Crossing the Lines — Art vs. Craft

These two terms have been known to be lumped together at times, but there is a difference between Art and Craft. While Craft generally refers to creations made for utilitarian purpose, Art is primarily created for aesthetics or contemplation; or to quote the philosopher Immanuel Kant, “Objects of art are intrinsically final: they appeal purely at the level of the imagination and no good practical utility, except the cultivation of the human spirit.”

That’s not to say that a beautiful piece of jewelry or a finely-crafted rocking chair could not be thought of as a “work of art”, but because it also doubles as a useable piece, it’s placed in the craft category. In contrast, if one were to take a utilitarian piece and make it unusable, it could then be considered Art. Taking it one step further, if said piece displayed the elements and principles discussed in my article, Understanding Art as Art, it would be then be considered Fine Art. In adding the word ‘fine’ to the category, a value is placed on the work of art itself; not stating that Fine Art is valued more highly over Craft. Usefulness can be and often is, considered just as valuable as aesthetics.

People often confuse these terms and sometimes feel that Craft isn’t given the spotlight it deserves. In the 18th century, when art underwent a divisional change, Artisans and Craftsmen were categorized as skilled workers, producing quality, functional pieces whereas Artists were categorized as creators of original, one-of-a-kind, expressive objects mainly for aesthetic or contemplative purpose. In the past few decades, we have seen that the line between Art and Craft can easily be crossed. We now see museums exhibiting stunning craftsmanship at its best. An intricately-designed quilt, a finely-painted piece of china, an exquisitely-built piece of furniture; all exhibiting the same elements and principles that Fine Art is noted for and admired with the same reverence as well.

Craft and Fine Art were not categorized separately in order to rank one higher than the other. Objects from either side can display quality, skill and the knowledge its creator infused within. You can place a value judgment on the object itself, defining its execution whether Art or Craft, but to snub your nose at one or the other as a genre is to display your ignorance of both genres. When done well, Art and Craft are both worthy of our admiration.