Art & Craft: The Difference

What is the difference between art and craft?  As I am about to create a “Holiday Sales Gallery” that will be almost entirely craft, this seemed a good time to write my thoughts on the subject.

This can be a volatile topic in the art and craft world (or worlds, as the case may be.)  There is much dissension. 

I do think that art and craft are different.  I also think there is crossover.  There are art pieces that contain an equal, or almost equal portion, of craft (see the quilts of Gees Bend.)   There are craft peices, many, that contain an artisitic esthetic and/or originality to them.  Reducing anything to a label seems to me a mistake, especially as there is much beauty in both.

In general, we have an understanding that craft applies to those objects that also serve a useful purpose, generally in the home. 

For me the distinction between art and craft has more to do with the originality brought to the creation, the idea/vision, the techniques and how they are applied, whether the final piece makes you, on some level, gasp.  If it does, it is art, whether it is an earthenware bowl, a quilt, or an oil painting. 

Artists and craftspeople often see the art of craft and craft of art somewhat differently than nonparticipants.  Because we are “in the conversation,” we are generally more aware of what is being produced, and so of what is original, unique…what we consider art.

A bystander might experience art in a piece that is little more than a semi-original copy of another’s style.  To another artist or craftperson, this would not signify as art.  But if it is the first time you have seen it, then to you it might be.  I think both perceptions are valid. 

To take away someone’s awe at what is new to her, is mean, and it certainly doesn’t encourage her to trust her response to beauty as she perceives it.  Such response is essential to art making and art loving.  At the same time, it is possible to share someone’s enthusiasm while sharing knowledge of the broader context for this art.

As easy examples of art and craft from my perspective, below is a slide show of three pieces I have created: art and craft.  Creating something from one’s own vision in a unique and original way, this to me makes art.  “Antelope Canyon” and “Bridges to Nowhere” are art.  “Batik Queen” shares an artisitic sense of color, but is essentially craft.     

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2 thoughts on “Art & Craft: The Difference

  1. I would like for there to be no distinction between art and craft except for the fact that different mediums are used. Sometimes the word craft implies homemade rather than a work of good quality and that imposes on all of us who work with our hands to do the best work possible. I appreciate your thoughts.

    • Hi Linda,
      Thanks for your comment. I love knowing who’s “out there” and sharing thoughts.

      My distinction between art and craft is not based on medium. I see oil paintings that I consider more craft than art; they are not original work in design, conception or execution. On the other hand, I have seen weavings that are pure art in all these ways. Likewise quilts.

      While I agree with you that, unfortunately, the word “craft” is often mistakenly associated with “homemade,” and “homemade” mistakenly assumed to be poor quality, these are truly mistaken and generalized assumptions, often made by those who are not familiar with arts and crafts work.

      I do not distinguish between art and craft based on quality of execution. I have seen rudely done work by untrained artists that is absolutely phenomenal in its artistry. And I have seen beautifully skilled execution of craft that is mediocre in its esthetic sense.

      So, to me, it is not the medium, or even the quality, that defines art or craft, but the originality of vision and execution.

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