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.
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 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.
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.