Can boxes be art??

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Forum topic by RogerBean posted 04-10-2014 05:05 PM 2697 views 1 time favorited 63 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1605 posts in 4245 days

04-10-2014 05:05 PM

When I make a box, I am not thinking at all about creating a piece of art. I don’t think of them as “art” at all. Craft, perhaps, but not art. For me they’re functional items first. When folks comment and say something like “It’s a work of art” I graciously accept the compliment as it was intended, but still I just think of it as a box; a complex one, perhaps, but still just a box.

I tend to follow the general definition of “art” as something done to make some sort of statement for it’s own sake, not some functional item. There certainly are “art boxes” which are created for reasons other than to just hold something. I think of Martyn’s boxes as a canvas upon which he paints his marvelous patterns. (Martyn, what do you think?) Paul Miller’s marquetry may be art, or is it craft? (Paul, give me a little help here.) What about mauibob’s lovely Hokusai boxes? (Bob, what do you think?)

But me, I just make boxes. Admittedly, the best I can make. But still, just boxes with a purpose.

There are a lot of box makers on this site, and I’m interested in what they think.


-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

63 replies so far

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4595 days

#1 posted 04-10-2014 05:21 PM

well i’m not the bob that you asked what he felt, but i do have some of my own thoughts, i make a few boxes here and there and when i set out to make them i certainly dont think im doing anything artful, but even though they are something functional, that doesn’t matter to me, when i see all of the others on jocks who make beautiful boxes, weather it be marquetry or by the use of beautiful woods, or by how they are used , to me, yea they are art, i would just as much sit and look at beautiful boxes then paint on a canvas, those are my thoughts.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View JoeyG's profile


1275 posts in 3917 days

#2 posted 04-10-2014 05:32 PM

I think they can be art. That’s not saying they are all art, but many of them are. I consider many of mine to be art. It’s my creative outlet, just as a paint brush is for others.

-- JoeyG ~~~

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Gene Howe

12444 posts in 4720 days

#3 posted 04-10-2014 05:36 PM

You Michiganders must have much stricter standards regarding what is art than many of the rest of us.
Your boxes certainly qualify as art from my, admittedly pedestrian, point of view. As do those of the others you mentioned, plus hundreds of the fine examples found on this and other sites.

When I make a box I try to make it pleasing to look at and hold. If, in the end, it satisfies me, that’s all that matters….and I’m not too severe of a critic.

As with beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Earlextech's profile


1164 posts in 3982 days

#4 posted 04-10-2014 05:44 PM

Well Roger, I just looked at your projects page and I will have to disagree with you. You make art! They are simply beautiful.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

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Jorge G.

1537 posts in 3767 days

#5 posted 04-10-2014 05:50 PM

Functional and artistic are not mutually exclusive. You are the first one I have seen defining art as simply a mode of expression without usefulness. I define art as something that enriches my life, that can be a painting, a photograph or a beautiful box.. :-)

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View mauibob's profile


246 posts in 4359 days

#6 posted 04-10-2014 06:01 PM

Hi Roger. First of all, it’s an honor being listed with those whose artistry I truly admire!

For me, when I start a project, I think of adding something that will challenge me—adding crushed stone inlays, gold and silver gilding, wood burning, Japanese washi paper, mica powders, acrylic stenciling, etc. I think of a box like Martyn does, as a canvas on which to try new techniques and designs. I love box making because of the needed precision—that’s the retired electrical engineer coming out in me. But I also love them for the canvas they provide—that’s the frustrated artist inside me!

In my case, if the box has actual utility, so much the better. But what I have found, much to my dismay at first, was that no one wanted to actually use my boxes for anything – they just enjoyed them as a piece of art. (I started making the prettiest cutting boards that I could make, and then realized that no one wanted to cut on them, much to my frustration!)

In summary, I LOVE boxes—my wife and I have a collection of tea boxes from the 18th century which I just love to look at. I’d never even thought of actually using one. I guess I love making the boxes I make for the same reason—they give me pleasure to look at (after I try to ignore those errors which bug me and yet no one else can see—the engineer creeping out), and hopefully others enjoy them as well.

Great topic for discussion!

-- Bob, Potomac, MD

View kdc68's profile


3030 posts in 3568 days

#7 posted 04-10-2014 06:12 PM

I too am not the lumberjock you are looking for answers. I have made boxes (one posted here), but I am no box maker.
My opinion the definition of a “work of art” is not limited by it’s aesthetic appeal, but can also be considered a “work of art” by it’s functionality. An example is the works of Frank Lloyd Wright which are not only aethically pleasing, fuctiional, but also considered works of art.
Another perspective of a “work of art” is perhaps a term of endearment. We see a “work of art” as museum quality and/or a masterpiece. As an amatuer woodworker, I see the boxes you make as museum quality and masterpieces….thus “works of art”.....

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View leafherder's profile


1986 posts in 3244 days

#8 posted 04-10-2014 07:05 PM

I am a novice woodworker, but I have a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies, so please allow me to give a different perspective on this question.

Historically speaking the whole “Art for Art’s Sake” idea is a relatively recent trend. Art has always had a function. Prehistoric cave paintings were intended to help hunters capture their prey. Egyptian tomb paintings were meant to help the departed in the afterlife. Those Greek and Roman statues were created as objects of devotion to be worshiped in temples. Mediaeval stained glass windows and illuminated manuscripts were created to spread Biblical teachings to the commoners who could not read. Renaissance portraits were purchased to display the wealth and good taste of the patron. The purpose of Impressionist art was to make the viewer examine the way light and color interacted with shape and texture to create the world we see. Andy Warhol’s Pop Art soup cans were designed to make people think about our disposable society and everyday objects.

I think you might really be asking the question of what distinguishes “Fine Art” from “Decorative Art”. Decorative art has a utilitarian function – like your box, or a hand made ceramic tea pot. Fine art has no useful function – The Mona Lisa is a beautiful painting but it will not hold my keys or keep me warm at night. There is no sharp divide between these two categories – a Tiffany lamp looks beautiful in a museum display case but it is still a functional lamp – and Tiffany made it to be used.

So your box can be both a utilitarian object and a museum quality work of art.

Sorry this message ran a little long.

-- Leafherder

View shipwright's profile


8761 posts in 4089 days

#9 posted 04-10-2014 07:08 PM

Thank you for the kind compliment Roger but trying to define “art” is about as close to trying to nail jelly to a wall as I can imagine. (or should I have used the herding cats one?)
I do what I do for the challenge and the satisfaction if / when I succeed. I have had pieces get into juried “fine art” shows so someone must think its art but it’s just not a question that I want to try to answer.

Sorry. :-(

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Randy63's profile


252 posts in 4183 days

#10 posted 04-10-2014 07:15 PM

I seldom comment on forum issues or statements due to my lack of posting of either projects and or techniques. Roger and I have long been woodworking friends and I very much admire his work and he and I have shared ideas and thoughts from time to time. We have never really discussed this issue.
I was an art major in college many moons ago, but have never applied those skills to generating a living. But I have always felt and still do feel that art is applied and achieved in many mediums and woodworking is certainly one to be included. Craftsmanship and artistic achievement are very similar in nature. Can anyone that slaps some paint on a canvas be an artist? Can anyone that crafts something from wood create art? The obvious answer to both questions is no. However I still insist that anyone using any visual medium can create art. Is the item unique in appearance, does it provoke pleasure to the viewer and or user.
I could write almost indefinitely on this subject but won’t bore you. Are there differences between works of art and a nicely wood crafted item, the difference is easily determined in both the items appearance, build and feel. You all can see and notice the difference in the quality of work posted on LJ. Pretty easy to determine what work could be considered art from the others.
Without hesitating a moment, I would say your work is most definitely art. It is unique, finely crafted, well thought out, well detailed, and pieces that will long be desired. Your use of quality materials, and hardware make your one of a kind items very desirable.
There are a number of fine craftsman on this site that generate works of art in my opinion and you’re certainly one of them.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View Loren's profile


11325 posts in 4939 days

#11 posted 04-10-2014 07:30 PM

I consider furniture making to fall within the decorative arts.

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

598 posts in 4609 days

#12 posted 04-10-2014 07:40 PM

If the maker did not set out to create art, then I would say the piece is not an artistic expression of himself. Another might view the piece, however, and receive some level of inspiration from it. To that person, the piece represents art.

I listened to a musical work recently that combined various factory sounds. The sounds were not created as artistic expression, but someone, attempting to create an artistic work, combined the sounds in such a way as to inspire (challenge? move? motivate?) me. So I think, Roger, that you are certainly within reason to say that your boxes are not created as artistic expression. I will accept that as fact, but I still can benefit from more than just the functionality of the box, and, to me, the box is art.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View dawsonbob's profile


4188 posts in 3047 days

#13 posted 04-10-2014 07:43 PM

I’m retired now, but for 35 years I made my living as an artist/illustrator. Over that time I often pondered the question “what is art?” I still don’t have a definitive answer — kind of the old saw about “I may not know anything about art, but I know what I like” thing. Well, actually, that kind of defines it, in some ways. Art is what happens when you create something unique, whether it’s a painting, a sculpture, or a box. If it’s totally unique (and it was meant to be), you probably created ‘ART’. Forget the really, really stupid — though popular — thing about having a message. If you want to send a message, use email. Create unique pieces of your own, and they’re probably art — whether you like it or not.

-- Mistakes are what pave the road to perfection

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

27014 posts in 4397 days

#14 posted 04-10-2014 11:24 PM

There are many boxes on this site that are pieces of art!!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View jeffswildwood's profile


4953 posts in 3269 days

#15 posted 04-10-2014 11:51 PM

Boxes as art? I have to join the side that says they are art. I feel that art is something that you put your heart and soul into to create. Be it a painting with brushes, ceramics or using you wood skills, no matter how intricate or simple, to make a box. They are indeed an expression of ourselves and when done an object that we look at with pride. They are indeed a functional piece of art just as a vase is beautiful art and holds a flower. I think we can all say that when we make a box that we take it just a little further to make it more appealing. I do.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

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