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The Importance of Reclaiming the Lost Arts
Creating at the Intersection of Function, Meaning, & Beauty
Humans have been making for ages for a variety of reasons – from function and utility to ritual and meaning to aesthetics and beauty. We have hands for a reason. It’s time we put them to work and reclaim all the ways we can be makers and creators. It’s time we reclaim the lost arts.
My art is undergoing another inner transformation. As I do this work myself – questioning how we define things in modernity, I am questioning how I define my art as my sacred work.
Before we had creativity, we had art. Before we had art, as we define it today, we had making. Humans are natural born makers and creators. We used to have to make the things we wanted or needed ourselves. These are the lost arts – the practices of making and creation and self-sufficiency that have been reassigned in our modern world.
So many of us have had our art taken from us. Our creativity taken from us. For many of us who dreamed of being a working artist or a creative, we had that dream yanked out from under us, told we’re destined to starve if we become an artist. For those of you who don’t consider yourself creative, that too has been robbed from you as you may have been led to believe you’re not creative if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
For those of us with creative dreams, we are reclaiming our lost art when we reclaim our dream of pursuing work or a career as an artist or creative. Yet we can all reclaim the lost arts when we reclaim the way of life of making things as human beings, rethinking what it means to be creative into what it means to be a creator and what it means to make with our hands.
So as I rethink my art and my sacred work, I expand it to move beyond the traditional idea of what a working artist is, the cookie-cutter image of displaying fine art canvases for sale in a gallery, and into all the ways I am naturally a maker and creator.
You see, making was a way of life for humans until corporations took over the task. Before we relied on entities to provide for us, we had to do it ourselves. Provide for ourselves, food and preparation of that food, the making of clothing and other homegoods, medicine and healing, as well as bartering and trading with neighbors or seeking out tradespeople for specialized goods and services. All humans had their hands in making, or they wouldn’t survive.
To make was to live. To live was to make.
Take a seat around the hearth, smoke billowing up and out, the warmth of flame, the scent of earth
Now, we are reliant on others to do it for us. Not only that, but in being overtaken by large companies, the production of goods has lost meaning. The accumulation of goods has lost meaning. The care of making and having goods has been lost. The knowledge of how to do it ourselves has been lost.
Anytime we remove ourselves from connection to making or sourcing goods and materials, we remove the meaning and care of those items. We lack that connection because we aren’t involved in the process of making or obtaining it. These items may become more disposable, less cared for, and more easily tossed away. There’s greater respect and preciousness to what we make or source ourselves.
When we choose to reclaim the lost arts, relearn the traditional and folk arts, and do it ourselves, we can reclaim the meaning in making, surround ourselves with more meaningful goods, and relearn what it means to truly care for our things, and in turn, ourselves.
In these modern days, as we’ve reserved making for companies and working creatives, we’ve made making and creativity into something that is done for money, yet there are so many more reasons to make, to create.
One hand grabs a stone, fashioned into icy tool, the other on hide, cool, scraping back and scraping forth
We can make the things we use every day. We can make our food, growing, raising, harvesting, and then preparing it ourselves. We can make our clothing, or at the very least, mend it when it becomes damaged. We can make tools, furniture, baskets, blankets, textiles, medicines, and more. Build our own homes and structures, build our own fires for heating and cooking.
We can make to honor transitions and rites of passage or for use in or as part of ritual. As those of us who have been gifted items at various life stages, such as a handmade wedding gift or a knitted or quilted blanket for the birth of a child. We can create to honor these moments in life, either for ourselves or as a gift to another. If you ritualize these moments, you can include making an object or art in the ritual to mark the occasion. You can make your own items for everyday rituals, as you see me making the drum in this video, make your own candles (from local beeswax), or gather and bundle your own smoke cleansing bundles.
And finally, we can make in the way we most often think of creating – the thing most of us believe we lack, and that is making for aesthetics, creating beauty. Home decor is a hot DIY movement, often following trends. We can deepen in this by making things that buck the trends and reflect our true selves, the beauty we want to surround ourselves with. We can rethink what beauty is for ourselves. We are our biggest critics, and often what we create is more beautiful than we give ourselves credit for. More than that, we can hold closer to our hearts our own creations, the process of making them, our own unique vision for them, than items we purchase from a big box store. When we decorate our home with things we make ourselves, we truly are making a home.
We can take making a step further, making in ways that honor our family, our ancestors, the land. We can look to family, folk, and ancestral traditions and ways of making. Whether it be a family recipe passed down, customs for honoring the holiday season, learning traditions of our ancestors, and honoring the land we live on.
Working over and over again, a beautiful symphony, in our bodies, a maker, our hands remember
We can move beyond our modern materials, mediums, and surfaces. Many of the materials we work with today are highly processed, coming from a company’s factory line and made with modern, artificial ingredients. It’s great for ease of accessibility and variety, but again, it lacks the depth of meaning and connection. Instead, we can choose to use local and natural materials, whether sourced ourselves or obtained from small artisans.
Part of reclaiming the lost arts is to learn the full process of creating the things we choose to make, looking to traditional materials and methods, ancient processes, and expanding the full capacity of our human nature as makers. We can still choose to buy some materials, maybe selecting more natural, more responsibly made items, but learning the full process of creation and choosing which ones bring the most meaning to our making or best fit into our lifestyle and what we have access to.
Reclaiming the lost arts is to reclaim our human nature as makers and creators. When we choose to create, we remember what it means to be human, to work with our hands. We remember the ways of those who came before us and connect to the thread of humanity. We not only reclaim our self-sufficiency but the conscious care of making and living on this earth. And we create a whole process of living, a way of life, a lifestyle, that runs deeper than our modern ways of living.
We weren’t given hands to sit at a computer, typing away, or behind the wheel of a car. It’s certainly allowed us to achieve that, but for far longer have humans found greater purpose with our hands. And our hands remember.
The meaning is what we make it, in our minds and in our hearts, a thread of time passed, but our purpose not forgot
For me, my sacred work, my sacred art, my lost arts, is no longer about simply making what we traditionally think of as art in this modern day, painted on canvas or printed on goods, but blurring the lines, looking to my own unique vision living in this modern world and drawing from the old ways of making with my hands, finding my own intersection of function, meaning, and beauty.
You don’t have to be naturally creative, make something others think is beautiful, or do paid creative work to be creative. Humans are creators. We are makers at heart. It’s how we have been able to survive. It’s why we have hands. Through the ages, making has been used to not only live, but to bring meaning and beauty into our lives as well. We can reclaim making as a way to find function, meaning, and beauty in our own lives by looking to the old ways of making – the lost arts. Creativity, creation, isn’t what you think it is. It’s what you make it.
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