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What is the history of Arts & Crafts Stack Exchange and its scope?

Currently, there is a discussion about if the scope or name of the stack should change. There's also a fair number of closed or disputed questions (relative t our size) that ostensibly would be considered "arts" or "crafts" questions.

Would a more thorough understanding of where A&C.SE came from and how it got to be where it is now help in determining "Where do we go from here"?

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High level timeline

  • This stack was proposed on Area51 on October 4th, 2014. That's just over 5 years ago at the time of this writing.
  • It entered the commitment phase on June 24th, 2015.
  • It ended the commitment phase on April 26th, 2016 and entered Private Beta status
  • It is now 3 1/2 years old

Descriptive timeline

  • Prior to the Arts & Crafts proposal on Area51, there had been an assortment of smaller, distinct proposals that had failed or were likely to fail, such as Origami, Metalworking, and Calligraphy
  • The earliest description of the proposal was:

    Professional/hobbyist practitioners of all crafts, including painting, drawing, textiles, papercrafts, crochet, sewing, jewelry, sculpture, beadwork, wood carving, origami, miniatures, stamping, découpage, stained glass, paper mâché.

  • It was decided that having the definition be a list was not very effective, not only because the list could keep on growing, but it would also imply that anything not on the list was out of scope (rather than just not being mentioned):

    questions about traditional artwork and handmade items.

  • In Public Beta, we updated the description1 based on what we experienced, and came up with a new description, with two major intents:

    1. Make it open to different types of creators at all levels of experience
    2. Emphasize that the type of works allowed are made by hand and have a physical existence

      Arts & Crafts Stack Exchange is for artists and crafters, from professionals to hobbyists, who are interested in creating handmade, tangible works. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about traditional artwork and handmade items.

  • At some point, it was concluded that both "art history" and "art appreciation" were not on-topic, but the exact reasoning for those decisions does not seem to be a matter of record. SE's Director of New Community Development, Robert Cartaino, did write an answer excluding subjects, and it may be likely that his stance there was taken to heart and used to manage scope :

    subjects like "what is art?", art appreciation, critical analysis, history, the purpose of art, advocacy, art history, biographies, chronicling art movements, etc.

  • A custom close reason was added for closing art history and art appreciation questions, including art identification. The suggestion to add this reason was generally well-received, to help make closing those questions easier and more consistent. No re-evaluation of on-topicness was done at that time
  • There have been a few discussions regarding whether or not a question is on-topic based on what the end result is, rather than whether or not the skills in question have broad applicability to artists and crafters. The results of those discussions are not entirely consistent. Examples:

Trajectory

A&C.SE has historically struggled to have 1 or more questions per day, on average.

However, we have a very strong organic view rate from Google searches, a high number of views per question, and a very high answer rate.

In order to increase the number of questions per day, which is one of the most critical stats we need to boost in order to maintain health and eventually graduate from Beta, we need more questions (obviously).

So, it seems necessary to try and evaluate why we are not getting more questions. It certainly doesn't seem to be because artists and crafters don't have questions.

And it doesn't seem to be because visual arts aren't successful on Stack Exchange: - Blender (a single 3D modeling application) gets 48 questions/day - Graphic Design gets almost 10/day - Photography gets almost 5/day - Video Production gets over 4/day

There could be many reasons why we don't have more questions being asked. Off the top of my head:

  • People are already finding answers elsewhere
  • Artistic community seekers prefer sites that look... art related (the plain Beta theme is cold, and does not represent the desired userbase)
  • There's uncertainty about what's "good enough" to ask, that is: people may be hesitant to ask questions they think are too simple or too complicated
  • There's uncertainty about what's allowed to be asked
  • There are not enough questions about X to make it feel like makers of X belong here
  • There is not a "community" tied to the strict Q&A page
    • A steep drop-off in the chatroom activity coincided with a drop-off in site activity
    • Most artistic destinations online have discussion, feedback, chat, and content/progress sharing integrated or tightly associated
    • There was no pre-existing community to build from (now Area51 has a requirement before you can even propose a new Stack: If you do not yet have a community organized, ready and eager to build your site, please do not submit this proposal.)

Most of these things we can't really change, without each active A&C.SE user taking it upon themselves to do things like ask more questions, outreach to other online art/craft communities, create and actively try to grow unofficial "official" community spaces (like an Amino, Discord, Facebook group, etc.). That's a high level of effort/investment, with an unknown level of payoff.

However, some of the things we can change as a whole.

  • We can make a comprehensive set of questions to direct new users to. This fundamental tag is currently empty.
  • We can alter our description to be more clear about what types of questions fit (instead of just who we expect to ask them).
  • We could reconsider our scope and explicitly expand it to include topics we think people will ask about. Examples:
    • Questions on subjects that aid in one's progression as an artist/crafter, even if not necessarily about a specific item being made
    • Questions involving techniques or skills that have value across disciplines, regardless of the asker's intended result
    • Questions about certain topics currently considered strictly off-topic such as history2
  • We can update our [on-topic], [off-topic] and [ask] pages to have more relevant and helpful guidance
  • We can create a comprehensive, but not all-inclusive, list of art/craft forms and subjects that would be allowed under current/future scope (to be added to the ) to alleviate any second-guessing

These are comparatively low-effort tasks, where any level of payoff would be worthwhile, and any effort expended even if there is no payoff would be low enough to be negligible. Even if engaging in the discussions led to a "no, things are fine as they are now", that would still be a worthwhile decision.

One concern with any such changes would be to make sure we are not alienating existing users.


Notes and opinions

1. There were difficulties coming up with a suitable description, related to the existence of other stacks and the fact that there is no general consensus on a taxonomy of artistic disciplines. Besides answers to the question on Meta about a new description, there were the previous discussions on Area51, a smattering of comments across Main and Meta, and discussions in the chatroom.

Here are some specific examples of problems we faced:

  • We did not want to have a collision with https://graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/, however we did feel that many types of questions asked on GD.SE have a place on A&C.SE, such as color theory, composition, and general design principles.
  • We did not want to have a collision with https://photo.stackexchange.com/
  • We wanted to exclude performance and dramatic arts, such as dance, plays and music
  • We wanted to focus on people that make works and pieces, without making judgments or exclusions about what specifically the person was making, and to not focus on people that only consume works
    • It should be emphasized that the description has long been about who the site is for, and not what types of questions are relevant to their goals.
  • We didn't want to include digital media, or the software and hardware that goes into creating it

    • While digital art is still art, and artistic skills and principles still apply, I think the aversion to allowing those questions was twofold:

      1. The aforementioned collision with GD.SE (and several other stacks that cover other digital media)
      2. Most questions that would be specific to digital art, and not apply to traditional mediums, tend to be about how to use a specific application or pieces of hardware
  • The problem with scoping the "arts" side to only traditional ("tangible") mediums is that we've excluded a massive population of artists and their input because they are not "interested in creating handmade, tangible works". Yet digital artist still have questions and expertise in the fundamentals of art and design: Line, Shape, Form, Color, Space, Texture, Value, Harmony, Balance, Hierarchy, Scale, Emphasis, etc. And the intent was never to exclude any type of visual artists, but to exclude certain tools: graphics software, CAD, cameras, graphics tablets (slates or displays), etc.

Fine arts, visual arts, applied arts, decorative arts and crafts were all always intended to be in-scope, but there is ambiguity between what is an "art" and what is a "craft".

Additionally, there are historically clashes between art vs. craft, with self-described "artists" or "craftpeople" using the other term as a way to de-value a given work. The intent of A&C.SE is to be inclusive and supportive of the variety of creative outlets, and not create any type of Us vs. Them line in the sand.

Consider the following Venn diagrams, and please forgive the fact that the examples used are far from exhaustive lists of the categories applied.

A 3-set Venn diagram of different disciplines in Visual Arts, Literary Arts, and Performing Arts
"The Arts" has several major categories such as visual arts, literary arts, and performing arts. While it has always appeared to be the intent of A&C.SE to only include disciplines that fit under the visual arts category, there are certain modern arts that could fall under multiple categories.

For example, "sequential art" is the art of storytelling through a sequence of images as in comics and manga. Such art can range from pure imagery, without text, to being accompanied by text that wins a Pulitzer Prize (Maus).

Then there's the cinematography and cosplay, which have a strong cross over with performing arts.

A 4-set Venn diagram of different disciplines in Fine Arts, Applied Arts, Decorative Arts, and Crafts

When you look just at visual arts, it becomes even more difficult to categorize. Common terminology for the various categories include: fine art, applied art, decorative art and crafts/trades. Other high-level categories exist, too. In general, the definitions of these categories varies depending on culture and time. Making an accurate diagram or taxonomy of categories then becomes a monumental task. And even if such a taxonomy existed, it may not make it easier to define the scope of A&C.SE in simple terms when we've chosen to explicitly exclude major fields such as photography.

2.These topics would need to justify that they're relevant to the goal of making things, but that may not be too difficult. Picking on history again, it could be argued that learning about what has been done before, why, why it stopped, etc. betters the creator by increasing their artistic/visual vocabulary and library, and helps those who want to create works that are influenced by or homages to certain themes/trends/movements/artists. This is a whole discussion in itself, but it makes for an easy example.

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    This is amazingly thorough. Thank you!!! – Erica Nov 19 '19 at 12:38
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    @Erica I have been ill and unable to do much else so at least this was productive – user24 Nov 19 '19 at 16:59
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    This is extremely helpful. In retrospect, some of the scope question seems like it was artificially truncated. There's logic for including a lot of the art theory because it's part of building skill. It would probably make sense to limit that to subjects that deal (or could deal) directly with the production of art objects. Things like color theory and terminology fit that. Biographies of artists, art history, what is art or its purpose, and advocacy don't. That doesn't necessarily mean they should continue to be excluded, just that it is more clearly new territory for the site. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 19 '19 at 18:07
  • Art appreciation seems like a gray area. It isn't clear how to draw a line between building knowledge and skill to be used in creating art vs. just appreciating art. Maybe that would generally need to be on-topic. Photography is covered by another site. Digital art is another gray area. We probably don't want software or computer questions. So even though some digital art tools emulate physical art, and can be outputted onto physical media, it would be a slippery slope. A few tricky subjects: using software to create templates for 3D handmade objects? (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 19 '19 at 18:07
  • computer-controlled machines that cut parts or layers that are assembled by hand into tangible objects? 3D printing to create tangible works of art with minimal hand crafting (at most smoothing and finishing the result)? These kinds of things are closely related, but they will include questions about the software and machines, so it will be like drawing the line on woodworking questions that are more like machine shop questions. Whatever the scope, the site will need a core of subject matter experts in order to provide answers. – fixer1234 Nov 19 '19 at 18:07
  • @fixer1234 Yes, it's complicated! And pros/cons of different subjects probably need their own thorough discussion on separate metas, as part of some larger re-invigoration process. One of the things to call out, that I forgot to mention here, is that the "most active users" has seen a lot of turnover in 5 years years, plus many people that committed to the Proposal and didn't show up for the Beta (< 10%). – user24 Nov 19 '19 at 21:06
  • @WebHead: amazing, well done... super helpful. – Laurent R. Nov 20 '19 at 3:01
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    @WebHead: Regarding your comments under Trajectory, first bullet cluster, 3rd and 4th bullets, and most of the second bullet cluster: I have just posted a Feature Request Proposal “question” here on Meta, to ask for higher profile and better clarity of the “How to Ask a Question” helps link button. Your excellent points , both rationale and ideas, could perhaps be rolled into this proposal... See what you think... – Laurent R. Nov 20 '19 at 3:36
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    I raised 3D printing in a comment, so I'll provide closure on that item in a comment rather than a separate post. There's a 3D Printing site in beta; we don't want to steal their thunder. It covers pretty much everything related to the production of 3D items, or machine-cut pieces for building 3D items, using computer-controlled equipment. FYI, I asked for some clarification there: Avoiding overlap with the Arts & Crafts site. There's not much range of related or tangential subjects not covered there that could be on-topic here. – fixer1234 Nov 20 '19 at 20:08
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    @fixer1234 Yeah, there's also Woodworking, too. But overlap is common and OK, the sites just might attract different types of people. See Coffee vs. Cooking, Movies & TV SciFi & Fantasy vs. Anime & Manga. We theoretically already cover "post-processing" questions, material selection, material attributes (working temps, adhesion, strength), structural questions (will X support Y weight/object?), and in theory many computer-assisted tools like the Cricut machine and CNC outside of the software aspect. But like Coffee vs. Cooking, the audience/response is going to be different. – user24 Nov 20 '19 at 21:41
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    Also, to be clear, don't take my comments on on vs. off topic as definitive or authoritative. We (moderators/involved CMs) have varying opinions on topicality, but I don't enforce topicality based on my opinion. I prefer to go by what the community wants, so long as that want appears beneficial to the health of the site, and I generally prod users to take "gray area" questions to Meta instead of forcing closed/open. My purpose is to help guide, steer & handle exceptions, not impose my beliefs. – user24 Nov 20 '19 at 21:46
  • I'm not really sure how to interpret the function of this excellent answer here, and whether I should comment here, or if I can comment on it in another answer. If this a proposal, it seems too open-ended; if it is not, it seems to be in the wrong place (don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing its contents!). – Joachim Nov 22 '19 at 16:49
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    @Joachim Well, clearly I think that the answer directly answers the question I supplied :D This is merely a discussion/informational Q&A, not a policy proposal. I think the timeline is interesting, informative, and relevant to the community, and will be useful to cite in actual proposals. Meta is the place to discuss things that are relevant to the community, even if it doesn't directly relate to the SE platform! We just haven't had a lot of examples of Meta posts that weren't solving a specific problem (which is a Main site Q&A requirement, not a meta one) because of our size. – user24 Nov 22 '19 at 17:47
  • So proposals (subjective as they are) are welcome here, right? – Joachim Nov 22 '19 at 18:15
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    @Joachim On meta, or this question? Meta, sure. This question, probably doesn't answer the question and should probably have a new question that specifically "What should we do about X?" with an answer that's a proposal OR I've also seen people post the proposal as a question, and the answers are the revisions/problems with it. It really depends on what stage you're at in the process with the community or what type of feedback you want.. – user24 Nov 22 '19 at 18:48

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