What qualifies a soapmaker to be an "artisan"?

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lenarenee

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It's problematic enough for a brand new soaper to start selling their 3rd batch. But I've been seeing an awful lot of (and bought from) obviously new soapers with the word "Artisan" boldly slashed across their label.

I've been making soap for almost 2 years and have at least that much longer before I'd even begin to think I might deserve that title.

What do you think qualifies a person to be an artisan?
 

Neve

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The word artisan for me implies an expert craftsman. Not a beginner. I would expect years of experience. I sure wouldn't apply that label to myself at two years in but it sure does sound fancy!
 

lenarenee

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I think it's fair game to swap the word "artisan" for "handmade". Unfortunately, it's a marketing tool with no standards to apply.

Let me change the question to : What should the qualifications of an artisan be?
 

gigisiguenza

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I've always thought of artisan more in terms of style, not individual. When I see something like "artisan glass", I know it's been hand crafted by an individual artist, that it is unique and likely to be one of a kind, and that the creator is an artist who works in glass, as opposed to someone who simply makes glass items.

The distinction of artisan, to me, is more about the form or style of the product. When it applies to soap, if I were looking at three different soaps, I might see three different types - not based on criteria like vegan/nonvegan or botanical colored/mica colored, etc - but more based on their form.

Soap A might be produced by an individual soap maker, who focuses on formula vs artistic appeal. You can go into their shop or online store and buy more of the exact same soap any time, and it will always looks the same or similar. This could be an expert soap maker who produces high quality soaps that are lovely to use, but I would not look at their soap and think of it as artisan soap because I could walk into their shop a year later and buy a nearly identical replacement of my bar.

Soap B might be more creative in its form, involving more elaborate styling like piped tops, embeds, etc, or take more unusual forms, like cake slices, cupcakes, watermelon slices, etc. but again, you can go in at any time and buy more cake slice soap etc, because that is what they focus on producing. Again, it could be produced by an expert and it could be truly lovely soap, but I would not look at it and think "artisan".

Soap C might be unique in any number of ways, from shape or style to formula or ingredients, but if I buy this soap I see here right now, I won't be able to buy it again because that soap maker focuses on the artistic angle of soaping and never reproduces a design. They may repeat a style, such as ebru painted soap, but you'll never see the same design, because as an artistic approach, they are always wanting to create something different. So, if I walk into their shop a week later, I probably won't be able to buy another bar of that exact design, because once that batch was done, they moved on to a new artistic idea. I'll never be able to buy the same soap twice because of this. They might be an expert and make lovely to use soap, or they might *not* be made by an expert in soap recipe formulation, might only have a single recipe they use for every batch, but because their designs are always new, I'm going to think of their soap as "artisan".

I realize my perspective on this is very strongly influenced by my art background, but for myself, that's what distinguishes between creatively crafted and artisan.

Just my 2¢ :)
 

The Efficacious Gentleman

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Again, what the word means to us may not be the same as what the word actually means. Which is where people can get very clever in marketing.

It used to be that if you wanted to be some sort of artist, you would study under someone as an apprentice and work your way through being a journeyman and so on until you were able to head out on your own as a true artisan. If you wanted to learn how to do it, that was the only way. Now, people can read a book or even just a single blog post on a "natural mommy" blog and away they go, making something by hand. So while the word does conjure up images of someone who has spent time studying their craft, it is no longer always the case.
 

gigisiguenza

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TEG I agree. The whole concept has changed greatly with the advent of DIY blogs, YouTube, and Pinterest.
 

DeeAnna

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If you look at the definition of artisan, you will see something like this:

a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson.
a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.

If you stick with dictionary definitions, then any experienced soapmaker, regardless of the decorative techniques she/he uses, is an artisan. I think the key words are skilled, traditional, and handmade.

I know a married couple in our local area who produce beautifully made pots, cups, bowls, etc. in their wood-fired pottery. There can be a lot of similarity from piece to piece -- you can go to the potters, for example, and get a set of mugs or a table setting of dinnerware all in the same pattern. But the skill and care used to make the pieces is obvious -- the glazing is nicely done, the walls of the items are thin and consistent, and the appearance is clearly hand crafted.

How can they be artisans ... and I do think of them as artisans ... whereas a soap maker is not considered an artisan even if she has equivalent skills, reasonable experience, and commitment to tradition? Is it because the soap is ephemeral and utilitarian and a pottery piece is durable and often purely decorative?

My point of view is a bit different, I suppose. As a skilled and experienced leather worker, I have resigned myself to being perceived as a simple craftsman, not an artisan. It makes no matter how traditional my techniques and tools are, how skilled I am, or how artsy-fartsy my pieces can be. I suppose it's because leather working is considered to be mainly a functional, utilitarian craft, not an artistic one. To exaggerate a bit, the potter who makes a pretty vase or mug is a much-admired artisan; the leather worker making similar pieces is just a hack craftsman. The potters get invited to juried art shows and the leather workers and soap makers get dismissed to the craft fairs. <...sigh...>
 

JuneP

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I think of artisan as someone making more than just a basic, plain soap , rather than explaining how experienced they are. For me artisan, implies or reflects artistry in the finished product.
 

shunt2011

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I agree with June. I have always thought of artisan as being made by hand and shows artistry in their work.
 

The Efficacious Gentleman

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Is artistry limited to how something looks? A clock that keeps time to 1 second every thousand years and is wound enough purely by the pull of the gravity of the moon would be a work of art regardless of how it looks. If someone makes a clock that looks great but only has "okay" time keeping and needs winding every day, but looks pretty - which one of the two is truly the artisan?

If one soaper makes a rather "meh" soap from the recipe, but swirls it well compared to a soaper who makes a wonderful bar of soap but leaves it uncoloured - why is the former an artisan and the latter not?
 

kumudini

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If you look at the definition of artisan, you will see something like this:

a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson.
a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.

If you stick with dictionary definitions, then any experienced soapmaker, regardless of the decorative techniques she/he uses, is an artisan. I think the key words are skilled, traditional, and handmade.

My point of view is a bit different, I suppose. As a skilled and experienced leather worker, I have resigned myself to being perceived as a simple craftsman, not an artisan. It makes no matter how traditional my techniques and tools are, how skilled I am, or how artsy-fartsy my pieces can be. I suppose it's because leather working is considered to be mainly a functional, utilitarian craft, not an artistic one. To exaggerate a bit, the potter who makes a pretty vase or mug is a much-admired artisan; the leather worker making similar pieces is just a hack craftsman. The potters get invited to juried art shows and the leather workers and soap makers get dismissed to the craft fairs. <...sigh...>
DeeAnna, I wonder if you ever shared pictures of your artsy-fartsy ones. If you haven't, please do. I'm sure we will enjoy looking at them just as we enjoyed all your swirly soaps this month. I know it's leather but art is art and I find true artists very inspirational.
 

dibbles

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If you look at the definition of artisan, you will see something like this:

a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson.
a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.

If you stick with dictionary definitions, then any experienced soapmaker, regardless of the decorative techniques she/he uses, is an artisan. I think the key words are skilled, traditional, and handmade.
To me artisan implies just that - high quality or distinctive product in small quantities, made by hand. That would include things like breads, cheese, handspun yarn, and handmade soap. Special things, regardless of appearance. I think I would maybe add a category: craftsperson, aritsan, artist. I don't consider myself an artist by any stretch of the imagination. But an artisan - I'd like to think I'm getting there. If Tostito's can name a line of tortilla chips "artisan", our lovely soaps with their special qualities are certainly in the artisan category as well.
 

hmlove1218

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To me, an artisan is someone experienced in their craft. They work with their hands and are skilled at what they do, whether they make it "beautiful" or not. I find beauty in simple bars of soap just as much as in more complex soaps. To me, Royalty Soaps is just as much of an artisan as Rocky Top Soap Shop.
 

Dahila

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It's true - an artisan is someone who makes things by hand. Skill and ability are implied, but by no means explicit.
EG is so right. I have artisan soap/ savon artisanal on mine, Most people do not know the definition of Artisan word:))
I have homemade or handmade too. I have to use English and French so Artisan soap takes the least space on my label.
 

amd

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To me "artisan" implies something that I cannot get anywhere else from anyone else. When I buy an "artisan cheese" I think it is a truly unique flavor, ingredient, or quality that there is a limited supply of. Again I see many commercial products are starting to cheapen "artisan" such as they did to "natural" in their mass produced products. Anything mass produced cannot be "artisan", as artisan indicates a select few with the skill set to make the item. Mass production, anyone can come in an make it. (Just to clarify that mass production is not necessarily volume of product.)
 

IrishLass

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To me, the word 'artisan' has always meant someone who makes things by hand, and with there being a certain level of knowledgeable/expert skill involved.

I don't sell, but I do label all my soapie gifts, and I used to label them as being 'artisan-crafted', but when you see just about everything on the store shelves these days being labeled as 'Artisan', from Doritos to chocolate bars to ice cream, to tomato seeds (yes, tomato seeds- check out this link: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-9694-artisan-tomato-collection.aspx, ), you know the term has kinda lost it's meaning. lol I now label mine as 'Handmade' or 'Hand-crafted'.


IrishLass :)
 

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