Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Orthogonality of Art and Craft

It's fun to go out with a few friends and look for inspiration!  Before we set out yesterday, my little photography group (Magical Mystery Tour Photographers)   got together for an excellent potluck lunch (so love potluck meals!! a great invention) and chatted.  The old question came up from one of them: is photography art or craft?  A question we've heard so often in the textile field.  I expounded my theory that the two are orthogonal - i.e. not related in any way, but at right angles to each other.  Any art practitioner (I hesitate to use the word "artist" without actually defining it) can be low or high (skilled or unskilled) on either art or craft.  

Think about this in terms of quilting.  A quilter low on art but high on craft would make incredibly beautifully crafted quilts that were either dead boring or absolute reproductions of traditional work.
Like those Jacobean sampler quilts I've seen - appliquéd stylized flowers on a dark background - every stitch and shape meticulous, copying the published patterns.
Whereas a quilter high on art but low on craft might make something that was extraordinarily creative but had lumps and bumps and unintentionally hanging threads and bits that didn't quite come together.
Somebody trying to make a quilt for the first time might follow a pattern from a book and have very bad stitching too!  The worst of both co-ordinates!
And the place where we all aim to be, of course, is high on craft: beautifully made work that is also incredibly fresh and creative and marvelously composed.
There is no either or or!!!  I can be tall or short, I can be fat or thin.  I can be tall and fat or tall and thin.  I can be good at mathematics and poor at languages or brilliant at both.   We always want to be good at everything of course!!  And we all know what it takes:  time, persistence and good teaching.

So, don't spend your time arguing whether it's art or craft, rather spend the time practicing!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Oh...and here's one of my photos:

 Below two quilts that this kind of photograph inspired: On one, I've added other colors (grey, brown) to the palette but kept with the branching movement of the lines.

And on the one below, I've used the palette and the contrast of skinny lines with larger dark areas:


Deborah C. Stearns said...

I like the way you formulate the relationship of art and craft as orthogonal. I think that all too often, people use "art" as a term of approbation or praise -- so if it is bad, it isn't art. But similarly, art can be better or worse and still be art.

Art and craft are culturally defined and framed, partly based on the materials used or the utility of the item. Materials like painted canvas or marble are more likely to be viewed as art, while materials like yarn or beads are more likely to be viewed as craft (all else being equal). Items that are purely decorative are more likely to be viewed as art. Items that have functional use are more likely to be seen as craft. (Of course, there were several art movements that focused on items of functional use, such as furniture, so this doesn't really work as a distinction.)

Honestly, I think most people have a "fuzzy category" for art that is represented by the prototype of a painting in a museum. Everything else is compared to that to determine whether it is art or not. Again, this is culturally defined rather than absolute, and isn't particularly inclusive, but I suspect that is how most people approach it. (If it's in a museum, it must be art. If it hangs on the wall, it's probably art. If it's expensive, it is probably art. And so on.)

Ann said...

What a thought-provoking post. Thanks.