I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of silly little crafts. During the early days of the pandemic, while I was locked away in my childhood bedroom like Rapunzel in her tower, I took up every possible form of decorative arts. With materials foraged from the junk drawer and the wisdom of YouTube tutorials, I tackled crochet, beading, embroidery, sewing and pottery. By the end of 2020, I had produced a mountain of ridiculous knick knacks — a tote knitted with plastic bags, a belt made of soda tabs, a necklace from old watch faces and so on.
The first time I wore the necklace outside my house, a preteen punk girl stopped me on the street to ask where I got it from. I told her I made it myself, and she immediately asked, “What’s your Etsy or Depop?” Embarrassed, I had to tell her the truth: that I had never even considered selling any of my little creations. To me, it was all kitschy junk — fun, but without any real value. I didn’t think much of it, but her comment still stuck with me. There’s no better feeling than a genuine compliment from an emo 13-year-old who thinks you’re cool.
As time went on, and I kept crafting, I started to feel a nagging need to justify the time I spent laboring over piles of fabric and wire. If I could monetize my hobbies, I thought, that would make it worthwhile. The artist’s dilemma — to sell or not to sell? — is an age-old question. In the larger art world, this refers to a reconciliation between making money and maintaining moral integrity. But in the microcosm of my mind, I had different concerns. What if no one buys it? Or worse, what if people do?
I certainly don’t have what it takes to be a small business owner. The plague of Depop scammers seems to be contagious, and I would rather cut off my own thumb than associate myself with the girls who upsell Shein dresses and Abercrombie sweaters for hundreds of dollars. Depop has become a platform for toddler clothing rebranded as vintage baby tees, and frankly, that frightens me. It’s a kill-or-be-killed world out there for vintage resellers and vendors of handmade items alike, and I don’t think I’m cut out for it.
At the same time, though, I understand the impulse to put a price tag on everything. In a world where labor is inherently tied to money, it feels useless to put effort into making something without assigning it a dollar value. I feel pressure to monetize my creations because the alternative feels like admitting it was all a waste of time. Capitalism is an inescapable disease and rejecting the transactional culture we live in is impossible, so it’s hard not to feel guilty making art just for art’s sake.
As I scrolled through listings on Depop and Etsy, though, I started to compare my work to others and ask myself even more questions. If I see a design on Pinterest, tweak it a little, and make it myself, is that art? If a project has no deeper meaning other than to serve an aesthetic or functional purpose, is it art? If I’ve never taken a real art class, can I even call myself an artist? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but perhaps it doesn’t matter.
For hundreds of years, textile arts such as knitting and sewing were traditionally dominated by women who worked out of their homes for little pay, if any. They perfected highly technical skills and labored over their work for hours, but it was only considered a craft until a man did it himself and declared it art. So when I start to feel stupid for working on a new silly project, I imagine myself as a middle-class medieval maiden, doing needlework at home while my husband is away at war with the French.
For now, I’ll abstain from selling my crafts. Not because I don’t think they have value, but because I don’t want to lose the fun in creation. Maybe one day I’ll have what it takes to outsmart the hordes of Depop scammers, but for now, I’ve started giving out hats, earrings, and other little trinkets as gifts, so I can share my art with the world without a price tag attached.