Sunday, May 11, 2008

Where Do You Draw The Line?

Where is do you draw the line between what is embellishment and art in the Handmade world? A musing on this subject, using Etsy as my jumping off point.

In selling on Etsy I've seen some really incredible, artistic items from inspired artists and artisans, as well as some poorly conceived, and even more poorly executed items.

Under Etsy's Selling FAQs, it reads: "What items can I sell on Etsy? You can sell anything that is handmade or, a bit more loosely put, hand-assembled or hand-altered. For example, screen-printed shirts are OK. A custom-built computer is OK, as long as you're making the case and not buying prefab. Furniture is OK as long as it's nothing mass-produced (yes, you can use power tools to build it). If your human hands put some love into the object, odds are you can sell it on Etsy."

I do especially love the line " If your human hands put some love into the object, odds are you can sell it on Etsy."

Talk about nebulous at its finest :) I'm not very concerned about the selling/buying aspect of this on Etsy, but my concern is more regarding the 'idea of handmade' and what actually constitutes 'handmade', which may or may not be what Etsy is about.

If i were to sew a line of sequins or doodads on to an existing t-shirt, or put rivets or grommets or studs or some squigglies made out of yarn on a pre-made t-shirt, this would be considered 'handmade' on Etsy. Under the Etsy FAQs, if I write a letter... it is considered handmade. If I sew a button on something, it is considered handmade.... if i shear a sheep, card the wool, spin it and needlefelt it into a hat, it is considered handmade, if I use oil paints and do a painting, it is considered handmade, if I take a t-shirt and cut the sleeves off or hotglue a bow to a pair of flip flops, under Etsy's FAQs, it is considered handmade.....but.... there is a bit of difference between these things....don't you think?

Everything that is done with your 'hands' can be considered 'handmade' on Etsy. Are there no other distinctions made by Etsy? Where is the line drawn between 'art' and 'embellishment"? Is all embellishment considered handmade 'art'?

If you are creating a drawing which you are then printing on a base (t-shirt), the 'art' or imo, 'handmade' is the drawing. The t-shirt simply becomes the canvas. To me this is very different than sewing a line of sequins on a t-shirt. no??

There are zillions of things you can do with sequins..... and some of those things I would consider 'embellishment' and some of them would definitely fall under the category of 'art'. I would be very hesitant to place the sewing of a line of sequins on a t-shirt in the same category as someone who has designed something and uses sequins in that design on a t-shirt. ... and to then to throw them both into the same category of 'handmade' ...... kind of makes me feel quesy.

There is/has to be a determining point between 'art' and 'decoration'.... which will of course reflect on what is considered 'handmade'. I'm glad I dont have to make that decision on Etsy, tho if i were making that decision, it would be easy for me....personally.


  1. Etsy is not defining or claiming art. It is only claiming handmade.

  2. my post was meant more to be about definining art and decoration under the header of 'handmade'. etsy tends to draw lines on some 'handmade' things and not others. i was musing about the differences between art and decoration or embellishment and where that stands in the 'handmade' scheme of things. i used etsy as the jumping off point when i started thinking about it.

  3. I think you have written a very thoughtful post. It's a good question. Maybe it is time for etsy to define this gray area better, and create two separate categories.

  4. thank you victoria.... i really wonder what the two categories would be though.....

  5. Yep, yep. It's back to the old feud between art and craft. Some craft is art, and some is not. And, that doesn't even distinguish between "good" and "bad" art or craft.

    I have felt strange about how Etsy defines everything that is not "handmade" by the artist as commercial. If I sell a handmade vintage quilt made by someone else, that is considered commercial, when to me, a silk screened t-shirt would fit that definition more appropriately.

    Language is powerful, but has become so diluted that it is meaningless in many cases. Thanks for your post! It's a good discussion point.