As I looked at the series of crocheted birth control pill boxes and an entire knitted skeleton, I couldn't help asking: If we use craft to create art, do we identify the work as craft or as art? If there's a difference between the two, what is it?
In the hope of finding some answers, I decided to explore where these words came from. I learned that "art" was derived from the Latin ars, for "skill," while "craft" was derived from the Old English craeft, akin to the Old High German kraft, for "strength, skill." This means that, originally, there was no difference. We have two different words because they stem from two different languages spoken in two different areas of a land mass that later was designated as "Europe."
Interestingly, Collingwood wrote this just as a movement to reunify all the disciplines of the arts and crafts was ending. The Staatliches Bauhaus (1919-1933) was established in Weimar, Germany, under the direction of architect Walter Gropius, with an express goal of returning to the medieval model mentioned earlier. Gropius did not accept that there was a fundamental difference between art and craftsmanship. He felt that while art could not be taught, craftsmanship could; painters, sculptors, and architects are all craftsman in the original sense of the word. It’s why the Bauhaus required every student to first undergo thorough training in the workshops of all branches of the crafts. He saw art as the next stage beyond craft.
...when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from [transcend] the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.
I’ll let painter Chuck Close (1940-), whom I wrote about in the post on "The Art of Grid/The Grid of Art" (10/11/14), have the last word:
Craft, the dreaded C-word. There is no more despised or suspect term than craft, yet we know that paintings don’t just happen. Every painting in the world was made with a process; it’s just the role it plays and the path you take. [Bomb Magazine ( 2007)]
Where do you stand on the issue of craft and art? How do you describe them?
Do you consider yourself a craftsperson or an artist? What criteria make you choose one identity or the other?