The Difference Between Art and Craft

The Textile Ranger’s Deep in the Heart of Textiles blog often takes a philosophical turn. A recent post addressed the difference between art and craft in a way that set off a light bulb for me.

The Ranger quotes from “Metaphysical Implications of Function, Material, and Technique in Craft,”  by Howard Risatti, not something that fits my definition of light reading.  It’s in a 1998 exhibition catalog, Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery, from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.

“While physical needs do not change over the lifetime of an individual or over the course of centuries, psychic needs do change in reaction to altered social, political, and economic situations,  These changes are reflected in the fine arts.”  (p. 35)

“..the practitioners of the fine arts work to overcome the limitations of their materials, whereas those engaged in the applied arts work in concert with their materials.”  (p. 38, emphasis his)

“The fine artist is an ‘image’ maker, whereas the applied artist is an ‘object’ maker.” (p. 40)

So what, you say.  Does this matter?  Well, since I’m interested in art quilting, the distinction between an image and an object matters to me. Modern quilting has made functionality part of its definition, despite shows that feature some art for art’s sake quilts. Some quilts were made to be functional but also are art.  Gee’s Bend quilts are a prime example, though I suspect their makers were more concerned with functionality. The art world discovered them after a dealer arranged for a museum show.GeesBend quiltI’m thrilled when craft and art work together, but I notice this often increases the cost of functional items.  Some Target products are notable exceptions to this effect.  I have a battery operated alarm clock designed by Michael Graves that I love.  It’s super easy to change the time, has a “waist” so you can pick it up easily, and cost under $10.

Michael Graves clock frontMichael Graves clock back

Some designers move between the two worlds and excel in both. Viktor Schreckengost is famous nationally and in the Cleveland, Ohio, area for both his fine art and industrial designs. Toys too.

Viktor S. designs

And check out this light offered by Knoll.  I just love its functionality (you can focus the light upward), and it looks great, too.

So where do I place myself in all this?  I’ve been mulling that over since I began writing this post a few weeks ago, and have decided that I fit more under applied art than fine art.  If my work evolves to the point where viewers perceive it as an image first and not a quilt, then I’ll have made the transition.

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