Nan DeVincent-Hayes, Ph.D             [ Back ]    [ Home  [ Next

"Crafts Vs Arts"

The argument rages on: What exactly is art?  While many continue to question if computer-generated art is really art, others are taking up the gauntlet for crafts as being a form of art, too.  Granted, if you strolled through a museum or an art gallery, you wouldn't have any trouble deciding what "art" is, but if you entered a store that offered paintings and sculpture displayed next to hand-made jewelry, candles, and quilts, would you be so quick to say that everything you saw was "art"?  To address these issues, a definition of what art and crafts is must first be made.

Today there are all kinds of art--from Medieval art to Folk art, two-dimensional to 3-D art; literary to computer art; music to cartoons; mobiles to islands covered in pink fabric; life-size furniture to wood-carved, mini-houses; finely detailed paintings to impossibly discernible abstract and surrealism; from an iconograph to the Taj Mahal; the Expressionism of a Jackson Pollack to the Pop Art of an Andy Warhol; a Frederick Hart lucite acrylic sculpture to a papier-mache pinata; a carrousel horse to a sand castle; a raku bowl to a Novarro blown glass; a cloisonne egg to a Harmony Kingdom "box;" and from a Peruvian tapestry to a Native American totem pole.  And what about such hand-made items as clocks, secret boxes, earthenware dishes, shoes, scarves, beaded objects, necklaces, rings, water fountains, dolls, pillows, Christmas decorations, and so on?  Where do we draw the line . . . or do we?

So there is no set definition for art since it can be any number of things, but here are some guidelines to help you ascertain if a particular piece is art:

1.   Hand-Made: The object you're looking at should be created by a person--not a machine--with his or her own hands on a singular basis (unless being produced in a limited edition)--meaning that it's not mass produced.

2.  Creativity: The work in question should reflect a high degree of talent and imagination, and have something unique and special about it.

3.  Skill:  The artform should demonstrate sophistication in development and construction.  It should exhibit the years of training, patience, and practice that went into forming the object.  Is the piece assembled and aligned properly?  Does it demonstrate some, if not all, of the elements of art?

4.  Emotion: When viewing the work, your emotions should be stirred, making you want to re-visit the piece many times, and, hopefully, even purchase it because it "does something" for and to you.  Ultimately, the piece should give you pleasure and gratification.

5.  Representation: The work of art should represent civilization of the time; it should reflect its society's values, education, culture, mores, beliefs, ethos, spirit, and so on, so that when humanity--epochs later--gaze upon it, they'll receive insight and get a sense of the people of that time.  The piece, then, should record history--even shape it--while expanding aesthetic perception.

6.  Understanding: Lastly, the artform should offer an understanding of self, and of the world around you.  In a way, it should be an epiphany for you, suddenly revealing something precious and exceptional about life.

Based on these six criteria, it would seem that certain "crafts" can be considered art.  And keep in mind that these criteria should meld together when viewing a piece.  In the end, though, you must feel that the artform is invaluable enough to you to make you want to take possession of it--whether it's a craft or a piece of fine art.  

Nan DeVincent-Hayes, Ph.D. is a former 
executive director of a high end art gallery.

Copyright 2002 Nan Hayes