Friday, February 7, 2014

Art vs. Craft vs. Science vs. Gimmick

I was looking for spring/summer craft shows to apply to, and I looked at the pages for some art shows. These types of things go by all sorts of names, so I'll look at pretty much anything that sounds sort of promising. Of course these art shows are "fine art" shows, and fragrance is not an included category. I realize a lot of what I make wouldn't fall under the category of fine art, but I strongly feel that fragrance doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Most perfumes that people buy are more about marketing than scent. Sure, the scent counts, but most of the money goes into making the packaging pretty and paying for all the ads. I don't know if the people making these scents consider it an art, or if they're sitting in their labs looking at what's needed and figuring out the cheapest way to get there while still making a scent that people will wear. Those scents are mostly science- a degree in organic chemistry is actually very useful to anyone wanting to work in a big perfume house. There are some commercial perfumes, and definitely a lot of niche perfumes, that are art. To me it seems like what separates the fine art of fragrance is the passion that goes into, making the best you can with what you have, and creating a scent that has some meaning, even if that will never be clear to 99% of the population. You need mastery over the materials, just like you would with any other fine art.

I aim to be a perfume artist, and hope that if I'm not there yet, I will be soon. Working with scent can be a craft as well. When I assist at a perfume's class, the scents that people make are sometimes nice, but they don't rise to the level of art. That's not to be harsh, but a great perfume requires more time and thought than can be fit into an 8 hour class.

And a lot of what I do is craft- hair oils, lip balm, foot balm, lotions bars- those really aren't art. The scents are usually blended so that the product smells pleasant, usually with hopes of bringing hopes of some benefits to the product as well. So there's a bit of science in there too- nothing that would make me a scientist, but I do research which ingredients do what. Soap makers are working with science and craft. I don't know if those who make fancy swirls and designs consider their soaps works of art or not. I've seen some truly beautiful soaps (nothing I've made- I'm lucky if mine aren't plain ugly), but I'm not sure if there will be a gallery of beautiful soaps, or soap displays at museums. I guess in that sense perfume is getting a little more recognition, since there are occasionally exhibits dedicated to scent.

Beauty products are usually somewhere between craft and science. The ones you see at chain stores are probably mostly science, though don't necessarily fall for all the claims on their boxes. Just because something is made by people wearing white coats in a lab, it doesn't mean it will make your wrinkles disappear. Those who make beauty products on a smaller scale probably do use some science knowledge. You need to understand things like emulsion, preservative systems, and what each ingredient brings to the finished product. But these are handcrafted, not made on an industrial scale.

And then there are beauty products that are gimmicks. These are the most painful to me. I see single oils (like argan oil) being bottled up and sold at a large mark up. If you want 50ml of pure argan oil for less than $48, email me and I'll make you a bottle for less. While some of my products only use a few ingredients, I don't create single ingredients products and then sell them for a huge profit. Though I suppose if those companies are spending a lot of money on marketing, they might not be making such huge profits after all.

TL;DR- I want perfume to enter the world of fine art, and hope to be a fine perfume artist myself. Most of my products are craft, with a dash of science. And I will not sell you a gimmicky product like a single ingredient at a high mark up, unless you ask me to (at which point I'd reduce the markup).

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