This quote from John Ruskin on page 237 of The Invention of Art by Larry Shiner (2001) inspires me tonight: “It is not the labour that is divided, but the men.” It’s from The Nature of Gothic chapter in The Stones of Venice (1854), a seminal document for the Arts and Crafts movement of the Victorian era.
Essentially anti-industrial, Ruskin here laments the havoc wreaked by the loss of traditional methods of production on the artisan’s psyche. Artisans no longer combine skill and creativity as they formerly did when small shops controlled the entire production line and allowed for pride in the final product, be it a shoe or painting. What eventually became Taylorism in the 1910s, sealed a century long transition from artisan production, when craft and art were indistinguishable, to factory production where artisans were demoted to machine operators, or segregated into the “applied” arts of the design sphere, and artists were flung skyward towards the heavens as genius god-like creators freed from the “utility” of pre-industrial arts to create new things, anxiously almost, rushing to stay in front of a tidal wave of cult of novelty called the avant-garde.
Back to Ruskin- this poor artisan’s psyche suffers from being deprived of the meaning gleaned from the ability to see through producing an object in its entirety. I would say that the artist’s psyche from the new heights of revered stardom, suffers equally in being constrained to produce objects that are only non-useful, or if they are useful, are generally co-opted into a museum fast enough to have only briefly served a function outside of being art.
For that reason, I see the making of wine as a chance to operate with a healthy psyche successfully within a cleaved art world where fine art and craft still struggle in their separate spheres for reconciliation. Making wine is enough of an artistic practice, at least in its appearance as it resemble alchemy, the transformation of a primary material into something complex and mysterious and holds the same luxury status as art and jewelry in the open market, to satisfy my impulse to create as an artist but also satisfy my divided impulse to have my creations be useful, applied and connected to everyday living.
Wine-producing is my defiance of the art world, it’s an art project that can’t be co-opted by a museum and can’t be dismissed as craft or applied art for design. It’s a beautiful limbo in this divided art world. For me, in wine production, craft returns to art, and art to craft.