Let’s say for the sake of argument craft is the plain girl who developed her personality, whereas art is the willowy blonde who has always been popular. Put another way, I’d rather hang out with Chris Cooper, than Ben Affleck at the party.
The comparison could be a topic a lot of us avoid. Largely because there is an implied sense that art is superior to craft, a belief I never shared. I do not mean to malign the artist here (love them, and often aspire to be one). But many of us grew up with the myth of the “artistic talent”. Something you are born with, either have or do not have.
What appeals to me about craft is that element of self determination. You decide what you want to master, and then take the necessary steps to get there. The crafts-person model was more in sync with my life’s experience. A craftsman arrived at his goal through hard work and applied effort. This is my preferred way of looking at life. (And I know artists work very hard, these are the broad strokes.)
Of course the contest between craft and art is artificial, we are free to define ourselves and what we create in in any way we choose. I did struggle with how to define myself for a while. Until I decided to let it go. For me, it is about the making of something. I am no longer concerned with convincing the world it is “art”. And I am definitely not interested in deciding which is superior, only in considering what makes each expression unique to its category. And there are some are some measurable differences.
Nine points to consider in the debate over what separates art from craft.
1. Art is about the audience, craft is about its maker.
2. Craft knows what it is going to be before it is made.
3. Craft employs the work of other craftsmen, one craft supplies another with tools or materials. Craft then transforms the raw material into something different.
4. Art strives to be original, craft relies on tradition. Craft often has similar features interpreted differently. For example Month of Softies monsters, Clapotis scarves, or artisan-made tables.
5. Art needs no utility (other than to get an emotion from the viewer). Craft tends to have a function (but often also elicits emotion, in my opinion).
6. Is art often serious, craft often fun?
7. Does art strive to produce a certain state of mind, whereas craft strives to satisfy a human demand?
8. Craft can be repeated, by the original crafter as well as other similarly skilled individuals. Art may not be “repeatable”
9. Can there be a “fine craft” category that bridges the two categories, or are we just hedging our bets?
There are exceptions to each of these and my intention is not to provide a definitive list, only to provide some food for thought.
Oh, and I finished my echarpe!