This article was reprinted from http://www.interestingideas.com/out/craftshow/craftside.htm
This broad swath of activity demonstrates the wide range of the creative spirit, and the creators, from conventional hobbyists to shop-class teenagers to folks trying to put some extra change in their pockets to people for whom crafts represent a sudden and never-repeated burst of activity. Certain common qualities become evident in the best of their output, however, representing a framework for judging the artistic merit of handicraft art:
# Expressive Content
# Formally fascinating
The specific content a maker puts into a creation can result in an object of beauty, or at least an object beautiful in its expression. Hooked rugs and needlepoint commonly convey significant personal meaning. Even in forms as artistically undemanding as bottle-cap figures and sock monkeys, makers add details that are acutely personal, such as decorating a bottle-cap doll with electrical outlets rather than the conventional pair of ashtrays, or sewing nuanced details into the usually simplistic faces of sock monkeys to supply highly distinct personalities.
Button-encrusted bear, from Intuit's Outside the Lines, collection of Lisa Stone and Don HowlettSome objects are appealing because of the memories they evoke. While nostalgia isn't on the aesthetic high road, successful representations of a former time or place can be uncanny. If sock monkeys resonate with childhood for many people, the most interesting ones can transcend immediate personal associations. The folks in the 1970s who clothed their sock monkeys in garish Superfly outfits created works that are unusual and successful art because they so accurately reflect the look and feel of their time. They depart from convention to speak eloquently of the past.
The physical form of the work can be inherently compelling as the untrained artist's confrontation with craft materials results in innovative geometries. In accumulative crafts like bottle-cap and tramp art, repetition of the same basic forms (bottle caps, sections of serrated wood) can generate patterns of striking complexity. As the repetition mounts, so does the fascination of the patterns.
The most impressive craft objects stand out because they evidence extreme degrees of expression. The massive buildup of materials in the largest examples of tramp art can inspire awe. Painstaking craftsmanship can likewise fascinate, capturing something of the essence of the maker even at the small scale seen in, say, soap carvings or fine embroidery.
To be honest, some of this stuff is notable specifically because it is weird - sometimes in the sense of eccentrically personal, sometimes bizarrely unattractive. But an object's awfulness does not make it uninteresting. A work of monumental ugliness reflects an exceptional commitment to a personal vision. And the more elaborate the macramé or junk sculpture, the more fascinating the art.