Mississhippi's Madness

A place to share my creative pursuits

What is the difference between art and craft?


At the beginning of the year I was asked if I knew the difference between art and craft. I gave an answer without really giving this much thought. My answer… that craft creates something useful and art creates something to visually enjoy. I decided to do some research… and find I’m left with more questions than answers.

Calyx-krater (mixing bowl) with theatrical scene, ca. 400–390 b.c.; red-figure
Attributed to the Tarporley Painter
Greek, South Italian, Apulian

(via the Met Museum)

A lot of the objects we think of as art today were just useful objects in Ancient times – utensils, vases and so on. So looking back doesn’t really help me much. Craft and Art were viewed as the same thing back then.  During the Renaissance this started to change, the Fine Arts beginning to differentiate themselves from the ‘useful’ arts (thanks to Shelley Esaak at about.com for that term). Was this elitism? Or was the separation necessary? And as I looked further forward in time Fine Arts is then broken into visual arts, decorative arts, professional arts…the list goes on. It is like everyone wanted their own little corner – from which they can come out fighting.

Crafts, such as knitting, needlework, macramé, are not considered fine arts, but some of the work I have seen created by craft-persons in their field are finer than some pieces of art that I have viewed. And the time and effort that has gone into these pieces from concept to completion, is just as much, if not more, than some paintings.

Why we feel the need to separate these fields, I do not know.  Some artists incorporate these crafts into their artworks, just to blur the divide even more.

During my year at college, I made a ceramic ritual vessel for a project. I used a skill to build the vase, I used my artistic ability to create the concept behind the decoration and then to create the images on the clay’s surface. So, is this an art or a craft, or both?

I love to do cross-stitch. Sometimes I use a pattern or I create my own designs and stitch them. They hang on my wall to enjoy visually, they have no useful purpose other than that – is this art, craft or both?

I knit. I knit a blanket to my own pattern, I hang it on the wall to enjoy looking at it – is this art, craft, or both?

Guerilla knitting (via huck Magazine)

I paint an acrylic landscape on the lid of a jewellery box – is this art, craft, or both?

I can keep asking questions for ever, and I don’t think I will find the definitive answer to any of them.  This seems to be a greatly debated topic, without any real resolution, so I don’t feel quite so ignorant after all.

It seems to me that to create art and/or craft you need to be skilled, have a concept, materials and talent (be it learned or gifted) and the outcome of your skill will be either a useful object  (eg. Vase) or an object of beauty to visually enjoy – or as both.

Which was my answer in the first place

I’d love to know your opinion of the difference between art and craft – if there is one.

Further reading:

I found a great article on this topic by Denis Dutton – go here to read what his thoughts on the differences are.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in England is trying to find out what Craft means to You– go here to see what others think or to add your ideas.


Author: Elaine

Artist, writer, married, mother, living with Ankylosing Spondylitis and winning (most of the time). My creative impulses have led me to drawing, pastel painting, writing, handcrafts and photography.

3 thoughts on “What is the difference between art and craft?

  1. I’ve been consumed by Richard Sennett’s book ‘The Craftsman.’ He talks about the artist as a craftsman who produces original work, the creative mind that solves problems and invents original pieces that can be recognised as belonging to him. Craft follows in the wake, imitating the artists, following their patterns and mimicking their styles. On the other hand, there is something inherently pleasing about the useful things constructed by people in this fashion, because they still bring themselves to the work, and leave marks of imperfection in it, making it more valuable than mass-produced items built by machine. In this sense, the craftsman’s value is instilling objects with humanity.

    The Bauhaus school tried to abolish the distinction between art and craft, arguing that the artist needed the same technical skills as the craftsman–an architect ought not be removed from the construction process. Similarly, the bricklayer benefits from a more technical understanding of her craft.

    I would define art and craft less by the use of a finished product and more by the process of the creator. If you have created something out of a problem-solving thought process, you are an artist, no matter what your craft. And wouldn’t it be great if crafters pushed their creativity in this way more often?

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You are obviously of a similar mind to me that there really isn’t a much of a distinction between the two. I will have to look out that book, it sounds like the sort of thing I would love to read right now. I like your idea of a definition of art and craft being the process rather than the end product.

    • Duchess, a wonderful and thought provoking comment. I think too often definitions of either artist or crafter are used to label creatives’ products without looking at the process. I will keep my eye out for that book.

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