Art v. Craft

Created: 08/27/12
Last Edited: 11/22/12
A quick essay on a hot topic.
  • Artv. Craft
    DavidW. Nees 2012

    In a world where everybody gets a medalfor participating, it is increasingly difficult to explain the differencesbetween art and craft. A recent art outing to Living Arts of Tulsa caused theperennial question as to the nature of craft and art to be asked again. I wantto elaborate my position here not in a vain attempt to protect the status ofart, but to illustrate the hazard of naming everything Art.
    Living Arts hosted the Brady CraftAlliance for its invitational exhibit Crafting Ritual and Identity. Oneparticular craftsperson stood out, Anita Fields. Fields is a ceramicist. Herwork highlights one of the traditional distinctions between art and craft –material. Ceramics are often products such as teapots, dishes and evenporcelain dolls, items that are usually found in the home. Thanks, however, tothe work of first-generation feminist artist Judy Chicago and her work the Dinner Party this distinction is now asmurky as the Arkansas River.
    Regardless, the result is that materialalone is not sufficient to distinguish one type of work from the other.Moreover, Fields’ own personage highlights other related, quick, and repulsivemeans of determination the first being native heritage and the second being anarchaic gender test that almost always disqualified women from being consideredas artists. Again, this unfortunate historical fact has fortunately not heldtrue due to the work of Chicago and others.
    So if we cannot determine an object’snature by virtue of its material, or the heritage or gender of its creator thanhow do we know what we are looking at and whether it is art or craft or what?The nature of craft is different from art on at least three counts.

    · Craft almost always suffers from the“more is more” philosophy of object/image making. Editing and refinement isessential to the determination.
    · Another true distinction is function.Often an item that has true purpose and is meant to function, it is not seen asart. Art almost never serves a true practicalfunction.
    · The most important distinction – theonly one that truly matters – is that based on a variety of criteria (such asthe two given) the maker makes his/her object and defines its nature. In a Duchamp-ianway, if you are an artist, you make art. If you are a craftsperson, you makecraft.
    Notice that there is nothing mentionedabout quality of material or prestige of function. A gold chalice is in everyway still a cup and the cup of Christ may have been a simple drinking cup outof clay. It is also important to note that although anything may be art (imbuedby its creator that identity), it does not mean for everything to be art. Just as wine becomes blood in the hands of apriest, any object may be transformed by the artist – the ordinary madeextraordinary. Yet, despite the lofty simile, art (as extraordinary as it maybe) is merely art. It is too much to ask for a word to imbue more meaning thanthat; therefore, it seems important to let art define a type of object/image not the value of that object/image. Thisleads to an issue that has been avoided for 100+ years – the discernment ofvalue. An art work is something that can be good, bad, valuable, beautiful,ugly, worthwhile or even worthless – and miraculously still be art, but not beworthy of further consideration. Yet it is not only that art must suffer/benefitfrom critique and criticism, all creative endeavors should be treated the same.Value of workmanship, materials and message are great values to wish forexcellence in their expression.
    So finally, it should not be a questionof what is art, or what is craft, or what is design. Art is what an artistmakes. It is that simple. The real question of the viewer, the critic and thehistorian should be is it any good?
  • Anita Fields
    Crafting Ritual & Identity, 2012

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