Art vs. Craft

30 Jul

When I was in university I spent many of my fine and performing art classes exploring the difference between art and craft. This still is a topic that I find really interesting. I would love to do more research in this area (and possibly work on some exciting exploratory projects along the way).

With the popularity of websites like Etsy, the world’s handmade marketplace, and blogs like Design*Sponge, your home for all things design – I find the art vs. craft discussion very topical. But maybe the bigger question here is do people care how they are labeled? Would you rather be known as an “artist” or as a “crafter”? Are you a Georgia O’Keeffe or a Martha Stewart?

While trying to come to some sort of coherent conclusion on the difference between art and craft I created this string art installation (unfortunately I don’t remember what the title of this artwork was) as one of my final art projects in university. This was a minimalist installation that referenced the popular string art of the 1960s and traditional feminine works of embroidery and geometric patchwork quilting. Working on this installation helped me, at the very least, have an opinion on the issue of art vs. craft.

This isn’t meant to be an academic blog so I’m going to very informally share my (somewhat informed) opinion. I would categorize my string art installation as art and not craft. More than any other factor, scale defines the difference between art and craft.  If I were to shrink this artwork down to fit on an 8.5” x11” piece of paper its status as an artwork would be questionable.

Traditionally art has been defined by where and how it is created. The fine arts were always considered to be a public, professional activity. Women, detained to the domestic sphere, could not create artwork in the privacy of their homes. The paintings, large-scale needlework arts, and quilts women artists created were seen to be simply decorative, feminine, an extension of the woman fulfilling her nature. These artworks were considered crafts; crafts were considered to be part of a woman’s domestic responsibility. The status of the artwork was tied to the status of the maker.

Looking at handmade websites like Etsy I think that the status of the maker does still greatly influence whether the creator is categorized as an artist or a crafter. Association with the traditions and practices of needlework and domestic art can be dangerous for artists, especially when that artist is a woman. This was something we talked about extensively when I presented my string art installation. Women still straddle the fine line between crafter and artist, especially now with the popularity of everything handmade.

More than the status of the creator, the medium used, ideological framing, where the work was created – scale for me is what defines art. Do you agree? I’d love for you to share your opinion.

If you are interested in this topic I suggest you read Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology by Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock.


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