“Craft” Isn’t a Dirty Word

Art. Craft. Artist. Crafter. Aieeeeee–it’s enough to make most of us run screaming from the room.


We’ve all thought about this: what is Art? What does it mean to be An Artist vs. a craftsperson, and what are *we* and what do you call the stuff you make? Seldom are you going to find two people who agree on any of the answers unless they’re taking a seminar in art school and are memorizing info for an exam. What people do agree on is that it’s somehow preferable to be labeled an artist rather than a craftsperson–which is just one step away from being shortened to “crafter.”

But here’s something to think about as you think about what you want to be called. I’ve been reading a couple back issues of American Craft, sent to me by a friend, and this bit, from an interview with Garth Clark about the future of design, is telling:

“Fine art is an artificial market, kept alive not by the intrinsic worth of the art–there is none–but by the aura of glamour and privilege and genius. Entry is carefully monitored.”

Let’s say, for a moment, that we accept this premise: that fine art has no intrinsic value. It would follow that what artists are doing–making art–is of no intrinsic value, either.


Let’s look next at “craft.” I love what Christopher Frayling, Rector of the Royal College of Art , says: that craft is “taking the material for a walk.” (Follow that link to check out what others have to say about the definition of craft.) Think of “mastering a craft,” “honing your craft,” “crafting” as a transitive verb, as in “crafting a chair.” Nowhere in here to you find any sense of the pejorative, any idea of hot glue guns and pipe cleaners, yet somewhere between the Middle Ages, with highly-skilled craftsmen and specialized craft guilds, and now, the word has become something else. Everyone wants to call themselves artists; most people are insulted when someone refers to them as a crafter.


But if you really think about it, and if you agree that works of art have no intrinsic value and works of craft are often functional (and therefore do have value), which is the greater compliment: that you’re an artist, or that you’re a craftsperson?


Lots of people call themselves artists. Many are highly skilled. Many others, however, have no training in any medium and haven’t really been making art all that long and may bounce from clay to canvas to paper and back, spending little time mastering the media and even less time honing their skills. Think next of craftsmen (because “craftspeople” is just cumbersome; which is why some prefer the non-gender-specific “artisan”). You think of someone who has perhaps apprenticed herself to a master in the field, someone who has studied woodworking or ceramics or glass-blowing or weaving and knows how the tools work so well that they can, indeed, take the material for a walk.


I write often about the importance of working and experimenting, learning and honing the skills needed to create what you see in your head. I would suggest that that is important whether you’re painting on a canvas or making furniture, whether you’re sculpting or spinning. It’s not the intrinsic worth or the glamor or the prestige, and it’s not about whether what you make is functional. It’s about the ideas you want to bring to life and the skill you bring to the making, whatever your medium, whatever your craft.


Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

Celebrate Your Creative Self 160Celebrate Your Creative Self, whether artist or crafter or both!





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