten the shade of green because you like the color, or you speed up your dance because you feel its lacking energy. However, sometimes it's hard to know which decisions are intentional and creative and which are simply due to unavoidable limitations. Did that animation have a low framerate because the technology just isn't there yet to be smooth, like many early disney films? Or did they intentionally do that to capture a certain skechy style, like they did in Spiderverse?

Sometimes there's a phrase about knowing when to follow the rules and when to break them. Following the rules leads to good craft. It's not very creative to tread down the same path as everyone else, but it's arguably the best way to practice. Breaking the rules, however, is what makes art. And that's the key, it has to be a creative decision to do so. Breaking rules unintentionally or without any choice in the matter isn't artistic, it's just a skill limitation. But being able to do anything you want; mastering the skills it takes to go in any direction and then choosing to break the rules anyways? True art.

There are a lot of underrated areas in life where people get to make creative decisions. Cooking is a great one - every decision you get to make is, in a small way, artistic. At first it may seem random but as you get to know your taste and begin choosing your ingredents because you're trying to evoke a certain flavour - there's a little bit of art in that. There's bits of art in lots of what we do. If you search for it then you shall find.