Crafting Capitalism

Crafting Capitalism

By: Oliviah Brown

February 28th, 2023

It wouldn’t be unusual to hear the phrase, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” That is debatable, but the fact of the matter is that some people have found a way to do just that. Artists and crafters have been using their skills to earn money for centuries. Today is no different as more and more small businesses are created to allow artists to reap the financial rewards of their hard work and dedication to their craft. 

The question is, does art change meaning when it’s turned into a business? 

The definition of art is something that not everyone can agree upon, but Britannica describes it as  “a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination.” The dictionary further states,, “[t]he term art encompasses diverse media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, decorative arts, photography and installation.”

These skills, amongst many others, are activities that a person can do at home during their leisure time for enjoyment—a hobby. They’re seen as expressions of one’s own emotions that can be shared with the world or just for the artist themselves to use as a creative outlet.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people found themselves having additional time to do what they love. By doing so, it opened doors for new businesses to pop up online to sell the things that are being created. Etsy, an online platform for buying and selling handmade crafts, saw an increase of 74% in sellers from 2020 to 2021, with 7.5 million active sellers. 

With business flourishing for sellers, one can only question whether or not selling their creations actually harms the creativity and enjoyment of making art. 

“I learned how to crochet as a child from my mom. I always enjoyed crafts and making things,” said Barbara, a small business owner. Barbara began her small business “OffTheHookByBarbara” two years ago in 2020 by selling crocheted blankets on Etsy. “I’m a perfectionist with my projects, so sometimes the pressure is a little different when someone is paying money for my blankets.” 

When asked whether she still enjoyed crocheting as much now as she did when she was doing so as a hobby, Barbara responded, “I still love crocheting. I’m still amazed that so many people love what I do.” There is always the sense of pride when someone enjoys your work, of course, and this sense of pride could be the thing that makes the pressure worthwhile. 

However, not everyone shares the view of Barbara when it comes to crafting as a means of financial gain. On the other side of the fence, in a Vox article, Marian Bull claims she began seeing her hobbies as something entirely different than when she started. From beginning a hobby in pottery to selling mugs and other ceramic work online, Bull found that today’s society  pushes people to turn hobbies into something profitable. She said, 

“The swiftness with which modern craftspeople can and do monetize their hobbies is, of course, not a surprise. Traditional careers are crumbling, and side hustles are fetishized; Instagram has turned marketing into a basic skill we’re all expected to have. It’s easier to sell the crap you make in your spare time, and you’re more likely to need the money than you might have been a few decades ago, when you could have just foisted it all on your friends. This all risks turning hobbies into even more of an illusion, a mirage of leisure that quickly turns to obligation.”

Bull also noted, “I can no longer call ceramics my hobby, and I doubt I ever will. I assume I will sell my work until people stop buying it, both out of necessity and because it does bring me joy to make a silly little thing that someone will incorporate into the tableau of their home.”

Maybe the idea of using art as a form of self-expression, enjoyment and love can’t always be overshadowed by the bounds of business. Art is subjective, a means of enjoyment. And, as humans always find ways to do, people can find the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and recognize the joy in the little things.

And as there are two sides to every coin, there are two sides to every experience. For artists like Barbara and Bull, two artists with a desire to create, there continues to be enjoyment in crafting despite the pressures of entrepreneurship. So the question of whether or not art changes when becoming a form of business is answered in many ways by a variety of people. 

Oliviah Brown is a 5th year senior double-majoring in English and professional writing, and minoring in digital humanities. Her aspirations are to use her studies to pursue a career in editing. When she’s not studying, she is usually reading or figuring out new recipes to bake.