Arts and Crafts August 1, 2015
I would like to go on record here as saying that I see very little difference between “art” and “craft.” Or at least, I would say it’s a very slight difference that is often used as a difference without distinction. I suppose by definition, craft is a skill that is learned to create something functional, where art might be perceived as purely decorative. In reality, however, the definitions don’t always work. A decorated canvas is usually seen as art, where a decorated gourd is seen as craft. Is the gourd necessarily useful, or is it purely for decoration? For that matter, is the canvas necessarily decorative?
In popular usage, I think the division is frequently more arbitrary. A three-dimensional thing is more likely to be “craft” unless it is sculpture. A thing that serves the same purpose whether it is beautiful or not might be craft once decorated. A flat piece, or a piece that has no inherent value besides the decorative value is likely viewed as “art.”
But my big concern here is that “art” and “craft” are terms that are subtly used to divide. “Art” is something we see as beyond the ability or scope of the common person. It might raise the esteem of the artist while intimidating the crafter. It also limits: the artist might never see beyond the scope of a given medium, often as taught by generations-old tradition, and a crafter might glue delightful collages but never find the courage to paint with oils.
Children don’t have that kind of limitation. They will probably name their school project with crayons art, but also the bottle covered with masking tape and shoe polish. Or maybe they will call them both craft; because it really doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is the joy of creation and self-expression. What matters is that it came from that place deep inside that is so unique that no two people can produce the exact same results. It is an expression of sheer, undiluted personhood.
My Charming and Patient Husband considers himself neither artist nor crafter, yet like the child he makes little distinction. Art and craft are those things I do in that room at the end of the hall. Whether I am decorating a box or painting with watercolor, it’s all the same at its root: that desire to create, and to reach into creative personhood. Why is it that children and my husband get what people who are really close to the subject have difficulty with? Maybe it’s exactly that closeness. As we age, ego sometimes replaces what we know in our hearts. Sometimes we start needing to view “otherness” as somehow above or below us to assuage our growing insecurities. Whether we think we are too good or not good enough, it all comes from the same place: the concern for how others will see us. Increasingly aware of the fact that the world around us will judge us, we start wondering whether they are right to put us in our places. Maybe, we fear, our value really is determined by other people.
Our value is determined by the personhood that is at the core of our being. It is from there that our creative urge swells and burbles, not from the court of public opinion. So if you want to call it art, or if you want to call it craft, go for it. The terms themselves can be useful as long as we don’t let them limit ourselves. Meanwhile, I’ve got something to gesso, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it’s an art or a craft.