THe problem of art vs. craft
Differentiating categories causes a number of issues in the contemporary art world
People's strong desire to categorize, and name movements in the art world, means that people feel conflicted when something like a life-size ceramic sculpture can be considered art or craft.
2. PERCIEVED VALUE
Often times, you may hear a craft piece has been "elevated to artistic standing" or someone may say, you are not a quilter, you are an artist. This is problematic, as it continues to convey that craft should or is perceived as lesser, and therefore, people who work in specific mediums are lesser.
3. ACTUAL VALUE
Walk into a gallery that exhibits both painting, glass, woodworking, etc. Often times, if an artist considers him/herself as a craft artist, their work will be more affordable. In part this is because of the perceived value, in part it is because of decades of the medium's history in association with functional items, intended to be purchased by the middle class.
Art is most traditionally thought of as drawing or painting that is a visual depiction of a personal expression. That expression can be represented through the use of the brushstroke or the subject matter of the painting. This concept of personal expression through art was not part of our paradigm until the 1400s. However, today it is the definition. In the Oxford dictionary, art is described as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power". As artists concepts engaged new mediums in modernist and contemporary art, this boundary began to be blurred.
Craft is a word associated with craftsmanship and materiality. Traditionally, it is was one of five assigned mediums: Ceramics, Glass, Fiber, Metal or Wood. Once painting became a personal expression, other artistic trades began to be associated with function and utilitarianism. In the 1880's the traditional concept of making, became an idealized, counter-culture concept during the industrial revolution. Later, the studio craft movement in the 1950s encouraged craft artists to explore their own personal concepts and expressions, which changed the scope of the field. Today, the term "craft" broadly includes hobby craft, indie-craft (independent craft often embracing a DIY culture), decorative arts or fine craft, handicrafts, and contemporary craft. Contemporary Craft is now a recognized movement embraced by material-based artists, and the focus of what we support as a nonprofit.
As fine artists create work that utilizes varying materials, and craft artists make conceptual work, there is no clear division.
Here at the James Renwick Alliance, we celebrate and advance American Craft and craft artists. We support education, connoisseurship, and public appreciation of artwork that values materiality, craftsmanship, originality, personal expression and cultural significance.
FURTHER READING for american craft
The Ceneter for Art in Craft, defines craft as...
"Craft is a particular approach to making with a strong connection to materials, skill, and process. Artists, makers, scholars, and curators continue to grow the field, embracing new definitions, technologies, and ideas while honoring craft's history and relationship to the handmade.
Craft, in all its forms, demonstrates creativity, ingenuity, and practical intelligence. It contributes to the economic and social wellbeing of communities, connects us to our cultural histories, and is integral to building a sustainable future.
To learn more about topics in Contemporary Craft, visit their Program Archives.
In 2018, the American Craft Council, collected together an article Craft: Seriously, What Does the Word Mean? where they published what craft meant to a number of craft artists and professions. Below are a few of our favorites.
"Craft is making something skillfully; it’s just that simple. But from that basic definition, infinite complexities arise." ~ Glenn Adamson, curator and historian; author
"Craft is art." ~ Carol Sauvion, creator, executive producer and director, Craft in America films; owner, Freehand Gallery, Los Angeles
"Craft embodies commitment and community. It offers a better quality of life and a deeper connection to one another. Craft embraces the work of diverse cultures in a way that is authentic and inclusive. I find it empowering to remember that, while the arts are a relatively modern invention, craft has been with us all along." ~ Stephanie Moore, executive director, Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, Asheville, North Carolina
"I believe craft is anything you want it to be. It’s malleable, wild, and undefinable. Craft is fluid and queer. It wields the power to be all things at once, with no rules." ~ Faythe Levine, author and filmmaker, Handmade Nation; assistant curator, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Additionally, Craft in America has extensive American Craft Resource Listings to learn more.