In the Studio – Art Vs Craft

Art – The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Craft – An activity involving skill in making things by hand.

In the studio I’ve been getting used to how the 3D printer pen works and had decided to return my area of investigation – to the insects I had been looking at in 2015. The project had trailed off after I had failed to successfully translate my drawings into sculptural representations of my insects. The 3D printer pen thus provided an opportunity for me to amend this.

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Above: Early Experiments.

Early experimentation with the 3D printer pen (and its garish selection of coloured filament) had produced a rather clumsy butterfly. It give me understanding of how I would need to structure any further insects made with the 3D printer pen but did unfortunately look rather like the product of a demonstration video into the capabilities of what the pen could do.

I returned to the studio, having managed to create a decorative wing pattern that I was happy with and set to work. I wanted my new foray into sculpture to produce very delicate and much more refined insects.

The wings were the easiest part of the insects to create, using a template and drawing as you would do with a pencil onto paper. Once cooled the plastic will just peel away from the paper template. I elected to use a hat pin for the main body as I wanted the insects to look like they do in sketch form and carry a sense of delicacy. I drew around the pin, effectively cocooning it in the plastic filament until it became part of the 3D drawing. Once complete it was time to attach the wings, the hot plastic essentially bonding the two plastic parts together. The legs were a little more difficult as they required careful manoeuvring of the pen so as not to damage the existing work done with the hot nib. This also restricted movement and workable area. The legs turned out rather spindly and had a sketch-like quality. Due to the fragile nature of the legs strengthening them was difficult, layering the plastic was difficult as the hot nib would often break the already thin threads of previous layers. This also resulted in the butterflies being unable to support themselves and are supported by a further hat pin mounted in the plinth on which they sit.

After discussion with the fabulous Jo Clements it became clear that these new insects I was creating were teetering on the edge between art and craft. That discussion has lead me to where I am currently – what separates art from craft?

Maintaining the boundaries between art and craft has been a long contested and hard fought battle and it would appear that one must not fall into the others ‘camp’, so to speak.

I was well versed in the origins of art, being traced back to early cave paintings from nearly 40,000 years ago. Art is “the ability to think of abstract concepts is what distinguishes our species from other animals – capabilities that also led us to use fire, develop the wheel and come up with the other technologies that have made our kind so successful”(Ghosh, 2014). I find that art is what makes us truly human, it is the foundation on which everything human kind has done is built. Art has evolved alongside humans, it continues to grow and strive much as we do. For every new advancement we make as a species art keeps pace. 

Arguably by the same token craft must have existed at least as long as art. There have long been ‘craftsmen’, by which I mean those involved in small scale production of goods or services (blacksmith for example). In a time before industrialisation a craftsman would flourish in his trade, usually in a small, self supporting community.

When one thinks of craft today we usually associate it with the ‘Arts and Craft’ movement that gained popularity in America and Europe around 1880. The movement was a response to the recent industrial revolution and a reclamation of human interaction within the manufacturing process.

“It was a movement born of ideals. It grew out of a concern for the effects of industrialisation: on design, on traditional skills and on the lives of ordinary people. In response, it established a new set of principles for living and working. It advocated the reform of art at every level and across a broad social spectrum, and it turned the home into a work of art”  (V&A, 2013).

It is important to understand that before the rise of the industrial revolution that many people would very rarely leave the small communities that they were born into. Goods would be locally sourced and the community would be self supported; industrial revolution suddenly meant that goods from all ends of the country could be seen side by side in the home, in a shop, in construction. This new (and highly unregulated) way of manufacturing, as fantastic an advancement as it was, shattered those communities over night. The arts and crafts movement was thus an effort to hold onto traditional values and reject industrialisation.

Coming back into present day, ‘arts and crafts’ seems to be a tag applied to those who take up a creative practice quite innocently as a hobby, often with little artistic background and low skill level – I remember this being rather brilliantly coined as “Shed-work” by Tim Wonnacott on an episode of Bargain Hunt. There seems to be a feeling from artists that to partake in craft is an insult to their practice, but why is this? What defines what is art and what is craft?

Kirstie Beaven addressed this in a 2011 ‘Tate Debate’surrounding Grayson Perry’s curated show ‘ The Power of Making‘. Beaven suggests that “Perhaps intention makes the distinction. If a maker intends to express something perhaps that makes it art“(Beaven, 2011). I strongly agree with this sentiment, one only needs to look so far as Duchamp and the ‘ready made’ to see the argument on intent. The intentions of an artwork are equally important to the aesthetic quality and skill of the artist. Beaven then goes on to say:

However, I asked a few makers at a contemporary craft fair last week, and they often felt that it was the material they worked with that made it craft – textiles, ceramics, glass seem to fall into the craft category, never mind if their intention as maker might be an artistic one.

Perhaps it’s how a maker learnt their skill. As an apprentice coming through a process of learning a skill, hand to hand, as it were? That’s craft. As a fully formed genius honing an expressive talent? That’s art” (Beaven, 2011).

On the point of material I disagree, although often associated with craft I do not feel that art or craft should be defined by it. Material, in my opinion, is fluid and free to traverse the boundaries between art and craft. On the second however point I do agree completely, this is the definition of craft that I feel we should all take note of.

Grayson Perry makes good points in an interview for the guardian in which he makes comments on the demand for craftsmen-made Chinese pieces and the celebrity nature of fine art. I do agree with Perry’s comments on the celebrity and perhaps that is where the sense of superiority an artist feels over craft stems from. Perry comments that perhaps it is the level of craftsmanship (or dedication to one’s craft) that should be considered when separating art and craft.

As of today I am still in the early investigate stages of the ‘Art vs Craft’ debate; perhaps they are other factors to be considered when looking to define art or craft, perhaps it is time to stop the segregation and unite the two practices?

I will continue to research this subject and report back soon.

Larry.


References

Aitkenhead, D. and Bennett, C. (2012) Grayson Perry on crafts vs art: ‘I don’t want to see something I could think up in the bath and phone in’ – video. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/2012/apr/11/grayson-perry-crafts-video (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

BBC (2016) Full steam ahead, episode 1. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07lpm6c/full-steam-ahead-episode-1 (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

Beaven, K. (2011) Tate debate: When is a craft an art? Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/tate-debate-when-craft-art (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

Clements, J. (no date) Jo Clements. Available at: http://www.joclements.co.uk/ (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

Craftmama (2015) DIY 3D VLINDER | 3D pen Tutorial | butterfly | how to. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCOMvp4sVU0 (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

Ghosh, P. (2014) Cave paintings change ideas about the origin of art. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-29415716 (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

Oxford (2016) ‘Oxford dictionaries’, in Oxford Dictionary. Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/ (Accessed: 23 July 2016).

Victoria and Albert Museum (2013) The arts & crafts movement – Victoria and Albert Museum. Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-arts-and-crafts-movement/ (Accessed: 25 July 2016).

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