What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

I recently attended Jumpstart, a conference about children’s book publishing. A new trend in children book publishing in India, has been, the inclusion of tribal art. At the conference there was an entire section devoted to the art of storytelling or kahani, where several tribal artists were asked to speak about their craft.

As someone new to the world of craft, I am often confused about the distinctions of terms such as artisan, crafts-person and artist. For instance, I consider myself a designer as well as an artist. Where are the boundaries and do they matter?

While addressing one of the tribal people who were attending the show, I used the word artisan. I was reprimanded by the main presenter for that segment of the conference, for using such a term for a fine artist — a person who in his view could be compared to any contemporary Indian artist today. He might be right, but the point still remains is this distinction that important? If one uses the wrong terminology but gives respect and treats them on equal ground isn’t that more important? How do you ‘judge’ a person you’ve never met nor seen their work without offending them?

Additionally, who decided when an artisan becomes an artist or a designer and is it that important in the scheme of things?

Sajnuben, the Rabari artisan I recently worked with in Kachchh could be also considered an artist or a designer since she’s breaking the traditional mould. Where does this leave us? How important really is terminology at the end of the day?

7 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

Add yours

  1. The definition of the words “artisan” and “artist” suggests an intellectual superiority in being an artist. And of course, everyone likes their intellect and vision recognised to distinguish themselves from the pack 🙂

    Artisan: An artisan or artizan (from Italian: artigiano) or craftsman (craftsperson)[1] is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewellery, household items, and tools or even machines such as the handmade devices of a watchmaker. An artisan is therefore a person engaged in or occupied by the practice of a craft, who may through experience and talent reach the expressive levels of an art in their work and what they create.

    Artist: Artists create from the point of view of imposing their vision on to the materials. They may make things that can be used but the work is one of creativity.

  2. Actually, here’s a definition of artisan I found that makes the distinction clear:

    Artisans create objects with a sense of utility; they are carpenters or potters who make goods for a variety of people. Their work can have beauty or artistic merit. Whereas, Artists create from the point of view of imposing their vision on to the materials. They may make things that can be used but the work is one of creativity.

    1. Farzana, this may be the case as per the dictionary definition. In reality, these boundaries are blurring. In the west, artisanal is considered high-quality. For instance, Artisanal bread. Its respected and valued. An artisan is also sometimes a designer or a creator. I think these are all terms that are of no use, the main idea is to respect fellow creators and learn from them.

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