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Art Vs. Craft

Hear ye, hear ye, court is now in session, the honorable judge You presiding in the case of Art v. Craft…

So, today I thought that I’d start out with an age old debate: the nature of art versus craft. When does craft become art? Can art also be craft? Are art & craft mutually exclusive entities, with no middle ground, no meeting point? This is also a post about the nature of labels & labeling.

Recently I saw a forum post on a site that has added a ‘fine art’ category. Sellers wanted to know exactly what items should be in this category, as many items featured there where not what would normally fit into an art or fine art category & while I won’t go into the answer for the site involved, this sparked a debate on art, craft & labeling an interesting question worth discussing here.

In order to discuss this though, we should first define what we mean by the terms art & craft. For me, a  craft seems to be a skill to be mastered & those who have mastered this skill can be termed craftsmen. Art is something that communicates to the world, tells the story the artist envisioned, makes a statement. Craftsmen can be artists, when their craft makes a statement, shares a story with all who see it, whether or not we agree with the statement or want to hear the story. Artists can be craftsmen when their art, their story is told through the use of a skill that has been mastered. I don’t think, as some do, that craft can never be art. If the craft makes the artists statement, then to me, it is art, regardless of the medium used.

Hand Knotted Choker Necklace OOAK Balance of Life

This is very similar to the “Is photography art?” argument that pops up, from time to time & place to place. Photography can be art, when it makes the artists statement & it can be documentary in nature, when it documents a time, place, person or event. The document can be art, when it transcends the mere marking of a time, place, person or event, to make a statement, even if the statement is about the  beauty of a place, human nature or the nature of an event In other words, photography is a medium & is not inherently art.. Paint is not art, by itself & neither is the act of painting. The artist has to do something with the paint, say something in the act of painting. In this same way, craft (any craft), is not necessarily art but can be a means to art or a medium.

There are no real right or wrong answers here, if there where, this question would have been settled a long time ago, so these are only opinions. What’s your opinion? Is art craft? Can craft be art? Are they completely separate, completely the same or is there a middle ground, where art & craft exist together?

In terms of sites, like Etsy or ArtFire, where labeling is necessary & even a part of the process (think  SEO), when should something be labeled art? If a browser is searching for art, what do they expect to see? Is it effective to call something art (or craft), in marketing terms, if it’s not what the end consumer would expect to see when the search results come up, even if the term fits when used in another situation? All interesting questions to think of when listing an item. Regardless of where any of us stand in the “Art v. Craft” debate, it’s best & more effective, to keep the end consumer in mind. If they where looking for your item, what terms do you think they’d use in a search? Would they call it art? Would they say it was green? Or soft? Or vintage? These are the kind of questions to ask, the kind of answers that will help drive customers to your item, keep them looking, maybe even buy, and that’s the best verdict you could hope for! SAM


  • http://www.jorisna.etsy.com Kay

    This is a great post, Sam! I’ve always wondered about this question and hope it will provoke discussion both regarding the topic and regarding labeling. Myself, I think the art v. craft simple answer is aesthetic v. utilitarian, respectively. Shaker furniture, therefore, is a craft (but is it not also aesthetically pleasing?). Frank Lloyd Wright’s beautiful windows are a craft — they are windows and have the purpose to let in light — but are they not also art that incorporates light into the art as an element? He was an architect; I don’t know that he’s ever been known as an “artist.” There is also a lot of art out there that I just don’t understand and in galleries overhear people whispering, “They call that art?” Years ago, people would make and hang hemp macrame on the walls and call it art (and I mean absolutely no offense to those who are fiber artists and do wonderful fine art work).

    I wanted to be an artist. I stunk. I took tons and tons of art classes and with years of practice could draw rudimentarily. My eraser was my most oft-used tool. Others would sit down in class and sketch away, making something beautiful without even erasing. Fast forward and computers are making art!

    I became a writer and learned about “voice.” Voice is the undeniable undertone in a piece. It’s like handwriting. I can often read something from an author I’ve read often and know immediately who it is. Often, people will see this in art right from the beginning: “Oh, that must be a Van Gogh.” I think maybe it has something to do with voice. Would someone be able to tell that you, and you alone, made this?

    In the US, fine arts degrees are conferred on those graduating with majors in dance and music, too. What definition makes these fine arts? Although music is aesthetically pleasing, it also is functional in so many areas — think marketing. But classical music has voice. Computers are now trying to figure out how to reproduce these “voices,” and they are almost there, though I hope they never do. Beethoven is Beethoven for a reason and is not John Phillip Sousa.

    So, how to label? Great question. I’ve crafted all my life and would never propose to put a “fine art” label on any of my work. I do precision, excellent work for what I do, yet would never consider myself a fine artist, even though I create original pieces. I would classify myself more as “folk art” or “primitive art,” if art at all. I consider myself a crafter.

    I am anxious to hear more in this discussion. Thanks for starting it!

  • http://www.urbanartifaks.etsy.com jackie

    its funny, we’ve been discussing this subject for decades and i could never see why it was so important–until now, for SEO optimization.
    For myself, I loosely divide things into functional (craftsman) and non-functional (artistic)…not fool-proof, but just one way of looking at it.
    I LOVE functional art, it gives me a REASON to buy something I really want (usefulness) but don’t really have the money to spend on something unnecessary
    Art is so subjective. One man’s art is another man’s ‘WTH???’ I used to HATE when people said i did crafts–but that was back when we were making little animals from egg cartons and such-fun for kids, maybe, but not something i’d sell at a “craft” show!

  • http://samsstuff-samsstuff.blogspot.com Shelley

    If you get a chance, stop by Etsy & check out the business forum discussion:


    Interesting discussion & more sharing of opinions…

  • http://dragnrags.blogspot.com Jennifer Moore

    To me, craft is art (or, it can be.) Obviously, there will be times when a handcrafted item is ONLY meant as a functional piece. That’s usually made clear by the maker. Still, handcrafted pieces have an inherent artistry to them, I find. I consider craft art when it is done by hand or involves handcrafting in the process of creating it. Even with an item that has been mass-produced, well…the design from which it started was art, and the prototype could be considered to be handcrafted.

    When I SEARCH for “art” (I come from a family of art collectors,) what I am looking for is specifically fine art: paintings, sculpture, photography. When I search for “art” I’m not thinking “handmade purses” or “decorated boxes” or what-have-you. To me, that is the distinction between “fine art” and “craft.”

    I feel that what we on Etsy, Artfire, and other sites like them are doing is all art. Some of it, though, is functional, and some of it is statement or decorative.

    To me, “art” is a very broad term. I tend to break it down further into “fine art” vs “handcrafts,” so the way the categories on Artfire and Etsy work makes perfect sense to me.

    Jen Moore

    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • http://www.birffjdsddggdd.net Rudy Griffin

    Very good written post. It will be valuable to anyone who utilizes it, including me. Keep doing what you are doing – i will definitely read more posts.

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