This week, I was talking with some friends of mine about art, life, finding a voice and making stuff. As we talked, the question came up. Is there a difference between art and craft? And does differentiating between the two even matter? There seem to be many opinions on this subject. I interact with many people who participate in a wide variety of activities at my studio. I find elements of both art and craft are present. I also think both are necessary to foster inventive thought and create a safe environment to take creative risks.
Some people place different media into categories of art or craft. I notice, when I go to the bookstore that animal cartoon drawing is in the art section and pottery is in the craft section. For the longest time I thought they didn’t carry any books on clay. Then I found the craft section with all kinds of inspiring books.
Some say that craft is functional and art isn’t. Can something functional also be considered art? A person could use oil paint to create an inspired and thought provoking image on a canvas. They could also use oil paint to paint that same image on a chair. Is the chair with the scene painted on it craft because it’s functional or art because the image painted on it is inspired? It’s difficult to label the work by just observing it.
I think, an element of thought and inspiration is usually present in order to call a work art. However, it can sometimes be difficult to see that from the outside. We can see examples of this in history. The impressionists ran into this dilemma when they submitted their paintings to the Paris Salon in the 1860’s. Their paintings looked like unfinished sketches that were common at the time. But the artists were expressing a new philosophy of painting light and capturing fleeting impressions of a specific moment. Even though they looked like unfinished practice runs to the art critics, their philosophy and new ideas expressed in the works created a revolution in the art world at that time.
Craft is important because it gets a person making something. The technical part of learning a craft is necessary to move a person toward their art. When I was in high school, PBS aired the Bob Ross Painting show every Saturday. I admit some of the first paintings I ever did in oil were in front of the TV. I learned to make happy clouds and mountain peaks adorned with cheerful trees and tranquil lakes. Using Bob Ross’s proven method, I could create a beautiful landscape in less than half an hour. As I look back on those paintings, I don’t consider them works of art. I was just copying and learning techniques. I enjoyed the process and painting those paintings were the springboard to growing and advancing as a painter. Since then, my paintings have become my own expression. If you ask me about my paintings, I have reasons for my approach and subject matter. People may like them or they may not, but I believe them to be art.
I have seen the same transformation at my studio with our customers. People begin by painting a mug or plate. Then, they sign up for a pottery class or painting class. As their skill develops, they begin making artistic choices and expressing their individual ideas and art is made. It’s very cool to see.
So how can we judge what is art and what is craft unless we understand the intent of the artist? I believe that everyone is an artist because everyone has something to say. I don’t think it is necessary to bog ourselves down trying to define what is art and what is craft. Make what you like. Your art will find you. Express your voice in whatever medium that speaks to you. It’s important. Art Saves Lives.