Weekly Question No. 21 - Art or Craft?

edited April 30 in General Discussion

@Toujours has been pondering the distinction between Art and Craft and wondering where one ends and the other begins. Is there, and can there be, an overlap? She suggested that this may be a good topic for another Weekly Question which I have been neglecting since I’ve been ill. I think it’s a great question. Thanks, Toujours.


So, what are your thoughts on this. When we make a painting are we doing art or craft or both? If your answer is both, what is the art part? What is the craft part?



  • Another good one @toujours and @tassieguy,

    I hope you are feeling better Rob.

    I often think of crafts as something made, such as this bunny I recently did


    (Thats partly an excuse for me to show it off again  :) )

    And in my head there is a distinction between craft such as that, and painting.

    Though, as these weekly questions often do provoke thought, I think really when we are painting we are also crafting paint to make it resemble something.

    So it is perhaps really just down to semantics. 

    So I consider that we are doing both.
  • edited April 27
    Thanks, @MichaelD:)

    I'll like to give others a chance to respond so I won't give details of my thoughts on it yet. But I think you are right. We are doing both when we make a painting - especially if we stretch/prepare our own supports. 
  • I think of art as expression and craft as construction. :)
  • edited April 28
    1. Craft - Sometimes used as a generic term for constructing things by hand that doesn't imply any exceptional skill or excellence.
    2. Craft (as in outdated word craftsman) - high level of skill involved in creating by hand, such as a cooper or boatmaker. The things that they make have a beauty and exquisite craftmanship.
    1 - Sometimes used as a generic term that involves anything that might take place in an art class in school or whatever - that doesn't imply exceptional skill. 
    2 - Highly skilled expression in visual arts or music or literature etc that communicates aesthetics beyond the immediate rational level. 'The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance', Aristotle. To Hegel, art “reveals to consciousness the deepest interests of humanity”. I present these definitions not as definitive but as evocative of what I think*. Even if when we're moved by something we can't necessarily fully articulate why it captures something for us. To me not every painting or novel or movie is art. Some are staggeringly good art.

    *“I am moved by fancies that are curled
    Around these images, and cling:
    The notion of some infinitely gentle
    Infinitely suffering thing." T.S. Eliot.

    Yeah, that's art.
  • edited April 29
    Thanks, @allforChrist. That's a neat summary.  :)

    Thanks also for your thoughts on this, @Abstraction.

    Your definitions are similar to mine.

    Love the T.S. Eliot verse.   :)
  • edited April 30
    We use the term "arts and crafts" to cover a wide range of activities. Weaving, pottery, painting, sculpture, woodwork, metalwork and so on. All fall under the umbrella term "arts and crafts". But all crafts are not art and all art is not craft. There is some overlap but there are also differences. And that's why we need two terms instead of just the one. But which activities are art and which are craft? Have a look at the following list. Which would you place in the category "craft and which in the category "art"? Why?

    Making individual pieces of fine wooden furniture

    Making a frame for a painting

    Making and decorating a fine piece of pottery

    Making a tapestry

    Stretching and priming a canvas or other support

    Knitting a decorative quilt

    Painting a portrait, still life or landscape

    Creating an advertising poster to be reproduced en masse and pasted on walls all over town

    Making a sculpture from junk and found objects

    Making a charcoal drawing of a nude

    Making a print or linocut

    Doing Interior decoration/design

    Making an architectural drawing

    Making jewelry

    I could extend this list almost indefinitely but you get the idea. I regard some of these as craft and some as art. Before explaining why, I'd like to get other members thoughts on which activities belong in which category. 

    @MichaelD, @allforChrist and @Abstraction have already made some useful comments about overlap and about expression vs construction/fabrication. Separating the art from the craft in the above list may help us clarify things further. 

    Thanks for participating.  :)
  • I think as Artist-Craftspersons, we should do what we love to do, how we love to do it…. and leave it up to the critics and academics to argue over what they want to call that thing you’ve done and why.  😀
  • edited April 30
    @tassieguy I totally agree with your list, but could probably find on each of those where someone could elevate the craft to art. I don't doubt that you'd agree with that.
    This is part way there: I was doing an evaluation of a development program in a settlement area in Chile in 2007 I think it was. This is the story of their journey. We had long partnered with this group of women who under Pinochet had banded together for support and to tell the story of the abduction and torture of their desaparacidos - the missing - their husbands, sons, brothers and many women. They would be taken in the night and they never saw these people again. Each patch tells a different phase from resistance and solidarity through to developing their community and partnering with us, promoting opportunities for children, improving their lives. While the needlework probably isn't extraordinary, the social history elevates this piece for me.
    In the second last panel is the name of my organisation in Spanish. If you think overseas aid is about being the hero from overseas, you are misreading it completely. People I meet like these women are my heroes, with far more tenacity, courage and strength than I have ever found in myself. And so much wisdom to listen to and learn from.
  • edited May 1
    Thanks, @CBG. That's probably what most of us actually do. But I guess it doesn't hurt for artists to reflect occasionally on what it is they are actually doing when creating a work.  :)

     Thanks, @Abstraction.  Yes, I agree that the overlap of "craft" and "art" makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have two discrete categories into which we can neatly sort the various activities. And the social and political ends that art and craft can serve make that even more problematic. What those women have made is deeply meaningful and whether we call it art or craft is, IMHO, irrelevant to it's significance. But for reasons I'll explain, if I had to put their work in one or other category, I'd probably go with craft. But that does not lower it's value. I think it is a mistake to place art on a higher pedestal than craft.

    (Edited to add response to @CBG's post)
  • edited April 30
    @tassieguy I'd totally agree, I'd put it as craft. I think it has social significance, but it lacks the high level of skill and expression to qualify as art. Ok so then I had to think of someone I think does elevate the craft of traditional textiles to art. I think the work of Maximo Laura of Peru does that. He weaves each stitch far better than I can paint.

    What is your philosophy about the Art that you create?

    "My philosophy is to work honestly with the best and greatest of feeling, emotion, spirituality and energy. I want it to serve as a voice to this age and time, its territory and thought, as a form of testimony. I believe in life as a marvelous opportunity of self-realization with that which one creates and to have that which I create transcending time." https://maximolaura.com/interview-with-maximo-laura/


    Maximo Laura - Bendita Fertilidad

  • edited May 1
    Thanks for posting those images, @Abstration. I absolutely agree that his textiles must be seen as art even though there is an element of craft involved. But there is an element of craft in painting, too.

     Laura's textiles are beautiful, exquisite. It's like painting with thread. But when we look closely we see that it would be hard to get the effects he achieves with paint.  :)
  • Perhaps the technical side of art is learning the craft; the tools, science, techniques, etc. - learning what those before you have passed on. If pursued through a passion of learning and desire to understand the human condition and the world we live in, leads some to the need to express personal views through their art. Is art then, a self-expression of a chosen craft? 
  • Thanks, @whunt.
     Yes, I think you're onto something there. Similar to @allforChrist's "construction" vs "expresssion".  :)
  • What an incredible combination of colors and shapes in Maximo Laura's work. Absolutely beautiful!
    Thanks for introducing his work.
  • edited May 1
    Thanks everyone for your input on Weekly Question No. 21.

    When @toujours posed the question I realized I had never really thought about what we painters actually do in terms of art and/or craft.

    Anyway, for what it's worth, here is how I have tried to make sense of the question.  Perhaps a Venn diagram is the easiest way to illustrate how I see things.

    As you can see, there's a good deal of overlap between art and craft. That's because there is an element of craft in many art forms and because craft can incorporate elements of what would generally be considered art.

    Forgetting the overlap for a moment, if I had to give  definitions of pure art and pure craft that highlight their differences it might go something like this:

    Pure art is based in aesthetic ideas and emotions of the artist. It's primary purpose is to express those ideas and emotions. The art works themselves have no utilitarian function. They are made to allow the artist to express feelings and to elicit feelings in viewers. A beautiful painting is made to be experienced for its own sake. Works of art are usually one-off pieces (although they are often copied) and are difficult or impossible for anyone else to reproduce exactly. They are unique; non-fungible

    Pure craft is based in the skills and techniques of handling materials and is not concerned with artistic expression. Works of pure craft are primarily utilitarian. Pottery, weaving, woodwork etc. are means of producing items that are useful - pots are vessels in which to store things, woodwork can produce furniture to sit on, weaving can produce materials to keep us warm etc. The use to which they are put is their primary purpose and raison d'etre. Anyone with the right skills and materials can produce an equivalent piece of work. They are fungible

    But what about the overlap? Pottery can be made in aesthetically beautiful forms and decorated with unique art. Fine weaving can be used to produce exquisite items that are as expressive as paintings. These things could be used for functional purposes but very fine examples are more likely to be placed on display and treasured and recognized by all as art. They are very fine artistically and have a strong craft component. These items I would place in the central area of the Venn diagram above. 

    Maybe the central region should be much larger because even when we make a painting there is an element of craft involved - especially if we prepare our own substrates and/or pigments and paints.

    So, those are my thoughts on the question. I'm sure others could add a lot more. So, if you feel like contributing, please do so. 

    Thanks again to @toujours for coming up with this week's question. It really got me thinking.  :)



    PS    If Anyone has a question to do with art and would like it discussed please let us have it. You could either post it yourself as a Weekly Question in the General Discussion sub-forum and give it the next number in the sequence, or you could PM it to me and I would set the discussion up in a similar way to past Weekly Questions.  :)
  • Just a last minute add….. came across this quote today on a site i also belong to ( artist, Dan Scott). 

    “ ARTMAKING INVOLVES SKILLS THAT CAN BE LEARNED. The conventional wisdom here is that while "craft" can be taught, "art" remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. Clearly, these qualities can be nurtured by others. Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work. It's true that every few years the authors encounter some beginning photography student whose first-semester prints appear as finely crafted as any Ansel Adams might have made. And it's true that a natural gift like that (especially coming at the fragile early learning stage) returns priceless encouragement to its maker. But all that has nothing to do with artistic content. Rather, it simply points up the fact that most of us (including Adams himself!) had to work years to perfect our art."

    Page #3  Art & Fear  - David Bayles & Ted Orland
    Actually this quote speaks to several questions we have had here.. I’m reading the book now, maybe you will enjoy it to 👍🏻

  • edited May 3
    Thanks, @joydeschenes.I agree with that. I believe anyone can make art if they have the interest. The skills (the craft) can be learned and honed, and our artistic 'voice" can be developed, too.

    I'm looking for something to read so I'll have a look at that book. Thanks.  :)

    PS I just checked out Dan Scott's site. I like his work and he offers some very useful free resources. Thanks for alerting us to him.  :)

    PPS  I had a look at that book by Bayles and Orland. I've now got it on my kindle and looking forward to delving into it. Thanks again, @joydeschenes :)
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