Art Vs. Craft Debate

By H. Maria Perry
Crafts, such as pottery making, may be utilitarian or artistic.

The art versus craft debate is the attempt to resolve the definition of “art” and the definition of “craft." The debate hinges on an ever-evolving understanding of the perception of what is considered art. The central question is how to determine whether craft is art. A craft may be defined as a skill at making useful items, whereas art is a symbolic expression of ideas, emotions and experiences.

Definition of Craft

According to Rosey Greenlees, executive director of Crafts Council in the United Kingdom, "Contemporary craft is about making things." Craft objects tend to be utilitarian. The primary purpose of a craft is function. A craft object, such as a hand-woven blanket, a basket or clay pottery, is designed to serve a distinct purpose. Craft is the transformation of raw materials into a finished product. Reeds are woven into a basket and clay is formed into a vessel. The fundamental purpose of a craft is to fulfill a need.

Definition of Art

Art has been described as the creation of something that represents human expression. Music, sculpture, painting and dance are generally accepted as art. Art is a symbolic expression of emotions and ideas. Dr. Robert J. Belton of the University of British Columbia lists a few of the qualities of art: to beautify, to express, to redefine reality, to illustrate, to adorn and to record. The fundamental purpose of art is to fix in a tangible form ideas, emotions and experiences.

Aesthetics

The definition of art often depends on cultural influences.

Aesthetics is the philosophy of sensory values, the judgment of those values, and critical thought about art, culture and nature. Aesthetics is in part about beauty and the perception of beauty. Both art and craft appeal to the an aesthetic sense of the viewer. Beauty is found in sculpture and painting which may elicit an emotional response. Beauty is also found in the lines and texture of a reed basket or ceramic pot. Craft and art each possess unique aesthetic qualities. The aesthetic of a craft may be said to be in the harmony of the form and function of the finished product.

Cultural Bias

Western cultural bias toward art and craft is apparent by the use of term "fine art." Fine art is that which is created for the purpose of the experience, to communicate an experience, and to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. Some view art as having little or no practical application in terms of doing work or meeting a need. Practical craft items are often conduits for artistic expression. A well crafted blanket, basket or pot serves the practical purpose for which they were created devoid of embellishment. Craft can be art when used as a conduit for expression of emotions and communication of ideas.

About the Author

H. Maria Perry (Bascom) has been a writer and blogger since 2008. She is a contributing editor to "Pink Panther Magazine," as well as a professional photographer, visual artist and poet. Bascom holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Morehead State University and a J.D. from the University of Louisville.