Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Case for Art Vs Craft

Here's an interesting and possibly controversial topic for you: Is there a difference between an art and a craft? Often times the two words get paired together, such as the popular activity at day camp. Other times the two words are swapped and used interchangeably, as though they share the same definition. How does one differ from the other?

A distinction between the two words is something I had never pondered until the subject was brought up as a topic for a blog carnival for the Etsybloggers Street Team.

I don't really like to make an argument for anything without having a good understanding of what I'm talking about, so I looked up the definition of both words on

Art as a noun:
1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation art of making friends
2 a
: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2)plural : liberal arts barchaic : learning, scholarship
3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill art of organ building
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects ; also : works so produced b (1): fine arts (2): one of the fine arts (3): a graphic art
5 a
archaic : a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful
: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter

Craft as a noun:
1: skill in planning, making, or executing : dexterity
2 a
: an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill craft> craft of writing plays> <crafts such as pottery, carpentry, and sewing> b plural : articles made by craftspeople crafts crafts fair
: skill in deceiving to gain an end craft and guile to close the deal>
4: the members of a trade or trade association
5: plural usually craft a: a boat especially of small size b: aircraftc: spacecraft

The first five definitions of art presented basically summarize that art is the final product of activity that combines skill, creativity, observation, and learning. The sixth definition specifically defines it as decoration or illustration in printed form.

Craft was described in the first three definitions as a skill, occupation, or trade requiring dexterity or artistic talent, or as the final product of the above actions. The fourth and fifth definitions are irrelevant

Based on this information, one might make the distinction as art being the creative process and craft being the manual process. An example of art could painting a picture of a scene from a day dream while a paint by numbers could be considered more of a text book craft. But do all crafts lack art? Absolutely not! Take jewelry making for example. It is a craft, for sure! Making a beaded necklace is pretty standard: beads, maybe a pendant, wire or similar threading material, crimps, and a clasp. But colors, patterns, textures are all part of the creative process, an artistic flair. Perhaps making a copy-cat necklace following a pattern using only and all of the suggested beads lacks personal art by the jewelry maker, but the pattern developer incorporated their own artistic flair in the design.

A similar argument could be made for knitting, sewing, and any activity that allows you to follow a basic pattern but add your own artistic and creative flair such as texture and color. Painting a still life or portrait doesn't make painting less of an art than something strictly from creative imagination does it? Of course not! Art does require craftsmanship, however. Having an artistic vision is one thing, but having the unique ability to have it turn out right is another. I could imagine a beautiful scene I'd like to paint, but I completely lack the ability to paint anything well- except maybe the walls in my house!

There are elements of art in craft and elements of craft in art. In my opinion they need each other to work.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your assesment that neither can be without the other.

Live, Love, Laugh, Write! said...

I love the way you analyzed this! I agree - the two concepts fit together hand in glove...

storybeader said...

It is controversial to some. My work is crafty artistry - nouns and verbs mixed together {:-D

diane said...

I see a lot of parallels in my teaching career. You were warned that I might ask to use one of your updates as a guest post on my blog. Could this be the one?

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

Lily and Ruthie - Thanks for agreeing :)

Deb - Your work is very artistic right down to the poems you include in each package, and it is beautifully crafted!

Diane - Sure!

Becky said...

that's a great definition! I think that's the closest we're going to get to solving it! :D

Patti said...

Your last sentence says it all!

Cris said...

"There are elements of art in craft and elements of craft in art. In my opinion they need each other to work." Nice post.