Beading as an Art Form

Enter to win a copy of The New Beadwork!

In my recent discussions about beading, art, and marketing, the old art versus craft distinction came up again. I’ve had in depth discussions, several hours long on this debate with my friend, Diane Gilleland. We discuss bead art and fiber art and point to all these amazing examples of work we’ve seen. I always end up deciding that the lines have been blurred between art and craft. You can label yourself whatever feels right to you, or you can say to heck with labels altogether. I like to call myself a bead artist. Some have decided what they create is “wearable art” or “bead paintings,” and it makes me happy to think about how much we’ve progressed as a community.

I think one of my gifts is being able to see the inner artist in others, even if they don’t see it in themselves. If you’re using a pattern as a guide, but change the colors, develop a cool closure, or add or subtract elements to make it your own, that’s art, too. Always give credit where credit is due, of course. My friend Denise took a bracelet class at a retreat, but she didn’t like the metal findings. She created a beaded toggle clasp with the same beads as the project so it would flow better in her eye. She’s a bead artist in my eye. Elevate beading to art in your own way. For further discussion, see Kirstie Beaven’s article “When is a craft an art?” (Thanks, Sue!)

"Monarch Wrist Corsage" by Erin Simonetti

Bead Art has been around thousands of years, as I learned from Lois Dubin. There are beautiful examples of bead art from American Indians and the Maasai in eastern Africa. I feel we came to a point where beading was considered by most to be a craft, when along comes the book The New Beadwork showing exciting and progressive ideas in bead art. NanC Meinhardt referred me to this book, and the work in it is still relevant for today.

So, I decided to giveaway a copy of The New Beadwork to someone who shares their thoughts in the comments below. See the yellow box for details, and I’m excited to read what you write!

Enter the Giveaway: To enter, leave a comment below and share your thoughts on beading as an art form. Be sure to fill out the email box when you comment so I can contact you. A winner will be announced Thursday, October 20th. Good luck!

Update: The winner of the copy of “New Beadwork” is…Karen/kshan2000!! Congrats and keep an eye out for my email so I can get the book to you. Thank you so much to everyone who entered and left comments. It was amazing to read each one. I think as a group we are ahead of some in the crafty community because they aren’t ready to call what they do art. I was thrilled to read all the strong convictions that beading is an artform!

{ 36 comments… add one }
  • avatar Karen Firnberg October 13, 2011, 11:56 am

    Art vs. Craft is the age old discussion. I personally think it is all relative. If you have no experience with a medium, you may look at it and proclaim it a beautiful piece of art (or, conversely, a pile of junk). But, the person who made it, (possibly a hundred years or more in the past), considered it craft, at the time it was made. I find so many “crafts” to be exquisite. I, personally, consider them objects of art.

  • avatar Sue Dahlkamp October 13, 2011, 11:57 am

    It always amazes me what people can do with beads. It is truly a form of art on many levels.

  • avatar Linda October 13, 2011, 12:01 pm

    I have been beading off and on for over 20 years. I am trying to learn how to bead as an art using native inspiration as my start. I recently discovered that one of my great-greats married a Cheyenn princess. This has given me even more of a purpose. I purchase your magazine as often as I can and have always found inspiration.

  • avatar Mandi Ainsworth October 13, 2011, 12:12 pm

    Linda, I’m so glad you found a personal inspiration!! I have to let you know though, I don’t have a magazine. It’s just me in my home studio giving this out to the world. : )

    Karen and Sue, thank you so much for your comments!

  • avatar Jacqueline Davis October 13, 2011, 12:19 pm

    The lines have, indeed, blurred. In my opinion – the bead artist crafts their art pieces, using beads!

  • avatar Mandi Ainsworth October 13, 2011, 12:22 pm

    I like that sentiment Jacqueline, thanks for sharing!

  • avatar Shelia Vinson October 13, 2011, 12:34 pm

    I have been beading for over 20 years and I have always considered it to be Art. The beauty that can and has been created with beads can only be called art.

  • avatar Rose Anne October 13, 2011, 12:46 pm

    Art, to me, is in the eye of the creator. I know that is opposite of what is commonly quoted, but the artist has the vision first, then creates it for themselves. A true artist does not create for the sake of a sale or admiration of others, but to fulfill the need to convey feelings. Validation after the fact is wonderful, however!

  • avatar Mandi Ainsworth October 13, 2011, 12:46 pm

    It’s awesome to see you stand strong in your conviction, Shelia! Thanks for your comment.

  • avatar Astrid Newcomb October 13, 2011, 12:50 pm

    I agree that the lines are definitely blurred. One can do a craft project, copying someone’s pattern or instructions to make something pretty. But any time you create something new you really are creating art.

  • avatar gilly utting October 13, 2011, 1:31 pm

    Your own inspiration shows a great deal more tha just being a slavish copier..Do not ever doubt your own skill. We have it naturally ,but it takes a clever person to use it well. Beaders Unitethis is my rallying call.

  • avatar Sharon Rebecca Lowery October 13, 2011, 1:54 pm

    I think it is all in how you look at it. I feel that art evokes a feeling – portrays a time in space. Craft is a verb – it is the action taken to create the art.
    Do we ever really create something new? Inspiration comes from things already produced by God or man.
    Just as rock carving to form a statue to painting a masterpiece to weaving a tapestry to beadwork, each piece is a work of art, a craft that was learned. Some just take more pride in their work than others just as they take a different road as others. No need to argue over little things. If you enjoy it and it makes you happy, you can call it just that – enjoyment!

    Very beautiful pieces!

  • avatar Pam October 13, 2011, 1:58 pm

    I think overall art is in the eye of the beholder. After we craft something out of beads, the person viewing it decides if it is art. I don’t see craft as a negative term. To craft something is to make with skill. The beauty that results–that is the art. Beaders are artists and craft persons.

  • avatar Mary October 13, 2011, 1:58 pm

    The lines can be blurred, but in my opinion it’s a work of art. If my 6 year old daughter makes a braclet from beads, she treasures it just like a piece of art (and, of course, her proud momma agrees). I don’t think anyone can look at the necklace above and not call it art! I have also always thought that Indian pieces were artful as well as useful.

  • avatar Kathy Mitchell October 13, 2011, 2:08 pm

    I’ve been thinking about ‘art vs. craft’ for a long time, too. To me, it’s more about the maker’s attitude or approach than her materials. When I’m making art, I don’t know exactly where I’m going – I have a vision, but there’s a sense of wonder, of being highly attuned to the interaction between the materials and my ideas. If I’m surprised by the outcome, I usually figure I’m onto something!

  • avatar Eva October 13, 2011, 2:17 pm

    Definitely beading is an art form. I believe there are beading artist. Whose talents are equal to and sometime surpass the proclaimed painting artist. There are beading artist, then a person like me who is a beader.

  • avatar Sandra October 13, 2011, 2:25 pm

    I believe an artist simply is. They create because they feel a need to, not because it is a hobby to fill time or that it can earn them $$$ or praise.

  • avatar Karen October 13, 2011, 2:27 pm

    When I started beading I had no illusions that I would turn out art, but as I grow and learn I find even my pieces are truly art forms. I am encouraged when others compliment or laud over my pieces. I so appreciate the beaded jewelry or clothing in museums and am amazed at how long it’s been around. As beaders we are part of a centuries old art form that expresses our individuality and creativity.

  • avatar Ruth October 13, 2011, 3:11 pm

    I feel beading is an art as well as painting and sculpting.It is all creating and who are we to say it is not an art. I have seen ugly paintings, sculpture and beading, but that does not make it any less an art.

  • avatar Janet October 13, 2011, 3:12 pm

    I know this is an age-old discussion, but in my opinion art = craft = art. Picasso said, “Art is not a thing, it is a way.” I agree with Pablo.

  • avatar Tara October 13, 2011, 3:19 pm

    Beading is both a craft and an art form. Although many may only “craft” with beads, there are many talented artists who have worked with the medium to not only design items that crafters can follow, but they have also used beads to produce works of art which are on par with any other more “traditional” form of art.

  • avatar Dorothy October 13, 2011, 3:23 pm

    I personally believe there are no boundaries to art… From one of the “Old Masters,” to an artist who uses a torch and glass, or one who creates a beautiful bracelet like the one above on this page, to a writer who produces the great novel, to a designer who produces the sleek lines of a racing car, to the chef who creates a dish that inspires bliss in the eater… they’re all artists… they’re all using creative abilities deserve recognition of the great art that comes from those abilities.

  • avatar Sally Anderson October 13, 2011, 3:29 pm

    I used to think that I was “just” a crafter and not an artist. Then I realized that I was putting myself down for that. The point is that I craft (or create) things. And I think that is a definition of art.

  • avatar Misty October 13, 2011, 4:38 pm

    I think the lines are very blurry between the two. I grew up with an artist (my mom) and everything was something crafty or artsy….. I do believe when you can take something and make it your own OR create something new, it is always art! and it doesn’t matter the age or medium 😀

  • avatar Amanda October 13, 2011, 5:19 pm

    I think the art vs. craft debate has two main parts to look at to qualify as either: the people creating and the people they are appealing to. If I am doing anything just for kicks, enjoyment, and because it’s ‘pretty’ – not taking it dead seriously I tend to think of myself as a Crafter. However if I dive headlong into something, do a lot of research, come up with my own special hook, and look at the things I create as an expression of some internal vision or emotion then I am totally an Artist.

    If I were making something for Ma’maw to match an outfit for some function I would be crafting. If I were making something to be put on display as a representation of (beading currently) my field of creativity, to bring attention to it, then I would be an artist.

    In the end I think it is a very subjective question, with no single answer.

  • avatar KipperCat October 13, 2011, 7:11 pm

    Awhile back I gave this matter a lot of thought, and read the thoughts of several people. To me, craft involves the use of tools and materials to create something. Whether it’s art photography or school pictures, one uses a camera, film and light to make a picture. In either case, the lighting, focus, exposure, etc. have to be right.

    The school pictures require a one time set-up, and then can be repeated for each student. Art photography requires more interaction between the artist and subject. The motivation and vision are very individual, and the resulting work comes from the soul of the artist.

    I don’t meant to imply that only great art qualifies as art. Personally I think art is worth making, whether or not the vision and execution are remarkable. I also believe that you can’t have great art without great craft. A marvelous artistic vision will never make up for sloppy technique.

  • avatar sue charette-hood October 13, 2011, 7:27 pm

    I call myself an artist. When working with my tools, beads, etc. I am in a happy place. I have been quite successful as an instructor and have been told it is my enthusiasm & love for my art that shines through to my students. The word “artist” fits what I am much better than “crafter”. Thanks for asking Mandi

  • avatar Suze October 14, 2011, 4:58 am

    I wish the world could get away from labeling everything. Unfortunately, this is a human trait that is not going away anytime soon. Having said that, I think that it is up to the individual to only accept the label that they are the most comfortable owning. I Know as many “Craftspeople” who are uncomfortable with the “Artist” label as the opposite. I think the problem is more in the definitions and things can get ugly when the assumption is made that one is lesser or greater than the other. For me, I would describe what I do as Art (the final product) that is produced through Crafting (the process).

  • avatar Robbie Payne October 14, 2011, 4:21 pm

    I incorporate beading designs into my quilted backgrounds…so I defintely feel beading is an art form! Thanks so much!

  • avatar Janice October 15, 2011, 3:18 am

    I believe that art comes from your heart. Creating with beads is such a pleasure when you see the finished item no matter what it is..

  • avatar Melody October 15, 2011, 5:00 am

    I think beading is an art.It also relaxes me

  • avatar Karen October 15, 2011, 8:14 am

    Beading is art. Look at the wonderful items made with beads: jewelry, pottery, clothing, tapestries. Such talent is art, no matter what the end product.

  • avatar Glenda October 15, 2011, 5:29 pm

    I believe beading is an art. It is very similar to painting… colors, schemes, designs, perspective. I agree with Janice that it comes from the heart. And I don’t think it has to be an original to be art. I use patterns off the internet for my bead work, and pictures from the net. The love and heart that I put into it makes it art. I am just learning how to really stitch the different bead weaving stitches and find it easier to follow a tried and true pattern than trying to come up with one of my own. I do use my own colors, clasps and such, so they are different. I also give credit to the designer when due. But I don’t think of it as any less art just because it isn’t my own design. I do look forward to one day designing my own jewelry and art!

  • avatar Candi October 17, 2011, 8:17 am

    I think beading is like any other art form. In the hands of someone who knows what thety are doing it is a wonder and a beauty to behold. I also believe that anyone can learn the basics and make something that is great and speaks to them on a different level.

  • avatar Vanessa October 19, 2011, 4:08 pm

    Beading is an art form. It allows you to express your style and view of the world in so many different ways.

  • avatar Debi October 20, 2011, 3:29 pm

    Art is to create…to “craft” something that evokes
    Emotion. This emotion may be pleasant, happy, inspiring…or it may be sad, angry, frustrated….whatever that emotion, it still is Art convaying it. The Craft is how the Art is produced. I have been an Artist in my heart, all
    My life…I discovered beading as a new form of crafting my art over 10 years ago and never looked back! Love your site Mandi!

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