Art and craft are described as warring creative principles within our social sphere. The actual definitions express something very interesting about the stigma behind each distinction of creativity.
Art-noun: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings
Crafts-noun: objects made by skillful use of the hands
By way of these definitions couldn’t we say that all art is product of craft? Couldn’t we say there is no distinction? The ‘beautiful’ part about art is subjective as are the possible ideas and feelings art expresses. I think this clearly means that a well executed, simplistic wooden chair like the Chiaro, by Leon Ransmeier is just as artful as the Sistine Chapel and in turn means that the Sistine Chapel is a product of craft, “skillful use of the hands” just as much as the chair is a product of craft.
Equating the Sistine Chapel with a modernist, minimalist piece of furniture clearly seems off base and out of touch but I really don’t think that is the case. Traditional ‘art’ skills are no different in context than traditional ‘craft’ skills. The difference between knitting and painting, besides the actual media, is the stigma. The idea that one is high and one is low. Each skill requires an equal amount of mastery to create a truly exquisite piece of work.
Who can dispute this? Just because we don’t generally decorate our walls with pieces of textiles in the West does not mean that textile based or ‘craft’ based skills are any less than those of high art traditions. The concept of high and low skills is absurd especially now in our post-modern world. Post-modernity has blurred the lines of everything academic, intellectual, musical, artistic or new why shouldn’t it blur the lines between traditional ideas of craft and art?
Thankfully there are a lot of artists, also known as craftspeople, who are questioning the boundaries of high and low art and high and low materials. These artists are the ones who will help erase the instances of wrinkled noses at a hand made piece of clothing.
Roanna Wells tackles the boundary between art and craft through her experiments with embroidery and wood turning. She is, “Passionate about keeping the boundaries between contemporary drawing and textile art fluid.” Her embroidery pieces use traditional (wool and silk thread) and nontraditional (paper) materials to create detail oriented abstract pieces. She uses some classic stitches from the embroidery cannon but improvises as well.
A lot of Wells’ pieces are pretty massive and they incorporate a lot of influences from the blurry effect of watercolors. Especially her piece, “Solid Air.” It is also reminiscent of “The Great Wave of Kanagawa,” watery and dreamy at the same time.
While Wells’ pieces are destined for museums, Stephen West tackles the boundary between high and low art in a tangible way. A knitwear designer with an edge, Stephen tackles complex color theory and sculptural design elements into his everyday wearables design collection. West is most famous and revered for his ability to use unexpected features in a traditionally ‘old lady’ garment, the shawl. The “Color Craving” shawl is an interesting shape, a really original take on the traditional prayer shawl. It is peppered with fancy holes, ladders, and stripes a completely modernist approach to tradition. The pattern was also originally released as a Mystery-Knit-Along meaning that people paid their six bucks for their own pattern and it would be sent in chunks to the customers so the idea of the shawl was unknown to the maker until it was complete. This is akin to performance pieces that are done in galleries all the time. It is interactive and easily manipulated by the individuals involved.
The distinctions between art and craft need to and are being, slowly dissolved through the work of boundary busting craftspeople. The obliteration of these distinctions and their stigmas will open an entirely new experience up to an entirely new group of people.