The Art/Craft Divide

DivideWalking into an exhibition, one carries expectations that are usually based on past experience.  If new to the experience, the ideas that underpin our expectations could spring from anywhere – language, television, marketing … anywhere.

If there are to be paintings at the exhibition, then our minds might expect art.

If there are to be ceramics, do we then expect craft?

My experience now tells me that such a neat divide doesn’t work.  In the many exhibitions I’ve seen at the Canberra Potters Society, some feel more art than craft, yet others are definitely only craft.  This is a very subjective response.  It’s my response.  So, following a recent conversation, I’ve been thinking about a typology that might explain my expectations.

Turns out, I apply one, two or all of the following three words to any object:

  • Practical
  • Beautiful
  • Responsive

For example, I bet you can find many things around you that are both practical and beautiful, as well as a few that are only practical.  Looking through interior design magazines and furniture shops, I see items scattered around that have the sole function of adding beauty to the surroundings.

Which brings me to the question of responsive.  Responsive to what?  Does it matter what is triggering the response?  It could be something felt, seen or smelt, an experience or idea, a global event or … anything.

In this typology, the art/craft divide possibly lies somewhere on a continuum between the responsive and the practical.  Art being at the responsive end.  Craft being more practical in function.

Granted, it is a very simplistic view of a divide that has been discussed with great complexity and nuance for years by the academically minded. Remember, typologies aim to simplify. They work as a starting point for development, elaboration and exploration.

Once a bit of technical foundation has been laid, in whatever medium you choose, you are free to explore your responses to this complex and nuanced world; if you want to!

Choosing to explore may hinge on how much failure you are comfortable with.  For example, I tried lots of exploring with fabric.  There were so many failures that I’d forgotten what it was like to finish and wear something beautiful.  As a result, I stopped creating clothing (I’m getting back into it now, thankfully).  In contrast, I deliberately make enough familiar pieces in clay in order to continue exploring.

It can be very tempting to just repeat what we know.  There’s no disappointment and no waste.  But there’s also no stimulation and no growth.  Our mental wellbeing needs more than just repetition.

I recommend a combination of activities that:

  • consolidate existing skills
  • learn new skills
  • and provide opportunities to explore.


If you enjoyed my approach in this post, you might also enjoy the following:

♦  Challenges – where I try to consolidate, learn and explore all at once

♦  Collage – the cheapet way of exploring using a visual medium

♦  Creativity – where I try to demonstrate that creativity and exploring are a basic life skill

What are your thoughts?

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