Sunday, December 5, 2010

Art? Craft? What do you think?

How do you define these words? How do I? What prejudice do I carry?

Craft: I grew up in rural Manitoba. There, crafters surrounded me. In my grandma's home braided rugs lay at the front door and a crocheted afghan covered the sofa. My aunts sewed their children's clothes. My mom knit mittens, scarves and sweaters. When I was old enough I joined 4-H and was schooled in handicrafts.

Art: As a child, I never saw adults painting pictures or modeling with clay. These were activities for children in kindergarten.
In 1999 I moved to an island off Canada's west coast. Here, visual artists, musicians and wordsmiths fill my life. In the beginning I revered them. Now I'm among the artists' rank. I eat, I breathe, I write.

Still, I continue to wrestle with art, with craft.

Writing The Sweater Curse allowed me to explore my relationship with these two words. For main character Gwen Bjarnson crafts, namely knitting, brings her comfort in a tremulous world.

When Gwen was young, her mother said, "Crafts are for the common folk. Art is far more worthy of your time and energies."

I'm interested in what you think.

-How do you define art?
-How do you define craft?
-In your eyes, does one have more value than the other?
-How does society view art?
-How does society view craft?
-Is there art in craft, craft in art? If not, why not? Please explain.


19 comments:

creativepotager said...

Oh you do pick the thorniest questions Leanne. For me your question has many aspects. One of them being gender. Historically in western society we can generalized that it was understood that women crafted and men created art. Another aspect is class or eduction. Country or rural folks crafted. Urban and educated people become masters of the arts. We can wrangle with the definitions of art being original and crafts being productions but we don't have to look very closely to see this definition fall apart. For me art is the act of creating and this includes crafts. What is valued as "art" has more to do with who does the creating than what is created.

Let me demonstrate with an example from Jane Urquhart's THE UNDERPAINTER where the wealthy young painter is telling us about his rural Canadian friend...

But try as I might, I could never turn him from his china painting. He always brought along a cardboard folio in which to press certain plants and flowers that interested him and that he would use as references for his designs. This was a practice I sneered at as much for its girlishness as for its unsuitability to the making of what I believed, then, to be "real art."

I told him this, told him no one would get away with such nonsense at art school, then asked him bluntly why he didn't go to art school if he was so interested in drawing.

"I can't imagine that," he said. "A school for nothing but art."

"Don't they have them here then?" I asked. "Are there none at all in Canada?"

"None for me." George said.

holessence said...

Ahhhhhhhh, I suspect that similar to the difference between a writer and an author, there is a difference between art and craft.

If we work with that theory for a moment (humor me for just a second), let's see if I can do a side-by-side compare and contrast:

Writer/craft: A writer is someone who writes; maybe others have seen their work, maybe they haven't. A crafter is someone who crafts. Maybe others have seen their work, maybe they haven't.

Author/art: An author is someone who has sold their written work; others have seen it and declared "value." An artist is someone who has sold their artistic work; others have seen it and declared "value."

I'll be the first to say that I could be completely and totally wrong. I am an author (a writer who is regularly paid for her work). YET... I have many unsold pieces of written work (some seen, others not) that in my perspective have tremendously more value than the sold works.

Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you Creative Portager for you thoughtful reply. I concur, I believe that society's attitude toward art/craft have been shaped by what we view as man's work and what is woman's.

jennifer said...

I believe that art is expressing yourself through craft, yet competently and creatively. Craft is knowing your business. Art is doing your business with panache.
Well, that's how it always struck me anyhow.
Writers are kind of backwards sometimes, in that we have our art, our stories, in our heads. Getting them down on paper coherently is craft.
Maybe.

Leanne Dyck said...

Very interesting hypothesis, Holessence. To clarify, to ensure that I understand, are you saying that the difference between craft and art is that the crafter isn't seeking fame, but an artist is?
Thank you for commenting your participation is most appreciated.

Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you for your contribution, Jennifer. I like your combination of art and craft. I think I understand, art is the theory behind the act, craft is the act. Yes?

holessence said...

Leanne - Oh dear, I'm so glad you asked for clarification bacause that's not at all what I meant. It doesn't have anything to do with fame (sought after, or not).

Craft is when the person's work has not been recognized, or sold yet. It becomes "art" once it's been recognized (sold).

My opinion is that it's "art" all along. But in our society it takes "outside validation."

Does that help to clarify my answer, or does it only muddy the waters even darker?

Leanne Dyck said...

Yes, thank you so much, Holessence, that does help. I think I understand now. Craft is undiscovered art. Yes?

Leanne Dyck said...

To expand on your conclusion, Holessence, if everything is art what does that mean that craft isn't as worthy as art? If art doesn't gain validation is it craft? Is craft unworthy art?

Maureen said...

This is such a thorny issue. It always comes to the idea of which holds more 'value' or 'status'... But value changes according to societal whims.

Status is an entirely new bundle of fighting cats.

I think the line between art and craft is dissolving and I'm all for it. Quilt making can be an art, it can be a craft. Knitting, beading, wood carving, furniture making... And I think maybe that is the only designation I can set down. One "can" be the other.

Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you, Maureen, for contributing to this discussion.
And I agree, one 'can' and possibly the reason for "something" being regarded as craft or art is the value each word is given by society.
What causes craft to be regarded as art? What makes art craft? Is it only societal regard? Or solely in the intent of the creator? Or there other varibles at play?

holessence said...

Leanne - I liked your summary, "Craft is undiscovered art."

You asked, "If everything is art, does that mean that craft isn't as worthy as art? Not at all - it simply means that no one has offered to pay for it yet. To assign it "value" (unfortunately, in our society money often equates value) from a source other than the artist.

You asked, If art doesn't gain validation is it craft? Only if the artist allows it to be left as such.

You asked, Is craft unworthy art? No - it's art that's waiting to be discovered.

Leanne Dyck said...

Nicely answered. : )

adobedragon said...

Well, as I understand it, "craft" is often applied to creative work that has some functionality or utility. I.e., a quilt, which can be pretty and keep you warm. "Art" is creativity done solely for aesthetic value, e.g., a painting. For some reason, "art" is usually granted more credibility than "craft."

A potter friend of mine, for example, recently had a piece rejected from an exhibition because it was titled "teapot." The jurors claimed that the implied functionality made it not art and therefore a craft. This despite the fact that piece was too fantastical to be a functional teapot. I suggested he submit it again next year with a title like, "Man's Struggle Against the Caffeine."

I paint and draw, but my primary media is steel. My work runs the gamut from functional (gates) to whimsical (yard art), to aesthetic (wall art). I avoid the craft vs. art distinction by calling myself a "folk artist." (I also avoid the gallery crowd because I have no patience for art snobbery.)

P. Kirby

Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you P. Kirby. I enjoyed reading your theory, explanation and solution.
My experience with regards to displaying my knitting in a local art gallery was very rewarding. It was postively received both by artists (who viewed as art) and my those attending the show. I was the one made uncomfortable by its inclusion.

Robert C Roman said...

Sorry to post so late, but I'm JUST getting in from school. From the first time I heard you were having this discussion, I wanted to participate.

First, for definitions. When I hear the word 'art', I think about the first business cards I ever had made. I wanted a play on 'Carpe Diem', but for technology. So I looked up the Latin for technology. The closest word I could find meant, roughly, 'the knowledge of how to do something'.

Artem.

Which is where we get the words 'artist' and 'artisan', which now have rather different meanings, although those meanings are drifting back together. 'Art' is still used to mean the knowledge of how to do things.

The word 'craft' on the other hand, I have used as a verb more often than a noun. When I use it as a noun, I use it in to mean 'the ability to craft (the verb) properly'. Properly, in this case, meaning to create what you are intending to create, rather than creating something random.

So. Art and Craft are, in that sense, indistinguishable. If anything, linguistically, 'Art' has more cultural clout because it stems from the Latin, whereas 'Craft' stems from Germanic roots, and everybody knows Germans are uncultured barbarians. Take that as you will.

Regarding how I personally use the words, I use 'Craft' to mean 'Artem': the knowledge of how to make something. I use 'Art' to mean a subset of the product of a Crafter, specifically that which is particularly aesthetically pleasing. Every pot a potter throws? Probably not Art. One that is particularly pleasant to look at or use? Probably Art.

Of course, as writers, unless we're journalists and MUST hit a deadline, we typically destroy any work that isn't Art. Because we can.

So. TL:DR, or insightful? Craft, or Art? Really, that distinction can only be made by observers or readers, so I leave it up to you. Thanks for having the discussion, Leanne! :)

Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you so much for participating Robert. And for your thoughtful and thought provoking discussion.
I will pass on your comments regarding Germans to my German-Canadian husband. I'm sure it will make him chuckle.
I had so much fun facilitating this discussion that I'm already planning my next.
Thank you all for making it so successful.
As the Beatles sang, "I get by with a little help from my friends."
Okay, so I've clearly entered my silly zone. Time to walk away from my keyboard. : )

Robert C Roman said...

Heh. I laugh at the whole Germanic / Latin discussion, 'cause I'm Germanic (among other things) with the surname 'Roman'. I just find it amusing when presumptions and assumptions THAT old get folded into modern prejudice.

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