Was Michelangelo an artistic genius? Of course, but he was also born in the right place at the right time; pre-Renaissance, Western artists got little individual credit for their work. And in many non-Western cultures, traditional forms have always been prized over innovation. So, where do we get our notions of art vs. craft? In this lesson for TED-Ed, I trace the history of how we assign value to the visual arts.
I think there are many handicrafts that are much closer to art and I also feel my gloves, with 25 different hand-crafted stages, are artwork with their uniqueness.
Waiting you in my Naples, friendly,
Thank you so much for a great introduction to considering the historical use of the words “art” and “craft.” I am organizing my new courses for the fall and this video really fills the bill for the first lesson in each course. Terrific graphics too. Do you plan to create more videos?
Hi Beth, yes absolutely! I’m glad you found this useful for your students. All the best, Laura
I believe it is much easier for someone that is not an artist or crafts person to define the difference. Both are so much alike from a brush stroke to a chisel or a pen, most comes down to muscle memory and makes each person’s work noticeably different. For almost 50 years I have been in architectural woodworking specializing in the reconstruction of historic pieces. When I was younger before cad programs I could tell you who local architects drawings were at a glance because of their individual styles. I consider the drawings to be art however I never considered their visions art until a crafts person like me made them tangible. I personally don’t believe one can exist without the other or that one is more important than the other.
I come from a classical art background, also classical animation and am now a needle felt artist. I don’t find I need to follow any rules set for me. My imagination is the only thing that can hold me back. The art form is so versatile, creating both 2D and 3D pieces. It is sculpting and painting with fiber. Considered a craft, but I can be as creative as when I paint or draw.
As one who has long been a literary critic, I appreciate Morelli’s analysis. This succinct presentation is right on the money. “Art” is in the eye of the beholder and in the hands and mind of the creator. Only recently I have begun to also think of myself as a fiber artist from the things I knit, sew and crochet. This is as opposed to the “craft” I produce when I do something like counted cross stitch in which the “creative” decisions about colors, sizes and relative placement are not mine but from some other creator. So I guess, to me, the difference as the creator of the object is where the decision points come. As the artist, I decide colors and design whereas as the “artisan” I merely follow the instructions to make someone else’s design real.
Hi Harriette, I don’t agree that craft essentially means following someone else’s instructions. For instance, painting furniture is considered craft. Any embroidery is considered craft, even if the design is your own. Anything that has a function, no matter how unique and how skillfully made, is craft. Do I agree? No way!
Very interesting, I’m a hobby wood carver. Are the works of the unknown beginner still art? What is the threshold?
By leaving behind the division between art and craft, we return to the pre-renaissance condition you decried.
I have come to believe that the difference between art and craft is that craft follows a formula, while art is the thing we do when there are no rules. The best art stands on craft, but goes beyond it. We recognize the value of the primitive because it is original. While it is determined by a formula, just as the Mona Lisa follows the basic outline of Renaissance era portraiture convention, how it deviates or goes beyond those conventions is what piques our interest, and what qualifies it as art.
This is the reason that making a Jackson Pollack style painting is not considered art, but rather craft. It is why we call some work “derivative.” The hard work of going outside convention has been done, and those forms simply emulate a new formula.
We should not dismiss craft. The attainment of mastery of craft is magical and wondrous. And it is the master crafts person who is best qualified to “go beyond” craft into art. The Asian system of art training has long embraced this approach and there is much the west has to learn from it.
I enjoyed listening to this and reading comments. It’s a very old discussion. It all comes down to who you ask the question to all over the world. For me personally. I am both an artist and artisan because a create and make many different disciplines of fine art and hand made craft. But, visual artist/artisan fits. I don’t let anyone even Art scholars dictate if o call it art or craft. Today, saying an item like a commode seat hanging from a wall in a metro art museum that was actually made by someone else in a factory is not art. Period. Yet, a piece of pottery , with many hours work, shaped by hand and with thousands of marks and color glaze choices and there is no other like it, is try art.
Funny you should mention toilet seats. In Texas there was a fishing lure manufacturer called “BINGO”. They are very collectable and sought after by many. The crafted a seat out of colored (red, blue green and clear)plastic with their lures imbedded in the plastic. They really are very cool to look at. To ME this is craft. Not much style or original thought went to making this other than following another form, just another version. So i ask myself; if i wanted to convert THAT to art what would i change or do differently? Im not sure there is anything i could do to change that.
Would you consider the statue of Micheal Angelo craft? A craftsman made it. Is Leonardo Divinci a craftsman are an artist?
Thanks for reading…humbled!
Fine art creates an emotional, transcendent realization that beautiful objects do no. They can be appreciated at a high levering but they do not move one into another sense of realization. .I’m a huge fan of Indigenous art and understand it’s cultural signicance. When pieces of that origin are transcendental they are art. And they have that transcendent quality because they are different from the norm in both the idea and physical creation.
Art lead’s to become Artist. Cause with Art the mind expends and new Crafts get more indentify. So Art is Theories and Craft is a completation were both join tobecome Work of Artists.
Several years ago I had the honor of spending a weekend with the quilters of Gees Bend, Alabama when their work was being exhibited in Washington D. C.
As I had the opportunity to speak with the quilters about their process I came to know that as each creation was unfolding there surely was evidence of line, form and color. Each finished quilt was decidedly a work of art.
What a great experience! Thank you for sharing. –Laura
The animation is really captivating! Congratulations.
I think that what we normally call “art” is really “visual arts”, and is basically limited to painting and sculpture (and similar). They can convey messages to the large public that can be political, spiritual and else. The other forms of arts are less free, because the object must be fit to purpose, which is the case for most crafts, or the material imposes huge limitations, like in jewellery, or are embedded in objects that circulate privately, like pottery. I think that the universality and the ability of the artist to convey universal messages play a large part in defining “art” against “craft”.
I agree with you and well said.
I enjoyed the short video about Art and Craft.
This topic often comes up for discussion.
Very interesting….for me, no matter if others call something art or craft, it is creativity….using personal abilities, be they natural abilities unique to an individual, or learned abilities that then encourage individual creativity…..all are forms of creativity. For some, The word “art” suggests a higher status……but, we are all different, what is “art” to one is incomprehensible to another.
Bingo!! Thank you!
Thank you, fantastic video and graphics. I admire the tradition of craft, it truly is the foundation of culture and heritage.
Hello, Nice quick exposition of the subject. As a maker of jewelry for over four decades, this is a subject that has often been discussed, among friends, other makers, and my collectors. It is my opinion that, in a contemporary environment, Craft is how we get our work done, embracing the techniques, the processes, the tools and materials, including our brains and our hands. Art is what happens when, whatever we make and whatever we sue to make it transforms, in any number of ways, the person who uses, wears, views, eats whatever we have made. Thanks for sharing the video, and thanks for the quick tour of the women of Etruria that got me here to your talk.
I believe the difference between arts crafts is the artist thinks outside the box, they have great imagination. The craft person is creative but works follows a procedures already established.
I’m 82 years old, dyslexic and left handed. Most of my life I’ve had to think outside the box, it was my way of learning. I’ve always loved being creative. I look forward to your course and like you l enjoy learning. Loretta Craford. [email protected]. Don’t have a websites
If I look around me I have painting, pottery and Raku vase, china bone Sake set from Japon, bronze from Japan and Indonesia, scrolls from China and Japan, also French wood cabinet, Korean silver and hat chests, lacquer Tonsu from Japan eclectic interior with art and craft from around the world. Some pieces have some value, other not much, souvenir or replica from Museum. I really have a great affection for textile from Asia, Europe and America. As an example I really like batik from Bali. Great art photos from a friend.
My sister is a talented artisan knitting, making broom, « vanière » (sorry don’t know the word in English). Art and craft will always be part of my life.
I appreciate the term Visual Arts to encompass both the creativity, innovation and skill of artists and artisans. Similar to the question about the difference between art and craft is the enduring question that asks “What constitutes art?” Why is a reproduction of a Campbell’s soup tin considered valuable whilst a landscape painted by an amateur but rendered in magnificent detail, colour, patterns of light and shade (chiaroscuro), depth considered less valuable? I would certainly like to explore the various perspectives related to this question.
I am interested in History in general, been in Europe few times for that, Love to see so much history and buildings, learn about how our ancestors live, I always though and believe that was not difference in between art and craft, I consider myself and artist and a craft person, and like to reed books about ancient history, and learn about art and craft and how developed during the years, I actually like the 3D of the paints and craft, fascinated about how we can transform a simple paper in an object, like flower or adfing different media we can do objects, as you said crafters are not considered as artist but personal I disagree, people that create painting, or jewellery or writing a book they are all artist to me.
Thank you very much for this fascinating history of part of Italy ,in my next trip I certainly visit the sites you recommended and I will buy books to learn more before go there.
You alight me, English is my second language, so maybe my grammar is not perfect, but I hope I explain my feelings.
You are an Artist as well, not only historian as author of few books .
Thank you very much for this wonderful lecture.
Thank you so much, Liliana!
I believe the difference between arts crafts is the artist thinks outside the box, they have a great imagination. The craft person is creative but works follows a procedures already established. I’m 82 years old, dyslexic and left-handed. Most of my life I’ ve had to think outside the box, it was my way of learning. I’ ve always loved being creative. I look forward to your course and like you l enjoy learning.
As always, you make us think… that’s good. I would also add to the conversation- what role does function play in this name game?
thanks for sharing…
So well done, Laura. A very clear and concise explanation that I completely agree with! And I love the graphics of the presentation (speaking of art)!
Fun video. Interesting question. As an accountant, I suggest that the ‘distinction’ between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ or ‘artist’ and ‘artisan’ or ‘craftsman’ is personal and arbitrary to each individual who creates or consumes the products of the human imagination. In reality, the distinction generally has to do with successful marketing: e.g., the master craftsmen in northern Italy who decided to set themselves apart in order to be paid more by wealthy patrons based on the relative ‘merit’ of their high craftsmanship were using techniques of sales and marketing that were part of the ‘mercantile’ culture in which they lived. It’s really all about ‘money’ or worth: if you can convince the paying consumer/patron that your work has greater ‘merit’ than that of a mere ‘artisan’ or ‘craftsman,’ then you may be paid more for the output of your mind/hands/body and call yourself an ‘artist.’ The more patrons/buyers you can convince of your higher worth, the greater your reputation may become as an ‘artist’ and the more your output may be valued. Word of mouth promotion by satisfied consumers/patrons (or paid promoters) is the best marketing tool of all. Unfortunately, most superior craftsmen don’t actually enjoy the enhanced fruits of being considered an ‘artist’ during their lifetime, especially the true innovators. That was true in 15th-16th century Italy and it is true today, whether the art/craft is visual, physical, auditory, cerebral, or even digital. Vasari was a great promoter and marketer of ‘artists’ and their work, including himself. The Venetians and Florentines of the 13th-16th centuries were the true innovators in the mercantile world of Europe in many areas. They were ‘artists’ even in the world of finance! Bravissimi!
What is the difference between art, and craft?
Craft is the act of making, of doing physically or mentally. The product (object, movement, sound…) when done from the heart,, essence and feeling with (mostly) skill can be a work of art. When beholding the product leeds to the experience of a deeper feeling that feeds the soul, it is experienced as a work of art.
Learning to play the guitar is learning the craft of playing the guitar. When the music is played from the heart, with feeling it is elevated to art. When the beholder have the sensitivity and awareness to experience the feeling, it is experienced as a work of art. The experience of the work is filtered through the awareness, perception and state of consciousness of the beholder.
Design is the ordering and structuring of the elements.
Innovation is creating novel solutions.
Engineering is doing the calculations mathematically, or visually or intuitively.
Copyright © Hermanus Johannes Strydom
I think of art as showing a higher level of creativity than craft. As a photographer, I create both. Some images are pretty standard snapshots, craft. But, when I wait for the best lighting, find the best angle or composition, and apply creative post-processing to the image, it is elevated to art.
The artist is intuitive and instinctively knows to listen to the materials they are employing to tell them what they want to be… or become! I seldom know what I am going to end up making because I really have so little say in it.
It’s a curious question to ask of an artist AND a craftist. I know, I just made that word up: craftist. Both are makers. As an artist I need to know my craft: the ability to use my materials in just such a way to achieve just so an effect in my artwork: painting and multi-media, writing. In craft-making I know exactly how to do what. In art-making I often I haven’t got a clue how to achieve what I vaguely hope for or have dreamed about. I need to think a lot harder and much deeper, I need to ‘feel’ my way through, it can be a spiritual experience and exercise. My craft demands very little of me, just pick up the tools and make the thing. I can have some ‘artistic license, change the colors, change the patterns, but the end product is essentially the same and identifiable. As an artist I struggle, it’s a fight in my soul and spirit to find a way to express something, as a craftist not at all, it’s a pleasant pursuit with an expected outcome, relaxing and enjoyable. In my art-making things often go horribly wrong, and I waste a lot of expensive materials, in the crafting: never. Is there a difference between the two? Absolutely, like chalk and cheese. DO they overlap? Yes, in some ways, but only in the requirement of knowing your materials and becoming skillful in the use of them. Even in the end result: I am never satisfied with a visual art piece. I am always content with the craft piece. Go figure!
Hi Laura, it has always seemed to me a moot distinction between art and craft. Until the concept of deeper meaning, an encoded message if you will, is ascribed to the work. So we now have the ludicrous situation of works presented without a skerrik of skill in their creation, supposedly demonstrating some deep and meaningful concept, often accompanied by obtuse commentary that strangles the English language. If an art object is to have “meaning” I would argue the object should at least be created with skill. Otherwise any untalented hacker is free to make a lot of money out of a gullible public and dare I say, gullible gallery curators. In this respect I would argue that there can be craft without art, but there cannot be art without craft (if it is to be taken seriously).
I love your wonderful stories and the great effort you have put into writing them.
The TED Talk was very interesting. I am just beginning my journey of understanding and appreciating art.
Thank you for that interesting introduction to the difference between art and craft. I disagree in calling everything visual arts. To me that defines art that I cannot hand but is visual in nature. Craft has a tradition. It is simple something made by hand and has history attached with it. Often there is folklore attached with it. I cannot define art. I think it is different for every individual.
I would like to hear more on this subject subject and o listen to another talk.. I believe there is much more that can be said about the subject. You have just touched the surface.
Hi Laura — You did an outstanding job with this … I was a high school visual art teacher for many years … this animated clip would be so useful for all teachers and would be an excellent way to introduce the topic to students. I think it has even more relevance now that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is asking us to seriously reflect on how we have treated our first nations, and hopefully will go a long way to fostering a greater appreciation of all their art forms.
The difference is that art is A piece that is not meant to be duplicated. Art is like work work done by Michelangelo.. Crafts are works meant to be copied like DIY that can be easily found on pinterest.
I agree! When I submit a painting of a portrait, multi-figure or narrative to a “Visual Art” competition I can be sure that my competitors will include many photographers and other digital reproducers. I reflect on the decades of study, practice, frustration and elation that was absolutely necessary for me to finally produce an original, emotional, accurately drafted and knowledgeably executed one of a kind painting. Then I look at the “Visual Art” piece that ranked as high or higher than me in the completion. Completely duplicatable, digitally manipulated projects that may take a few hours to produce and I get depressed. We are lowering the bar in lots of areas, education, requirements for employment, subject matter and complexity for books (for those who still actually read and not just listen to audio books or wait for the movie to come out). We all know what real art is when we see it. That’s why crowds stand in line to see famous paintings at museums time and time again. Leave it to today’s universities, in their inexhaustible effect to promote “inclusion” to muddy the waters and lower the bar in the world of art.
Art is when you use a craft to produce something unique
These are such interesting perceptions of art or craft. I love to paint small quirky cats, which many people buy. I can frame these and sell them as art, or paint the same picture on card as greeting cards. I am often confused when asked what I do, and feel uncomfortable sayng I am an artist. I mostly reply that I paint, but I believe that I am an artist.
There are artist,, and there are artist who are artist,,
,,think an artist is not what they do, but who they are,,,the rich fabric of this making life a joy when an artist is encountered ,,,, a bus driver, or bus driver that is an artist,,,a chess player, or chess player that is an artist, a barber, or barber that is and artist,,,,,This,,
As there has not been consensus in history as to the difference between art and craft, I feel pretty sure this conversation will continue forever. It isn’t just bound up in the concept of visual art, original art, or skill, but also in the persistent need for some creators to distinguish themselves from other makers. By creating their own “vocabulary” and set of evaluating characteristics, it becomes like any other profession with language being the dividing point to try to elevate some but not all. By creating differences, some also think they are creating financial value. Artificial dividing lines help none of us decide where we could or should line up on that continuum.
Thank you for this excellent debate. How would one describe mosaic? This is an ongoing discussion as to art or craft for many years. I look forward to your opinion.
As a BA (Hons) graduate in Visual Arts Practice, my thesis, ‘The Crossover between Craft/Design and Art: When does design become art’.
The research behind my thesis came from questioning why art and craft have a different status.
My conclusion is that the boundaries between art and design are omnipresent in contemporary art society. Art and design co-exist in a continuum of possibilities where both activities take on many forms. In design today there are many layers of meaning and visual thinking behind the products created, as in the case with current art practices.
Loved this, thank you! As a cabinetmaker and guitarmaker, one of my favorite quotes about this question is from the great American furnituremaker Sam Maloof who said people who argue the difference between art and craft don’t have enough to do!
Can you have art without craft? Doesn’t the ‘artist’ need to first master the craft before art can be made? My personal opinion is that much of modern art, which can be crude and unfocused, is the result of wanting to create art without first mastering the craft that underlies and defines it.
Very interesting. I had not thought deeply on the subject. Perhaps the terms ‘art’ and ‘craft’ are subjective. A ‘well-crafted’ object I would certainly consider to be art. Maybe the difference lies in the creation of the piece. Did the object finish as it was supposed to in the mind of the maker? Did the maker put thought and effort into object, or were they just turning out something useful? Is the original designer of the object the artist, or the workers who carry out the design, not of their creation, also artists? Thank you for the presentation.
Art is the highest form of communication with others; Craft is the highest form of personal competence.
Art or craft it is a gift to all who choose to do it.
Art is an expression of a deep sentiment,or a view that is, to the artist, an important or essential aspect of living. It is an embodiment, on a philosophical level, of our greatest and most complex ideas, values, ethics, etc.
Kant’s notion of an “Aesthetic Idea” was right on the money: “…by an aesthetical Idea I understand that representations of the Imagination which … cannot be completely compassed … by language … [and] is the counterpart (pendant) of a rational Idea…The Imagination (as a productive faculty of cognition) is very powerful in creating another nature, as it were, out of the material that actual nature gives it … ,and by it we remould experience, always in accordance with analogical laws … Such representations of the Imagination we may call Ideas, partly because they at least strive after something which lies beyond the bounds of experience, and so seek to approximate to presentation of concepts of Reason (intellectual Ideas), thus giving to the latter the appearance of objective reality.”
In other words, since we are sensuous as well as rational beings, we experience “the natural need of all human beings to demand for even the highest concepts and grounds of reason something that the senses can hold on to, some confirmation from experience or the like.”
Something that the senses can hold on to. So well said.
Craft doesn’t rise to that level of philosophical representation.
Art, for me, is something that enhances my life emotionally, and/or logically, in ways that I had not thought possible. Cubism made me question my perceptions; Mondrian’s work made me think about the ideas he entertained—where his paintings were just the ‘words’ of his visual vocabulary. Picasso’s Blue Period delighted me with his expressive forms and colors; DaVinci—same as Mondrian, but with superb representational skills. Maybe the distinction is that a craftsman has superb constructional skills whereas an artist has creative vision and imaginative intent, but not necessarily good constructional skills. But, I am in awe of excellent craftsman and seeing them work inspires me—so, maybe, like a ballet dancer, it is the craftsman’s actions that are a form of art…..All musings inspired by your excellent video, thanks.
This is a big debate in the trendy ‘Paint Pouring’ circles. I call it a craft as one can watch a 10-minute video and make a great piece, with no skills. Folks love doing it and get a booth at a craft fair and call themselves artists. People who have been artists for years, be it self-taught or by degree find it irritating that anyone can call themselves an artist, any more than since I can change a tire and add oil to my car, does not make me a mechanic.
One can be an expert at their craft but watching a few YouTube videos does not make one an artist!
Nice presentation, thank you. I agree that the division between art and craft has historical roots and whether correct or not, it is the tradition of the concept that resides with most of us. Crafts usually follow a lock-step creation of an object that has a utilitarian function. Arts also follow a fairly lock-step creation to a point (you have to know how to mix paints for example) but an innovation or personalization takes place and creates an individual emotional function to the object. Although we may respect the craftsmanship of the craft object, even use it as a representation of our culture, they do no inspire individual reaction and thought. I feel that it is the realm of art that causes a unique aesthetic response in viewers and crafts unify our thinking or join us together in appreciation. Good art inspires the unique. Good craft joins us culturally. If the skills involved in the production of both are equal, perhaps this is a possible definition of the division between the two?
A laborer works with his/her hands.
A craftsman works with his/her hands and head.
An artist works with his/her hands and head and heart.
Then you have the angels among us, like J.S. Bach, who worked with his hands and head and heart and soul.
I refer to my crochet creations as ‘HookArtZ’ ….that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Craft has a utilitarian purpose. Art is use-less.
That was my thought precisely. I do small home renovation projects and called my company “Partly Art”, because it is both art and craftsmanship. I have done fifty kitchen backsplashes; each one is unique. A dozen bathrooms, each one trying to be both utilitarian and pleasing to the eye.
Jewelry, for instance, may be art, but it also has to be comfortable, fairly durable, and easy to wear. It must be more than aesthetically pleasing. Architecture must be a craft even as it employs elements of art in the fenestrations. The Mona Lisa serves no other purpose and is purely art.
I think there is tons of “stuff” being made that is not art at all. I like to think that real art requires the artist to be a sort of mystic (whether they realize it or not.)
I would love to hear Laura Morelli talk about the term “hobby” and how it can feel like a put-down to some creatives.
Tangentially, there is the seeming arbitrary distinction between “professional” and “amateur” artists and crafts persons.
Too, there is the often vaguely defined “outsider art.”
And, finally, there are the subjective distinctions between graffiti and murals.
Thank you for the clear and concise video and I look forward to sharing it with my students.
When I found my calling in ceramics about three decades ago, this was a hot debate topic. The perception back in those days was ceramics was overlooked and ghettoized because of its ties to ‘craft.’. I distinctly remember looking for books on ceramics in major bookstores, I would begin by looking in the ‘Art’ section but was promptly directed to the “Crafts’ section to find them. It was so frustrating and I was so bewildered by this oversight. But now, I guess the silver lining is progress has been made and the language and conversation have shifted. Personally, I have abandoned the hierarchical status of mediums altogether and if we can agree that art can be anything, that leaves room for growth. I now use the terms, ‘visual arts’ instead of ‘Art’ and use the word ‘craft’ to discuss the process and how well (or not) something is put together.
Years ago I discovered that art, good art that is, is governed by seven functioning laws. Those laws being; balance, unity, movement, proportion, rhythm, emphasis and variety. What I also learned was that the more of those laws that are incorporated into an art form, the more aesthetically intriguing the artform becomes. In light of that I discovered that the old cliché as it relates to art, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, is not necessarily true. I actually discovered there is good art and there is bad art. In my deliberate attempts to incorporate those seven principles into my art and photography I found I was able to produce better, more aesthetically thought provoking works. With that said I would like to draw our attention to an element of art that a lot of people struggle to incorporate into their artistic paradigm. The element I am referring to is creation itself. For example the planet Saturn. Saturn in and of itself is a majestic artform. Consider its position in the solar system, its subtle but fascinating array of color, its axial tilt, it’s slightly oval shape, the spacing, texture, color, symmetry and position of its rings, all of which are juxtaposed in a cold black backdrop of space. In that one subject we see a master display of balance, unity, movement, proportion, rhythm, emphasis and variety. Is it all by chance or accident, or is Saturn a visual display of divine intelligence? If you are able to embrace that concept then it stands to reason that artistic creativity is a genetic trait that is embedded in the human DNA. We all carry an inherent desire, need to create. Blessed are those who who strive to develop and display their gift.
Thank you for making me think about this. It’s fascinating to me. I’m still processing.
This is a topic that allows for a wide variety of opinions. It seems to me that they are ALL opinions, as I know of no universal gate keeping agency that can make a definite declaration about an object. I have an engineering degree and an art degree. I spent my career as an engineer as it was much easier for me to make a living as such. My life experience is that everything I have designed and/or made has come from the same creative drive center that I have. On one end is engineering design, where everything was subordinated to function/cost. In some cases I was able to inject an esthetic sense into a design, but it was secondary. When I do craft (furniture design and build), the esthetic sense comes more to the fore. However, function is still a requirement. When I make art, it is almost all esthetic considerations. The sculpture does have to be able to withstand its environment. Even that is not mandatory, some art is meant to be temporary. The one thing that encompasses all of these activities is the creative actions that I need to bring forth. I see very little difference between these fields (engineering, craft. art) from a creative standpoint. Only the outside observer will make the distinction. There are factories that have my machine designs, there are products being sold with my design input, there are people using my furniture, and there are people (and 1 museum!) that have purchased my “art”. All of it came from the same source. As an observation, “craft” objects the hardest for me to to design and make. Combining esthetics and function is, for me, the biggest challenge. And there it is, my opinion. The hard distinctions between craft and art are being made by gate keepers, who make these distinctions as a way to categorize (and monetize) other people’s work.
It seems like the term craft has taken an even bigger downturn that before. Craft seems to be the term for simple things that children or non-artistic adults are able to make.
I myself am a quilter. While I do some quilts that are usable on beds, they are more that just my following a pattern. I often choose my own colors and pattern – there in creativity in the process. I also do many quilted wall hangings that are much more intricate and take more skill. I consider them art because of the creative process I go through as I decided color, size, shape, and content.
Thanks for you thought provoking Ted-talk.
I have never used the word craft in association with any type of personal expression. I have always considered these expressions only as art. I really don’t know the definition of craft unless a person’s craft is their art! Crazy..huh? I have such admiration of many forms of expression, recently the amazement of ancient mosaics being uncovered every day all over the world. When you look at these intricate pieces you can only admire them as the pictures of their day and certainly beautiful art. I thank you for your talk , it was much appreciated. Perhaps that is your art..giving lectures on the same. 😊
Art leads with the heart. Craft leads with the hand.
My Father gave me a ‘crazy’ quilt that was made by his grandmother using various pieces of fabric in all sorts of shapes. One piece is a tracing of the hand of her 5 or 6 year old daughter. On that hand is stitched her initials, AH. My grandmothers name Avis Hamilton. My great grandmother employed several kinds of stitching; from plan x’s to what looks like barb wire and crows or chicken feet. It is, in my mind, not only a piece of family history but a work of art. I have since passed it on to my daughter Amanda Hamilton Freeman. It hangs on a special quilt hanger in their home.
I really enjoyed the above presentation. I have always considered art, whether painting, ceramic, food, music… to be such a subjective thing. I once heard a chef say the most amazing meal he’d ever had was a “cup of broth” by some noted chef in a self-righteous tone and wanted to throw something. Every time I go to the third story in the Portland, OR modern art wing and look at the white painted canvas and compare it to a painting like “Girl in a Chair” by Degas in the Cleveland art museum I want to scream bullsh1t. I can find no way to look at the way you perceive the girl’s arm through the linen blouse she wears or the lace on it and the masterful techniques needed to create that painting and reconcile it being in any way comparable , nor achieve the “Emperors New Clothes” mind set needed, to call that white painted canvas on the third art.
I think the Pulitzer award winning article by the Washington Post in 2014 was one of the best things I’ve ever seen about “art” of any type. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/pearls-before-breakfast-can-one-of-the-nations-great-musicians-cut-through-the-fog-of-a-dc-rush-hour-lets-find-out/2014/09/23/8a6d46da-4331-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html I particularly like the following:
“Mark Leithauser has held in his hands more great works of aft than any king or pope or Medici ever did. A senior curator at the National Gallery, he oversees the framing of the paintings. Leithauser thinks he has some idea of what happened at that Metro station.
“Let’s say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It’s a $5 million painting. And it’s one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: ‘Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.’” Leithauser’s point is that we shouldn’t be too ready to label the Metro passersby unsophisticated boobs. Context matters.”
So Art or Craft, meh, what really matters is the context. Is it an investment? Then popular opinion matters. It is just something you want to own because it touches you in some way? Then a masterpiece or Uncle Bart’s carving of his dog Fred, it really doesn’t matter.
Interesting. I have been taking a few online courses on Art History and the study of particular modes and methods of painting. Of course, I knew the terms “art” and “crafts.” But never gave them any real thought. That was art and that was craft. But, that does not mean I was totally ignorant of the beauty that went into making a rug, for instance. I see the seismic shift in attitudes of the buying public, vis-a-vis, those with money and power in the later Middle Ages, with painters like Giotto, to seeing that creator as an Artist as opposed to an Artisan or Craftsman. Your presentation certainly explains the history and blurring of lines, not to mention the acceptance of how craftsmanship can be great Art.
Thank you for your succinct and inspiring TED talk. I tend to hold the cynical view that, throughout most of history since “artist” became an occupation, that cultural misogyny usually labels the work of men as “art” and the work of women as the “lesser” category of craft. The more it can be monetized, the more firmly it belongs to men.
I am a handknitter and hand-spinner. I make beautiful functional garments, most of which are my own designs. I know female knitters who make fine art tapestries and knitted sculptures, works that any gallery should be proud to display, who must deal with people who come to openings and say, “oh, it’s knitting. Well, that’s not really art, is it?” Worse, they must deal with art juries who sneer at their medium for expression.
If a woman had knitted the Mona Lisa with fine silk thread, I promise that few people would ever have heard of it. At best, it would be in an obscure textile museum somewhere, and described as as “the needlework of Lady X, wife of Lord X, a banker in the 15th century. When not hosting grand balls, Lady X engaged in fine needlework.” With luck, we might even know her first name.
Even the world of “craft” is sharply divided under misogyny. A male woodworker is a “skilled craftsman,” but an equally skilled female woodworker has a “hobby.” A man is a “tailor,” a woman is a “seamstress.” In the 21st century, we are still battling these distinctions — it is only in recent years that it has become less than extraodinary for a woman to achieve the title of “chef de cuisine.” Men are “chefs,” women are “cooks.”
I don’t see the worlds of “art” and “craft” coming to a truce until this world gets a short leash on misogyny.
Very interesting, thank you.
A couple of things jumped out at me … the biggest being the
almost off-hand inclusion of “Visual Arts”. That term is
a very limiting description of one way of perceiving some art.
Many pieces, or kinds, of art appeal to senses other than
(or in addition to) the eyes (and, no, I don’t want
to bring music into the discussion 🙂
I’d hoped the content of the talk would be more about the
difference between art and craft … because there is one,
rather than a sort of history of terminology and social
view of some artists versus others.
Why? I’m in the process of writing a book on the art of
computer programming … not the craft, but the art.
This is something not discussed in schools or books,
but is an important concept. I’d really like to find useful
discussions of the distinction(s) between the two,
to help set the tone of what I’m writing.
At the moment, it’s a bit like Heinlein’s and Norman Spinrad’s
definition of science fiction. Adapted, it would be:
“whatever we point to and call art, and what we point to and call craft”.
I’ve always felt the word art or Artist should be reserved for a person who has dedicated their life to elevating their craft to the level of excellence. The results of this successful life choice is “Works of Art”. We as humans over time decide if the work is transcendent of craft, because of its unique elevation of expression. The person successfully performing these “Works of Art”, repeatedly would be celebrated.
True art brings an inexplicable sense of awe, wonder, even terror to the viewer. Perhaps the imagery either 2 or 3 dimensional is purely innovative or just at such an extreme level of artistic perfection that we can claim it as “art” rather than just visual or decorative art. There is no question that craft can be remarkably beautiful and mystifying and illicit the the wonderment of a culture or tradition. But that is not the same as true fine art.
I must say I’m really impressed by the nice write-up you have here. You actually did a great job, unlike most bloggers I’ve seen on the internet talking about this same topic.
Art/Craft: ah, that will continue to evolve, but I’ll tell you one difference that has always irritated me: artists can work in multiple media, switch from one to the other, and experiment with various styles and are seldom criticized for that. But a craftsperson, wanting to display their work in multiple media is often criticized, characterized as “scattered” or “unfocused” and directed to stick to one vein for a consistent display. Also, the damndest things get touted as high art, even when the craftsmanship is horrible.
I was trained as a classical musician. I always felt my craft was in technicalities: correct fingering, embouchure, breathing, etc. The art, however, was in the interpretation of the music and being able to evoke emotions and bring beauty.
Yes, that is why I have a problem with “conceptual Art”
Where can I get a copy of your lesson on art and crafts?
Hi Kenneth, just click the link at the top of this post to watch the video. Enjoy! 🙂
I found this very interesting. I would love to learn more. In my eyes somethi g that is created by hand is art.
Very interesting. I took Art History in college so many moons ago. What was pounding into our heads multiple times everyday was this saying,”What’s Art to you is Art to you”. Maybe in some ways he was really trying to say the same thing. I was an Interior Design Student at the time and my take away was that a piece of Art must stand on it’s own. It is not an Accessory to enhance something else. It needed to mean something to the owner and not just enhance a color scheme that we dreamed up but maybe to be the inspiration for that scheme and all else that we did.
The oft held argument is the art versus craft is held by the artist’s own intention and only supplanted when the beholder or critic speaks louder than the artist.
I have been a member of several art co-ops and this question comes up because flat work artists don’t want to be a member of a gift shop. The last time the debate was brought up, I suggested calling ourselves a gallery of “Artisan Crafts and Fine Art”. Marketing is everything and I didn’t want to see some of the amazing items thrown out because other’s failed to see the value in workmanship in those items. It seems that “Art” ends up with several debates not just in the definition of what it is is but also the items it encompasses. I am a pastelist and there is the argument that we are painters vs drawers. That one can get very lively and has, especially with learned professors of art. I enjoyed the historical argument of your video and again, it seems to come down to marketing, ie; an individual is in higher demand than others.
Thanks for this entertaining and informative video. I’ve always thought of the difference between art and craft as one of intention: the craftsman seeking performative excellence and the artist seeking communicative awe or wonder. Expressing the sublime, or the cubist notion of multiple simultaneous perspectives for example, strikes me as a categorically different operation from perfecting a Chinese vase. It might be then for the artist to decide if it is art and the craftsman whether it is craft, the audience a mechanism for validation rather than categorization. I wonder if that resonates with you or the historic record?
Is it art or craft? The definitive answer: “I just make stuff”
I taught elementary art for many years and the discussion of the difference between art and craft often came up when discussing projects the students did. If the students created something that was to be looked at it was visual art, if it was made to be used it was utilitarian art, if it came in a plastic bag from Oriental Trading Company it was a craft.
We always did art in my class.
“Art is not handicraft; it is the transmission of feeling that the artist has experienced.” – Leo Tolstoy
Seeing Picasso’s original painting “Woman Ironing” from his Blue Period affected me deeply. In that moment, I experienced the depression – the despair if you like – that Picasso experienced that gave birth to that work.
I enjoyed the video, thank you. I feel that history seems to always be shifting the terms. Even today there is a blur of craft and art. For example Jeff Koons hires craftsmen to make his fine art, and so did Warhol and many others . Big business for sure is the motive and it clouds the definitions since it’s not always specific.
I do personally believe there is a distinction between artists and artisans or art and crafts. It doesn’t mean to me that one is worth more than the other though. I am an “Art for arts sake” kind of person. I would also call this visual art. If an art piece is made just for the sake of it’s visual beauty and not another purpose like a vase to hold flowers or a rug to soften your walk and cozy up your room then to me, no matter how beautiful it is, it’s a craft made by a craftsman or artisan. It’s still beautiful, but that’s not the only reason it was wanted. As an artist who is an “Art for Art’s Sake” painter, I also don’t create art for a message or a cause especially something so fleeting as politics or the current opinions on today’s conditions and I will not enter art exhibits that require my work to have that kind of message. It feels wrong because my mantra when I started painting was to only paint the beauty of the things I see and want to paint. To start with a pre-conceived idea of it’s message or hoping getting a response based on someone else’s ideas seems wrong for me.
I believe that the difference between artist and craftsman lies in the innate ability for someone to think in terms of composition and design and knowledge of color and how to use it. I see these traits in everything I come into contact with every single day, whether I conscientiously try to or not. I live design and creativity.
I am an engineer. I solve mathematical problems. I think of the solutions as sometimes elegant and beautiful, others mundane and workman-like. Some are art, some are craft. Both are useful.
I frequently need to generate plots to convey results. With today’s color printing, the plots can be “artistic”. I printed up large copies of some of the really good plots from my dissertation and hung them in my apartment for the party I gave myself for graduating. The plots were decorative, intensely meaningful to me, required a high level of skill and ingenuity to produce, and were appropriate and humorous for the occasion. Was it art? I don’t know.
I enjoyed your TED Talk. I am an amateur constructor of steel string and flamenco guitars. I admire the folk art tradition.
I believe well executed rugs, clay pots, quilts, weavings are every bit as museum worthy of being called art or craft.
It’s interesting that it’s all about pay – just as the distinction in academic math departments about “pure math” vs “applied math.” It’s about grants and contracts. When the stakes are low the arguments are the most bitter. Critics are useful to point us toward works we may not know, to define criteria with which we may evaluate work but I prefer to make up my own mind on and about the merit of the work.
I’m so glad to have watched this.
The time is far spent NOT to find a comprehensive term and also to recognize how intertwined the idea and production really are.
There were notable, recognizable, sometimes named individuals prior to Florence. When I taught art history, every text seemed divided chronologically with the main divide being “the Renaissance.” Part One contained artifacts, “classic” architecture, sculpture, etc. The pieces seemed to serve a larger purpose. Part Two “Renaissance -forward” seemed to be the arrival of “real art.”
Most of us think of art in terms of the material expressions we can “see, touch, feel”. Every piece comes from somewhere in the ream of ideas. As such each has its genesis story and is expressed in materials, skills, techniques. How do we categorize beyond this? The simplest way is what Vasari did, that we continue to do- give our friends a boost in celebrity.
The will to art is primal in integral to what makes us human in the noblest sort of ways.
Yes, let’s get a comprehensive term that adequately describes what humans do when they have a visceral reaction to an idea.
I’m in on that!
Ciao Laura, I wish I lived your exciting life surrounded by so much beauty! Sorelle in nome.
I’m primarily a writer and look at this issue in a very broad and simplified overview (no discussion of skill or how categories bleed into each other).
In terms of post 15th century art, I compare Art and Crafts to literary works and genre fiction.
Literary fiction deals primarily with the human condition. We place more emphasis on story than plot. ART is like literary fiction. We create the works of art emphasizing psychological themes, philosophy, the human condition, the soul of an individual and or humanity.
In Genre fiction, we emphasize conflict (plot) and slowly develop story (theme development through character arc). We emphasise formula and commercialism. CRAFT is like genre fiction. It’s more often utilitarian, commercial, and doesn’t search for meaning, the human condition.
I know this is general, skeletal, but I think it’s true at ground zero. I’d love to see even two sentences from you addressing this. Your comment would go a long way in giving me a sense of how on or off track I am.
Thank you for this enlightening video. This also explains why women have, historically, had so many challenges in the world of art. You can’t become a rock star in a craft, and then making the leap into art, if social conventions exclude you from even entering the closed system of guilds. Women were excluded centuries ago, and only in recent decades has that stained-glass ceiling developed substantial cracks.
A Craftsman or an Artist? Chicken or the Egg?
Your video was well written and produced. I’ve watched it twice. You seem to make learning fun and that helps explain your huge success, along with your talent, creative vision, skills and of course deep passion.
As an amateur-mostly-self-taught-63 year old-late bloomer creative, who started as a “street vendor selling what I made” twelve years ago, and now a Gallerist, Co-owner and Resident Artist, I’ve slightly struggled with this distinction, Craftsman or Artist.
At this stage of life, I no longer yearn to truly earn (education, life-long experience, sacrifices, etc.) the title “Artist” and have become very content using the qualifier “Amateur Artist” (Who BTW has sold around 200+ pieces of mixed media, paintings, bottle art, etc.). Reality Check – I still can’t quit my day just yet and rely on Art sales to make ends meet.
So I may or may not be a real artist, such as folks like you and countless others. So why pretend. Let’s be intellectually honest. I find peace with the analogy of Baseball.
I play baseball – you play baseball. I play in the minor league. We play mostly on weekends and at night, for little or no pay. (lol) . You, and folks at your level are in the Major League. You all are professional ball players, who earn livings doing it. So we are ALL athletes. We ALL enjoy the game.
To me, there’s nothing to be gained by status-title-name-dropping, some say Tomato, some say Tomahto.
Keep up the great inspiring work and I so look forward to learning more and being inspired!!
There is great beauty in an elegant shape – even if it has utilitarian purposes. Ancient peoples did not separate art from craft. Often – everyday objects or objects with “utilitarian purposes” served a sacred intention. Sacred geometry, ceremony, ritual, cosmology and religious beliefs were imbued in objects destined to support spiritual deepening. The split between beauty and utility served a commercial interest and mirrors many splits that occurred historically most prominently philosophers like Descartes: I think therefore I am represents a split of heart and body from the primacy of the mind.