Curious Trends

26/06/2011

Art v craft


If you weren’t able to go along to the Royal College of Art’s 2011 show (to see the likes of Katharine Miles' Smoke Boxes, above), you might like to take a look at my selected highlights at The Dabbler. In response to this piece, a certain blogger named Worm asked, “at what point does art become craft and vice versa?!” Well, that’s a very interesting question and one which deserves a curious answer. For instance, I could simply respond that “I’m crafting this post for the ShopCurious website, which is a veritable work of art.”


Crafting is a process, a means of creating something. In the past, the term ‘crafts’ has been associated with the work of artisan makers of things like furniture, lace, quilts, jewellery, ceramics and musical instruments. But we can apply the word to virtually any discipline, for instance we can craft a book, a poem, or a piece of music. Historically, crafts have been looked down upon as being somewhat rustic - the domain of hobbyists.

Art is a subjective term, the definition of which lies primarily with the beholder. Art is described by Wikipedia 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.” To date, the ‘arts’ have generally been considered the preserve of a cultured and educated elite.

Our definitions of art and craft have become blurred by the modern notion of ‘conceptual art’, (for example Martin Creed's Work No. 998, below), where our interpretation or appreciation of a piece takes precedence over its form, function and aesthetic appeal.

And art is now accessible to all…

However, it’s no longer the item that matters, but the story behind it. That’s why photography and film have become such significant elements of art exhibitions in recent decades – along with old sheds, dirty sheets, piles of bricks and stacks of chairs. And what about design art? This sort of covers what is also known as applied art – anything from fashion design, home furnishings and graphics to architecture and product engineering.

In recent decades, ideas and storytelling have often been given precedence over skill of workmanship, beauty and/or usefulness. Artists and designers have sought to make an impression by being different, by shocking us and attracting media attention. But this is slowly changing as, in addition to the true originality of a one-off piece of art or design, we are starting to value historical provenance, craftsmanship and/or benefits to society.

Significant works of art should eventually be available to all via the internet at online shops and museums. But will this make the physical works more valuable? Probably not, since only a wealthy elite can afford to own them. And unless the owners have exceptional taste, or are prepared to hold on to their purchases as novelites (heirlooms) for future generations, wealthy collectors buying contemporary artworks in the manner of luxury handbags are running the risk of building up collections that may prove to be totally illiquid in investment terms.

For the rest of us, our appreciation of art and craft boils down to a few simple determinants – do we like it/can we afford it and/or is it useful. Alternatively, we could attempt to design or make something more interesting ourselves… though that wouldn’t necessarily make us artists. Or would it?
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