Sunday, September 12, 2010

What Is A Beadwork Master?

I've been chatting with a few of my friends about what it means to be a "Master" at beadwork. I thought I'd take a look at this and ask you to include your thoughts as well!

In trying to define what it means to be a "Master", first one has to decide just what the term "Master" means. I found these definitions in a Google search. I've highlighted (what I think are) the relevant definitions for beadweavers:
  • maestro: an artist of consummate skill; "a master of the violin"; "one of the old masters"
  • overlord: a person who has general authority over others
  • victor: a combatant who is able to defeat rivals
  • directs the work of others
  • headmaster: presiding officer of a school
  • an original creation from which copies can be made
  • be or become completely proficient or skilled in
  • an officer who is licensed to command a merchant ship
  • overcome: get on top of; deal with successfully; "He overcame his shyness"
  • someone who holds a master's degree from academic institution
  • dominate: have dominance or the power to defeat over; "The methods can master the problems"
  • an authority qualified to teach apprentices
  • have a firm understanding or knowledge of
  • passkey: key that secures entrance everywhere
Let's take these definitions one by one and see how they might apply to beadwork...

#1. A maestro, an artist of consummate skill: How do we know if a person who does beadwork is an "artist of consummate skill"? My first guess is to consider entry into a juried exhibit or competition. Since these venues are juried by one's peers (often one or more highly esteemed peers), it seems reasonable to accept a definition of a Master as one who has been accepted. If that venue is national, I think this makes a stronger case. If the artist wins an award in that venue, it's an even stronger indication that this person possesses the skills to be called a "Master" (note that one definition further defines a "Master" as victor: a combatant who is able to defeat rivals - which would happen if a person received an award in a juried competition). A second definition might be an artist whose work is held in high regard by a recognized group of peers. A third definition might be acceptance into a publication that features work of artists at a similar mastery level.

#2. Directs the work of others: This would be true in a variety of cases. At first glance, one might think "teacher" and I would agree. But this would exclude an important group of people who write books or create patterns, particularly if that media includes instruction in weaving techniques. And while anyone can write a book or create a pattern, not everyone can successfully sell or publish them. So I would suggest that anyone who has published a written work that encompasses techniques used in beadweaving, in addition to or in place of teaching, might be a "Master".

#3. An original from which copies can be made: This refers specifically to a piece of work that can be reproduced. I think that this definition is a little too broad for our purposes. Anyone who creates a novel piece of beadwork is technically creating a "Master" from which copies can be made. I don't believe this makes a person a "Master" at beadwork. Another definition might be creation of a "Masterpiece" and this certainly might make him/her a "Master". But how do we define what constitutes a masterpiece? I would defer to the discussion in #1 and note that it's as difficult (& subjective)  to answer as "What is Art?".

#4. Be or become completely proficient or skilled in: I would agree with this! If you can weave all of the major stitches in all of the forms (flat, tubular, circular, dimensional, and embroidery) and be able to move between various stitches, I would say you are a "Master". Oh, and have the work look neat too (very important!). But this may only be a part of what makes a "Master"...Some great artists work in a limited number of techniques, and they are certainly "Masters"so perhaps another view might be artists who have perfected their skills in their medium.  And what about color and composition? We might want to include this one too!

#5: Someone who holds a Masters degree from an academic institution: In the art world this would be a Masters of Fine Art (MFA). While one can't receive an MFA specifically for beadwork, the major topic of study could be beadwork - although there are few who have done this (Liza Lou, for example, reportedly dropped out of the College of Fine Arts in San Francisco because her professors would not support her interest in beadwork). 

#6. An authority qualified to teach apprentices: See #2. This could also be defined as a person who has been accepted as a teacher at a beading venue, such as a bead store, a school, a college, a retreat, or a conference/convention/festival. It doesn't mean that all teachers are necessarily "Masters" but it's a good start.

#7. Have a firm understanding or knowledge of: See #4. This might also include someone who studies beadwork but does not necessarily weave beads, as a collector might do (although we might call that person an "Expert" instead).

How many of these characteristics must one possess to be a "Master"? Is one sufficient or is more than one required? Perhaps none are required if what you do, you do it well! Have I left anything out? What do you think?

In Print:
To see great Masters of Beadwork at work, check out these following publications:
And don't miss Lark Book's Masters Series of Beadweaving artists!

On the Web:
Bead Arts Awards (you'll have to google this one!)

Need To Know:
In Japan, there is a specific definition of what it means to be a "Master" at beadwork. Anyone know what it takes? If so, please comment! If I'm wrong, please comment!
And if you have any links to share, please share them!