After last week's Hochanda Mixed Media Maimeri Mediums Shows I was sent the link to a very interesting article by Ben Fitzpatrick in Australia. The article was published on the Wentworth Galleries website and is entitled The Blurring of Art and Craft. I found it fascinating reading and although I agreed to a certain extent with some of the points made, I found myself feeling the need to qualify others or in fact disagreeing with them. I'd be interested to hear what others think on the subject... What do you think is the definition of a crafter as opposed to an artist? Can you make a defined distinction between the two? Do you consider yourself an artist or a crafter? and ultimately does it really matter?
After reading the article two or three times this was my response...
I agree with the definitions of both art and craft although these days I would say that craft as defined in the article applies more to traditional crafts/craftsmen i.e. carpenters, weavers, clockmakers etc. I feel that many of the modern day ‘crafters’ are unknowingly more from the blurred area between the two (much like the Native Americans) as, although they may employ certain techniques, they invariably have no idea what the end result will be (and it can quite often not have any practical function either). Who’s to say that using a stencil or stamp in the process of creating is that different to the master painters of old using their paint brushes and spatulas in the execution of their works of art. Are they not all techniques of one sort or another? In any case these days art can be functional too as can be seen in the photos at the end of the article.
Having said that even with traditional crafts I believe the lines are blurred as what is the difference between a leatherworker and an artist…both have to understand the nature of their mediums and to know how to use the tools at their disposal and both have to create their finished artwork. Although one may have more of an idea of their goal at the beginning both works evolve during the creative process. Yet one is called a crafter and the other an artist. I disagree about the point of originality though, as craftwork can be original and quite often is. I personally have taught glass painting to 12 students in a class and although they all started with the same design they ended up with 12 unique pieces of artwork at the end. Modern craft is more than mere mechanical technique as often there is no clear idea of how the finished product will look. I think it is impossible to be creative whether it be producing a painting, a craft project or even a garden without putting yourself, heart and soul, into it. It is not the exclusive domain of the artist by any means. That is why so many get such joy and satisfaction from creating in whatever form it may take.
I do understand where the idea that craft is functional and art is purely aesthetic comes from though, as many automatically assume that something is not art unless it has no practical use, is viewed in a gallery and is therefore a luxury (often expensive) item. It feeds into the class divide of whether you are wealthy enough to afford to spend money on something purely decorative or you need it to be functional too. Art is a luxury whereas craft is affordable. But beauty is uplifting in whatever form it takes, whether that be in the form of an artwork, craftwork, music or nature.
I think it’s a very interesting subject as it is still steeped in prejudice and preconceived ideas. I believe if you asked the average person they would say that art is more highbrow, more expensive, with craft being the poor relation and not as worthy. I feel there is still a stigma attached to the label of ‘craft’ or ‘crafter' which for many conjures up an image of some bored housewife with time on her hands and artistic aspirations but not having the education or ability of a true artist to produce great works she dabbles in homemade cards etc. So maybe there are yet more distinctions to be made within the world of craft i.e. the craftsman vs the crafter. However, I’m amazed at the number of ‘artists’ I have living in my own street (who I only discovered a few years back during the Open Studios season), many of whom I believe are not classically trained and yet are happy to call themselves artists as they generally produce paintings to hang on the wall.
I feel that the film example though to be a little contentious in itself as I believe that so called ‘Arthouse’ films are such because the big money machines behind the film industry won’t invest in them as they can’t see the potential of large profit margins as they are unlikely to appeal to the masses but does this really make them art? I’ve certainly never thought a definition of art as being only appealing to the few rather than the many. Some modern art (at least to me) appears self-indulgent as there is no desire to create something to appeal to anyone other than the artist themselves and that may also be true of some arthouse films. So maybe that is a better distinction between art and craft in as far as most crafters like to make something of beauty that will appeal to others whereas artists are satisfying a more self-indulgent desire to create for themselves? So it would appear that the intention behind the work is still key to the definition. Although having said that the creative process in general is self-indulgent whether it be as an artist or a crafter, so maybe not.
I wonder whether a better distinction is that most artists tend to stick to one discipline whereas many modern crafters (although admittedly not all) do tend to enjoy mixing it up a little and either employ more than one discipline in their work or jump from one to another. Ultimately I suppose I’m just so pleased that there are thousands of people of all ages and creeds who are enjoying being creative in one way or another (whether that be in art or craft) as I firmly believe it to be good for the soul, especially with the pressures and pace of our modern society.
It saddens me that there is still so much snobbery within the creative world and so I personally am proud to call myself a crafter (after all there is ‘art' in ‘craft').
Further to my original thoughts I did wonder if there was another distinction that could be made in that the life of an artist is inclined to be more solitary than that of a crafter. Crafters tend to be a more friendly bunch as we enjoy getting together to create our works of art whereas the term artist generally conjures up the image of a poor starving creature locked away in his garret with no choice but to create.
But ultimately, I don't think it matters whether you call yourself an artist or crafter as the creative process and satisfaction we get from that is what matters to me. The joy of giving something unique you've created to someone else and seeing the pleasure it brings them is the 'icing on top of the cake' as it were. I firmly believe most of us are both in whatever form our creativity takes us. And if you want to take it to it's limit you can even see artistry in the way someone parks a car, or makes a bed and craftsmanship in the way someone mows a lawn or packs a lunchbox.
It is an interesting debate though don't you think?!