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What is a knife maker?

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by ARTIST, Feb 17, 2019.

  1. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    "Artisan" is usually what I say when asked. Knifemaking is only one thing I have done, I also made split cane bamboo fly rods for years as well as wood working, leather and fly tying.

    Craftsman is often used as well

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Augus7us

    Augus7us

    687
    Oct 9, 2014
    Good question, something fresh for a change...

    My opinion on this is that you have a slider; one side is art and the other is utility. I am using this analogy because to me every knife has a little of both.

    To better explain my point of view I'll use cars as an example. A new F150 is going to have the slider far to the utility side, little art. Now take a custom built hot rod for our second example and the slider goes far to the art side. Both are cars/vehicles by definition, but the two are going to be viewed very differently.

    The F150 is considerably cheaper, its less a creator's vision and more the product of many people's input and expertise and will also likely be used regularly or even daily. The hot rod on the other hand is going to be more costly, the product of one person or a small team's vision and creativeness and will likely be garaged or kept in a show room most of its life.

    Now for custom knives lets look at a Randall, which is going to have the slider to the utility side; no gold inlay, no gems or damascus. Just a fine working blade and a good looking one to boot. On the other side of the spectrum we can take just about any knife from a personal knifemaking hero of mine, Buster Warenski. His knife will have gold, gems, a stone handle and embellishments everywhere.

    I don't need to explain why the two knives are both very different but are still knives by definition. The same analogy we used with cars applies here.

    How do you adjust the slider for examples that are not so extreme one way? How would we rank a Cashen sword? They are beautiful but anyone who makes knives has probably read his heat treating articles and knows what he puts into making his knives function. Maybe right in the middle?

    In some ways I also think it depends on who your target audience is. Like someone who makes a lot of bird and trout knives and puts more effort into what steel he uses than gold inlay. However its also dependent on what your audience thinks; I have read that Bob Loveless was always annoyed that people were more likely to collect his knives than they were to use them. He probably thought of himself as a craftsman, while his customers mostly viewed him as an artist!

    So this long winded post probably doesn't answer your question, but I do hope it adds to the conversation. For the record not long after I got into knives I realized I wanted to make the knives most would probably consider "art" knives. However, I have more tools than I can keep track of now and a big workshop to help me try and make those "art" knives. Am I craftsman or an artist? Probably neither now, but if I meet my personal goals I think I'd be offended if you didn't consider me both!

    -Clint
     
    ten-six and Brock Cutlery like this.
  3. i4Marc

    i4Marc KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 19, 2011
    There cannot be a single answer. It's kind of an " I know it when I see it" thing. That differs from person to person. I'm sure you've seen examples where some people are saying "OMG that is the most incredible piece of art fill in the blank thing" and you're thinking "what? I don't see it".

    It's like love. Marriage doesn't make love. Being in love isn't marriage. You can love someone and not be in love. How do you know you're in love? You just know.

    I think it's a mixture of things. If you work in a factory making knives....or assembling knives that is not art. The cold repetitive task of taking a part from bin A and a part from bin B putting them together and throwing the assembly into bin C for someone else to add another part or finish is not art. You can be very skilled at forging or grinding, truly masterful at it. But if you are banging out parts to beat the clock it is not art. You need passion. But having passion doesn't make you an artist in and of itself. You also need talent....and skill. Skill can be easier to define than talent. Talent is subjective. I think if you approach what you do, making knives in this case, with passion and care guided by talent and tempered with skill you are an artist....and a craftsman.
     
    Brock Cutlery likes this.
  4. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
    I think your teacher must have been a carpenter as well, he hit the nail squarely on the head.
     
  5. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
    I remember discussing art and the creative aptitude with a local furniture maker. He makes beautiful and original pieces. In our conversation I referred to him as a craftsman. We were talking about the categorys of fine art vs. craft. He responded as if I had insulted him and became a bit defensive. He felt that the word "craftsman" implied an inferiority to an artist and that he was an artist as well. Later as I thot about it, what he didn't understand or doesn't believe (I suppose) is that craftsmen and craftsmanship are special, requireing special aptitudes and qualities of temperament. Not everybody is a craftsman. The ancients held it in much higher esteem. It is true, as the Japanese teacher recognized, there is a difference between art (that, that is concerned with the aesthetic) and trade which I take as another way of saying the "mechanics" or "crafting" which is concerned with the construction of what is typically utilitarian objects. Both art and craft are nonetheless concerned about quality (or should be). My furniture maker friend is not a fine artist, he's a furniture maker. He not only can make something well constructed, he can adorn his medium, ie. wood, in those ways that fits that medium, to beautify it. He can be artistic as well. Nonethelesss, his creations are still practically useful as a chair or table. As a painter of pictures (if I'm any good as an artist) my creations, alas, are only good for looking beautiful or conveying an idea or message. Beauty, symmetry, a coordinated motif in the materials mated to one another to effect the first two are not necessary to a chair or table, or knife for those things to fulfil satisfactorily their intended purpose. My pictures can't slice a steak or skin an elk, nor can you use it to sit on so if it's not aesthetically pleasing, it fails it's purpose. Artists, poets, musicians, etc. "stock in trade" is the aesthetic, the beautiful of spoken ideas or visual ideas. The craftsman is that of utility, which should include quality.
    Can the craftsman have both combined in their work? I think the obvious answer is yes. It's apparent in many custom knives and the fact that certain individuals in the knifemaking world are considered masters ( by their peers) at the beautifying of the "knife" as well as the construction.

    Forgive me if you think I'm making a big deal of nothing. This is, in a sense, is my reaction to the prevailing modern view that everybody is an artist (or a craftsman). If that's true... then nobody is an artist. Talent of a high order is not so cheap and common that everybody posseses it, regardless of the discipline. To excell at either requires at it's basis a mind and an eye for it. The thinking and seeing are, in my opinion, what makes either artist or the craftsman.
     
    i4Marc and Brock Cutlery like this.
  6. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    Money is the great complicator of Art. Most here are artists, but shackled by the $$.
    My experience has been that I can create a decent looking and functioning knife, but I can't get paid very well for it. I've tried to keep mine fairly straightforward, but with some bit of artistic flair.
    That adds complications and time to build. And I guess I make about 8 bucks an hour for my troubles. There are those who break the barrier and actually get paid for their 'flair' added. At least I think that is the case, but I don't know that for sure.
    So I have been thinking a lot lately about whether to venture further into the refinement of my flair or art, or retreating back to strictly function and a decent fit/finish. The creative side of me tends to be pretty satisfied with designing a nice looking and well functioning knife. I think I can hit a sweet spot there and actually be paid a decent wage.

    The knife that folks drool over is outside my reach right now as far as getting paid for my efforts. Is it worth chasing? That is a personal decision.
    So what is a knife maker? If it's about money then quite possibly a fool if he/she can't find that sweet spot.
    If not the $$, then maybe we can be satisfied in the pursuit of the art.
    Art is interesting. I love Robert Frost. I'd pay for that enjoyment to a point. But it is personal. I don't display it or showcase it. I just read it and love it.
    It feeds my soul I guess. That is the function of real art to me.

    I see some of the high art / high $$ knives and some amaze me. Others, meh.. It's a personal thing.
    I am awed by the Solutrean scrappers and knives, some of them anyways. I'd much rather have one of those than some of the high art knives of today.
    To me they represent the high art of the day, but driven by the need for a very functional tool. They were likely never made with any thought to art or flair.
    But who knows. That is my guess based on what seems a more immediate struggle to survive and the need for function. But even then humans made them, so may have been subject to vanity.

    It is interesting to hear everyone's perspective.
     
  7. 007Airman

    007Airman

    380
    Dec 23, 2018
    Everyone is an artist. Every action is an art form, the way we move through life, the way we interact even the way we think is in itself an art form. Humans approach everything as an art and they usually don't even know it because is has become a seamless part of everyday life.
    So a knifemaker is an artist.
     
    Bow Commander and Brock Cutlery like this.
  8. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
     
  9. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    The buyer I think is the decider of art. If I buy your furniture craftsman's chair but I think it is too beautiful to sit in, then I have turned it from functional to contemplative (the beauty of the idea conveyed by the creation). I have destroyed its function in lieu of what I perceive as it's artful beauty. This happens all the time.
    It was said prior that Bob Loveless was upset that his knives might go into a collection and not be used. So one might say he was married to the idea of functionality while his buyers were enamored with the vision, the beauty, and would never risk damaging that to cut up a deer. But Loveless obviously had an eye toward perfect execution of craft, which is an art. The pursuit of perfect execution. That can be a beautiful thing. And then there is the guy who loves the vision of a well crafted tool that works fabulously to cut up that deer. It is still art in his eyes, but very functional. The beauty of excellent function.

    It seems to me that Art is in the eye of the creator and/or the consumer. It is personal, not something one can easily point to objectively.
    Now I am remembering Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
     
  10. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
    It is
     
  11. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
    Actually, that idea is why "art" and "craft" in this day and age is, in my opinion, often not recognized and, or appreciated (notice how I say this, as ART and CRAFTSMANSHIP) nearly as much as in the past. The buyer or the "market" doesn't validate art or craft. They or it only confirm a "taste" or preference. If the knifemaker, as a craftsman, is really "skilled", gifted in that dicipline, do you think the consumer knows craft (or art for that matter) better than the skilled craftsman/artist. Don't consider yourself either if that's what you believe. If the publics opinion is what determines what quality knives and beautiful knives are, then a special aptitude for that is not required to make things that cut. We can design and build machines to do that and mass produce them besides.
    Let me explain it this way. An artist who makes a drawing that is a skilled and accurate copy of a photo demonstrates nothing more than that they are a good copyist. It is true that the most basic skill that an artist must demonstrate, to lay claim to being an artist is to "be able to draw with a high degree of accuracy what they can see". The true artist really is really the photographer though, who saw and recognized the interesting visual design, in whatever the image that he saw, and then, with artistic and technical skill captured it with the camera. The point?? In the art world, alot of technically good paintings/drawings are.considered great art by the buying public because they're good copies of GOOD PHOTOS. This is what the overwhelming majority of the laity, the public considers great art. A painter doesn't have to be creative, original or good designer as far as the art buyer is concerned. So the buyer determines good art??
    How is that relevant to you as a craftsman who makes knives?? Don't trust the tastes of "laymen" to validate your being a gifted craftsman. That is not how it's measured. Objective beauty is not really "in the eye of the beholder" as well as "crafted quality is not in the arbitrary preferences of a collectors market". Creativity and originality are inherent in the nature of the gifted craftsman or artisan but don't necessarily expect either of these in those who don't have those unique aptitudes. And don't expect them, necessarily to recognize either in your work.
    It is true that sometimes, in order to sell, you have to cater to the wims of the market but to someone who is creative by nature, we do it out of necessity, not by preference insofar as it tends to inhibit our desire to express our originality and creativity.
    Don't ever mistake or confuse the preferences of collectors or the market for what is good craftsmanship or good art.
    Yep... it applies to knifemaking as well.
     
  12. Horsewright

    Horsewright KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 4, 2011

    Thank you sir!
     
    i4Marc likes this.
  13. Bow Commander

    Bow Commander Gold Member Gold Member

    74
    Feb 24, 2011
    This +1
     
  14. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
    If everybody is an artist, nobody is. The modern fallacy is that skill, excellence, ability.and aptitude are not necessary to either craft or art, or that everyone has them equally. Whatever we do or whatever we make is art? What do you mean by the word? Not everyone is a brain surgeon nor is everyone a rocket scientist, but everyone is a a craftsman or an artist? Then you as a skilled and able (notice my choice of words) artisan are not unique..
    nor are your skills. In reality, I'm afraid not everyone has those special combination of aptitudes to be an artist or a fine craftsman. That is just axiomatic. It's obvious by all of practical human experience.
    Art and the aesthethic are inseperable. There are those in the art world who believe that a "crucifex in a beaker full of piss is art". Worth tens of thousands. Does that mean that a piece of steel cobbled out with a hacksaw, then roughly ground out on a grinder with scales hacked out by a hand saw are equally as finely and beautifully made as the knives we see talented and gifted knife makers craft?? Everything a human might be able to make will require sme basic skill, but that doesn't make it "well or beautifully made". The "sine qua non" of art is beauty, and of craft it is marked by a higher order of quality. Just because it was made by human hands doesn't elevate it to either category if it has neither of those qualities.
    It seems that modern thought is nothing like the thought of the craftsmen of the past.
     
  15. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    Just because something is called art or even considered art does not mean it is good or liked by everyone.

    "Artist" is like "Cook"

    And there are some shitty cooks out there.
     
    Brock Cutlery, allenkey and 007Airman like this.
  16. 007Airman

    007Airman

    380
    Dec 23, 2018
    Wiktionary defines the noun 'artist' (Singular: artist; Plural: artists) as follows:

    1. A person who creates art.
    2. A person who makes and creates art as an occupation.
    3. A person who is skilled at some activity.
    4. A person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting, etc.
    The Oxford English Dictionary defines the older broad meanings of the term "artist":

    • A learned person or Master of Arts
    • One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry
    • A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice
    • A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic
    • One who makes their craft a fine art
    • One who cultivates one of the fine arts – traditionally the arts presided over by the muse
     
    skillgannon likes this.
  17. A.McPherson

    A.McPherson KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 27, 2012
    So there is this saying in martial arts, I think it’s Japanese, but I’m not sure...

    When you have done a thing a thousand times, you begin to know how to do that thing.

    When you have done a thing a thousand times a thousand, you have begun to master that thing.

    When you have done a thing a thousand times a thousand times a thousand, it is no longer you who does a thing, but that thing does itself through you.

    I think that this is what makes “art”, of ordinary things.
     
  18. ARTIST

    ARTIST

    32
    Feb 13, 2019
    Notice the common denominator in the above definitions. It can be distilled down to a single idea, SKILL.

    It is an axiom... skill and inherent talent are the necessary qualities of craftsmanship and (then), will be demonstrated by the authentic craftsman. Same with the artist. Not everyone is either one.
    The idea of excellence (it is true in the contemporary "fine art" world, just google what is considered as great art in the prestigious galleries of the great centers of art) has been set aside or completely re-defined by us moderns. Excellence, besides skill and talent, is also inextricably related to both craft and art.
    I'm not speaking of "craft" and "art" in general terms or a generic sense of course. It is true that in their basic "radical sense", both include anything made by human hands as opposed to what nature "makes". Does that mean monkeys are equally artists ( it is true that a monkey's painting, surreptitiosly entered in an important art show, won it, much to the chagrin of the critics who had fawned over it until learning what had made that particular "fine piece of art") as well as craftsmen? Here I'll introduce another axiom. Both craft and art of that higher order require "intelligent" creativity as well as " skill" and "talent".
    Would we let our local butcher who claims, because he understands how to use a knife, and that he should be as skilled, knowledgeable and or talented as a brain surgeon, would we let him do surgery on our brain?? Would we believe his sophomoric claim that everybody is a brain surgeon and so, he says, " I am too"?
    It's interesting that artists and craftsmans schools as well as guilds were formed ( even the ancients practiced this) to promote and protect excellence in their discipline. They understood that there is objectivity involved in defining excellence from mediocrity. They weren't irrational to believe that there are no minimum standards to enable them to identify real craft and art from that they would discard as not meriting the title. This is more of a modern American phenomenon, as an attitude, than it is in Europe yet today. At least as it concerns these 2 disciplines.
    Not everyone is an artist, nor is everyone a craftsman. Without objective standards even monkeys can be considered both.
     
  19. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    Sure, but we are not talking about brain surgery a skill determining life or death.

    Thank goodness no one is in charge of determining what "Art" is. That is the fastest way for suppression of expression.

    And thank goodness there are "Artists" in knifemaking that make what some people really enjoy.

    Some knife makers make knives to me look 1/2" finished, and a lot of people like that, thank goodness for them because that way I can direct people who want a knife like that to them.

    I often visit The Getty, Norton Simons Museum, Huntington Library, LACMA and am aghast as well as humbled by what is displayed as "Art" and I would have it no other way.

    Trying to stifle what is or is not art is a futile as what is or is not happiness
     
    Bow Commander likes this.
  20. 007Airman

    007Airman

    380
    Dec 23, 2018
    Humans are living art and we are the artists. Every day people get up and dress themselves in the imagine they chose, what they want others to see, that is art. Humans primp and paint themselves as an artist would so they present themselves as art to others. Humans sculpt themselves into the form they desire and wish other to desire, that is art. The human condition is immersed in that of the artist that is the simple truth. "Artists" try to set themselves apart as exclusive as if they live and breathe art yet they secretly fear that they are no different than everyone else which is the truth. We are living art therefore we are the artists.
     
    Bow Commander and AVigil like this.

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