View Full Version : ART v CRAFT

02-13-2019, 10:22 PM

Nanrin brought up this subject... I think a fascinating subject.

As a young woman I studied ceramics. I became quite proficient, a studio potter, even supporting myself on my craft for over a decade. In the early 80s, bored with production work I decided to enroll in graduate school to see if I could take my creative interests to a different, more rewarding level. In working toward my MFA, I had to go outside my area and chose drawing and metal working. The program opened my mind and my materials vocabulary, allowing me to say what I wanted to say, other than creating a functional object, beautiful it might be but still functional.

After receiving my MFA I further explored my fascination with materials. I learned woodworking, steel work and welding, metal casting, drawing, paper making to name a few of my skills. I realized that each new skill required time to learn, but in order to put together the ‘artwork’ that was my goal I needed to master each material.

I am a crafts person. But am I an artist?

Recently when being considered for a museum show it came up that Anne is a craftsman. I use my artisan skills to make my art. Although my work does not fall into the functional category and hasn’t since finishing my MFA almost 40 years ago, but because the materials I use are typically used by artisans I can fall into that category.

In Japan, the artisans are considered National Treasures. There is no distinction. Maybe it’s a cultural distinction? I wonder.

Writers, this topic might relate to you as well. When is writing literary? What about poetry, children's' literature, memoir, mystery writing etc?




02-14-2019, 01:22 AM
To me, based on usage, the terms artist, craftsman/person, and artisan have distinct meanings.

An artist is self-designated as such or enjoys this title out of consideration for their production of creative works of fine art. To be an artist, in my mind, requires that others are expressing an appreciation for what you do. In general, and again in my mind, what an artist produces, for the most part, has no practical value. Any worth stems from aesthetics and/or social meaning. But the uses of art and artist have a breadth of meanings depending on who is speaking and in what context. We refer to nursing as a science and an art. We refer to the medical arts (and for that matter, we use science in painting and other visual arts).

A craftsman produces work that may be artistic but is practical. I think of this term as assigned by others, though I think a person could select it for themselves. Design is individual and workmanship is exceptional. Products are produced by hand. A stone mason is a good example. But such a person who creates grotesques for the exterior of a building could also be an artist. Are they are sculptor or a mason? Some are both. Potters may be less likely to be thought of as craftsman, but if their work is practical, I would call them that, though pottery is one of my favorite artistic mediums. Some artists only produce art, while others only produce practical items.

In speaking of craftsmanship, I am not talking about making crafts; that's another matter entirely. I am talking about crafting something as close to perfection as it can be made.

The use of the words art or artist, to me, in describing a poet or a writer does, like in any other creative form, depends on the intention, method, and reception of their products. There are writers who are able to carve my mind with their words, who create sentences and paragraphs of such form as to make my mouth water and my soul tremble. Then there are writers who churn out cheap--and bad--news stand novels that are forgotten as soon as you open the next one. But this principle applies to every form that is called art. There are warehouses full of people of some artistic ability who produce paintings in mass, maybe more than one per hour, that are then rolled up and sent overseas to sell as something better than a poster but cheaper than what you find in a gallery. And some of them are just fine, except maybe for the attitude that went into them.

The word artisan, to me, is one that I think a person should hesitate every time it is applied to them, and that it only comes to the rare, exceptional artist or craftsperson. It is the equivalent of the word virtuoso. The word reflects a quality that I strive for, but would never dare to think of applying to myself. I occasionally produce a painting that I think is artisanal, but I think of those as accidents. I don't charge more for them.

Overall, to me, art is something that is beheld, and it is up to the beholder to make the determination about whether or not a work is art. My job as an artist is to do what I do, and put it out there for others to say what it is. Frankly, if someone gives me four grand for a painting, they can call it toilet paper; it's all the same. I can call myself whatever I want, but the product is what speaks and tells others what I am. If it's bad, nothing I say will make it different. If it's good, then there's nothing I need to say (as though that ever stopped me).

然芸 Nengei
Sat today. LAH.
You deserve to be happy.
You deserve to be loved.

02-19-2019, 03:54 AM
Your question, Anne, is one that I've thought about for years and even made it the center of a blog I used to write. I am a handspinner and some handspinners call their yarns artisanal. This bothered me because what they were really doing was using the word artisanal as a synonym for "hand made." Then I went to the grocery store and found that our local honey was claiming to be artisanal, and this set me off even more. Bees are not artists! Honey is not art. If so many things were claiming to be artisanal, what did it really mean to be an artist?

I generally believe that if a created object contains utility, it cannot be art: it must be craft. Then I discovered that American Craft Magazine refers to craftspeople as "makers." I think they chose this word to distinguish themselves from people who crochet covers for toilet paper rolls and glue googlie eyes onto pom poms. But what is a maker? To my ears, this sounds worse than artist AND craftsperson.

Then I realized this is all about hierarchy. The artists don't want to be seen as makers. The makers don't want to be seen as crafters. The handspinners don't want to be seen as plain old yarn-makers. The honey producer doesn't want to be seen as a beekeeper. The only people who seem happy in this are the toilet paper roll crocheters and the pom pom gluers. They don't give a hoot where they sit in the hierarchy. They're just happy doing what they do.

This jockeying for a space on the hierarchy reminds me of what I've seen in hospitals among doctors. The cardiologists fancy themselves on the top. The dentists worry they're on the bottom. In the end, I gave up my blog because I realized it just doesn't matter. I need my dentist to be the best damn dentist he can be, and that's it.

If I wake up one morning and want to devote my spare time to pom pom creatures and crocheting with polyester yarn, I hope to Buddha I put my heart into it. If my handspinning friends see their yarn as artisanal, today I am glad for them because it gave them pleasure and they believe their yarn can bring pleasure to someone else. May we all take refuge in the simple act of doing.


Sat today, LAH.

02-19-2019, 09:56 AM
I’ve been pondering about what Art might be and where to draw the line between art and craft, too.
For my own understanding, I have arrived at a somewhat fuzzy definition.
Oh, and I like that this definition is fuzzy… The problem imho is that there are people and groups, who think they have the sovereignty of interpretation.
Maybe that is a result of professional art, having to add a prize-tag to the work.
A thing, one persons defines as art, might be meaningless to another.

I define Art as a thing or thought that has, by intention, a meaning that goes beyond the first look.

A painting/photograph, that is not just reproducing something you can see.
It is also made for experiencing a feeling while making, observing or viewing.
It is made to show or experiment with material properties.

A pottery item that is not just something nice you can drink tea from,
but an item, that changes or examines how you drink or maybe how it changes taste;
something, that lets you feel the beauty of simplicity and opens a world of metaphors.

A garden, that is not just a place, where you grow plants and play badminton,
but a place, where you come down for a meeting with your own true self/nature.

In different cultures, certain ideas and experiences are valued differently.
I think somewhere in this is the source of valuing things as art (having an added metaphor/meaning) or not.

The line between art and craft gets even more fuzzy, when an item is not by intention equipped with a meaning beyond itself,
but the contemplator/viewer finds/invents such meaning by herself.
Is this art? Who is giving the added meaning… Who is the artist ;-)

Kotei sat/lah today.

02-21-2019, 04:02 PM
I think Kate really nailed the heart of this debate. It IS all about hierarchy, and how you want to be seen.

For what it's worth, as I've been taught, identifying as an artist means you're more interested in ideas than (probably but not necessarily) craftsmanship, practicality, or commercial concerns. You want to "say something," not just create something pretty or easily digestible. A craftsperson, on the other hand, is more practical, values good technique executed well, makes things people wants to buy, and isn't necessarily interested in making big statements through their work. I find these definitions very limiting, and I don't even know what I'd call myself. I am trying, however, because I want to draft my artist's statement and apparently need to define myself for this purpose, because this is really just about marketing and branding.

I like the word Craftsman. It has nice, warm, old-timey feel.

But I think what I want to be when I grow up is a Working Artist, and that's what I call it in my secret heart.