What makes a hand-made object a piece of art vs. craft?
Recently, I read Art in America’s review of “The Unknown Artist.” Curated by Lucy Cotter, this exhibition at Portland’s Center for Contemporary Art & Culture consists of art pieces and created objects that are unattributed.
Rather than being considered masterpieces we just haven’t discovered the origin of yet, each of the pieces in the exhibition comes from the Museum of Contemporary Craft, which closed in 2016. Many of the pieces are functional, traditional, or “women’s work,” so we label them “craft.” Not art.
Because I’m a writer, linguistic distinctions like this fascinate me. The way they affect our perceptions can be profound. I’ve already written in the past about the place of digital creation in the art world, so naturally I had to dive deeper into the art vs. craft debate.
A Brief History of Art vs. Craft
This video from TED-Ed gives a quick overview of the history behind the art vs. craft distinction. In Western culture, it didn’t really exist until the Renaissance, and in many other cultures it doesn’t exist at all.
The quality of the work itself doesn’t seem to really enter into it. Historically it’s been more about innovation vs. preservation of tradition and the status of the creator. Knowing this makes me wonder whether the distinction is useful. If someone creates something skillful and beautiful, does the label really matter?
Where’s the Line?
Some of you may be creating work on the edge of what we consider “fine art.” Maybe you’ve even questioned whether you should be exhibiting your work as art or craft.
What, in your opinion, makes a creation move from the craft realm into the world of fine art? Where do you think the line should be? Or should there even be a line?