ART & CRAFT cannot be separated – Kate Themel

Since this debate comes up time and time again, it seems clear that no one can win this argument. However, not every argument is meant to be won or lost. I submit that some comparisons are not logical and the argument itself only serves to limit our imaginations and fuel resentments that divide the creative community. It’s not like comparing apples to oranges. “Art vs. Craft” would be like comparing “Cuisine vs. Recipe” – we are attempting to define one exclusive of the other, which is impossible.

Art is not a separate “world” from Craft. These two things are not entities themselves but rather they are specific aspects of all creative work.

CRAFT is technique; it requires discipline, practice and repeatability. A Craft is a learned skill; it can even be used to describe an action. To craft something means to make or build an object. Whether or not an object displays good or bad craftsmanship can be determined by specific and measurable standards.

Great artists have worked to master their chosen craft, using it as a tool to explore new ideas and express complex emotions. We can respect the techniques that have been passed down to us by the quilting world even when we choose to break all their rules in our latest art quilt. You can put it in a frame, on the wall or on a bed. When we create within this realm, we are building on the work of generations of quilt makers. On the other side-

ART is not a physical object. ART is an expression of thought, emotion and/or intent. ART is communication. When we create a work of art, we are reaching out to the world because we have something to say. Sometimes the viewer understands our communication. Maybe our execution of certain techniques gets in the way of our message and the viewer misses it entirely. Other times, the viewer interprets the work with their own unique perspective, adding nuance to our original intent. ART depends on that moment of connection between two or more people: the artist and the viewer(s). It cannot be measured or judged by a set of precice standards. Whether something is “good” or “bad” art is a completely subjective opinion. Therefore ART can never be truly “perfected”.

To create art is to be vulnerable. We expose our deepest feelings and thoughts, and we put them on display. It takes courage. And each one of us has to build up our nerve, explore our souls, find our passion and strive for honesty in our work. We all search for ways to express ourselves. Developing a craft is just a way to connect with our work and expand our communication skills.

One day I find that fabric works better than paint in expressing feelings coming from deep inside me. Does that mean I have abandoned the ‘fine art’ world and entered the world of ‘craft’? No. I am an artist that may craft my work out of fabric or clay or paint, or whatever I find useful to express my ideas.

The artistry of Craft depends on the intentions of its creator. At the same time, there can be no Art unless someone has taken a material and crafted it into something else. Every time we create, we are a combination of artist and craftsperson.


9 Responses to “ART & CRAFT cannot be separated – Kate Themel”

  1. 1 Ken Paul July 4, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Having taught art at the college level for more than 3 decades, I have heard most of the possible points of debate on the issue of art-vs-craft. I taught printmaking, which involved a lot of technical crafting…thus this issue was always lurking in the background of that genre. Laypersons often had a lot of trouble understanding the distinction between printing and printMAKING.
    There are also labels that get applied to the practitioners of these things—artist, artisan, craftsperson, e.g. This tends to personalize the issue and only adds to the confusion, often raising defensive hackles. And county fairs continue to make distinctions between art and craft in terms of awarding ribbons, etc. So the culture itself keeps carrying these attitudes along with it.
    Some creative endeavors are characterized by technical exploration, printmaking being one of these; due to the limiltess possibilities of taking printed impressions from all manner of surfaces, natural to humanmade. Thus, if it’s the first time anybody ever did this particular
    set of moves in order to arrive at an expressive image, then how do we separate the craft from the art? Often such first-time actions are fumbling and distinctly unskilful, so to speak, because, being new, how can they be “perfected,” other than by repetition/practice, which automatically renders them no longer new and exploratory?
    Yes our own verbiage and rational thought processes have tied us in knots again.
    It always interested me that the German noun Kraft means power.
    In sum, I see the question around art versus craft as being a kind of koan,
    i.e., not something the rational mind can find a final objective answer for. Everybody comes to it with their own set of experiences and views, which are necessarily limited. But thanks for the engaging discussion.

  2. 2 Julie March 21, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I love your definition and it works for me. In fact, I like it so much that I’m putting this post up as a link on my blog.

  3. 3 red2white March 19, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    As Angella Moll says “But there seems to always be some form of hierarchy implied between those terms regardless of their specific meaning, with craft playing a much needed second fiddle to art”

    After reading articles about this topic on other sites I must add that not only craft gets lesser status than art, but artists often look down on crafters which I find really disappointing.

  4. 4 terrygrant March 19, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Good analysis of word meaning and I wholeheartedly agree, but the whole discussion (or argument to some) depends on our all using the words in the same way and that is what has made the discussion useless to my mind. It comes up repeatedly on the QuiltArt list and at first I think we’re boiling things down and then suddenly I’m reminded, once again, that we’re not talking about the same thing. I think the usage that frustrates me the most is the use of the word “art” to denote the quality of an item. Even when someone looks at a piece of mine and says something like, “Why, that’s more than a quilt–that’s ART!” It’s a compliment, for sure, but I know that they don’t really get it, that, yes it IS art. It’s that careless use of the word “art” that has gotten us to this, I think. “That’s not a pot roast, Marge, that’s a work of ART!”

  5. 5 Angela Moll March 18, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Kate, thanks for bringing up this other aspect of the relatioship between those closely related concepts. Your point of view, as Junes says above, relates more to the actual work in the studio, to the relationship between the artist and the art work. In this sense, I am totally in agreement with you. Craft is the skill and Art the communication.

    For me your post is also a reminder of the ambiguity inherent in language, how the various meanings of a word allow it to play in all those different contexts. So I guess the relatioship between craft and art varies depending of the context in which we use those terms and the meaning we choose for the terms. But there seems to always be some form of hierarchy implied between those terms regardless of their specific meaning, with craft playing a much needed second fiddle to art. And this lesser status does hurt the prospects of art work that for whatever reason gets stuck with the label craft (which is, unfortunately, why labels can be important).

  6. 6 jude March 14, 2008 at 5:45 am

    why is so important that we label them anyway?

  7. 7 June March 13, 2008 at 11:03 am


    Your parsing out of definitions is well worth exploring (I’ve just finished a parsing out of ‘abstraction” in something of the same way and with something of the same result).

    But Angela was talking, I think, about cultural meaning, and using it to make art. Whereas you are speaking of craft and art as it comes from the artist herself.

    I’m wondering if there are some ways that art/craft as Angela dissected it, and patterns and repeats are connected. Repeating patterns, as Catherine has pointed out, have all kinds of cultural “baggage.” That baggage is so strong that it sometimes prevents us from seeing what’s really there — as in the guys who do the subversive wallpaper. Or, you’ve perhaps all seen quilted art that you dismiss on first glance as just another strip-pieced bit only later to realize that the work has a power and whackiness that your cultural dismissal didn’t see at first.

    I think the _idea_ of craft is what gets quilted art dismissed sometimes in the larger world. And this includes the idea of repeated patterns — ah, wallpaper, we say, I know about butterflies and whatnot — and only later do we realize that those are wasps, not butterflies.

    I think, with Angela (see, Angela, I’m not picking on you — snnnort) that the artist can make use of the “dismissal and later realignment.” It can be a way to force people to look again. I can’t help but think about Browning’s poem, Fra Lippo Lippi:

    “We’re made so that we love
    First when we see them painted, things we have passed
    Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
    And so they are better, painted — better to us,
    Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;
    God uses us to help each other so,
    Lending our minds out…
    This world’s no blot for us,
    Nor blank; it means intensely and means good:
    To find its meaning is my meat and drink.”

    It’s that “things we have passed/ Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see” that propels me into repeats and “craft”

    Now, I see that I’ve totally gone away from Kate’s use of the word Craft and fallen back into Angela’s and, by inference, Catherine’s research on pattern.

    Kate, your personal understanding (which is certainly as valid as any I’ve seen) of the relationship of art to craft actually matches my own. And that’s why, while I’m happy Angela and Catherine are taking on the cultural constructs of crafts and repeats, in my work, I’m somewhere else entirely. So personally I agree with your analysis, but I also see how subversion, which deals directly with the question of Craft (as abstract noun), could work artistically.

    It’s the recognition and pulling ourselves out of things we have passed a hundred times that the other posts are working on. But I think all of us are examining a world that means intensely and to find that meaning is our meat and drink.

  8. 8 Nellie March 11, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Very well stated. I had given up getting into this argument a few years ago after being frustrated by feeling caught in the middle for many. I now just state that “I am an artist”. If the other person is interested in carrying the conversation further then I tell talk about my medium of fiber, including paint, and pastels.

  9. 9 paulahewitt March 11, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    The only thing I disagree with is your first sentence… I think the arguement can be resolved. I think you may have just done it! well said.

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