Rosie Minney defends the age old art of craft.
The debate between the two practices of craft and fine art has been widely discussed, with craft often being unjustifiably viewed as the inferior. Craft predates fine art, often artists at the service of their religion, tribe or local customs, and this service is often what is used to distinguish between the two – craft has an intention, a final destination, whereas fine art is largely more an expression of self. However, certain materials are distinctly predisposed to being viewed as ‘craft’, with ceramics, textiles, embroidery and glass falling into this category.
A craftsman more than an artist is a maker.
Renowned artist Grayson Perry is integral in blurring the lines between craft and art, being probably the most prominent ceramicist and tapestry weaver in contemporary art. Whilst he is prolific in his exploration of craft, he still communicates political, social and personal expressions, making his work a melange of art and craft. His 2011 show at the British Museum, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen, paid homage to craft as a respected practice. The collection spans from shamanism and holy relics, prehistoric weaponry and coins, to more contemporary craft such as badges. A craftsman more than an artist is a maker, whose skills have been garnered from strict process. In this way, the line between the two fades, printmaking being a prime example. The rigorous timings and use of chemicals makes etching as exacting a procedure as ceramics for example. So is the distinction really that stark?
The Arts and Crafts Movement in the 19th century was borne out the fear of forsaking traditional skills during the rise of industrialisation. Based on ideals, it reformed art across the homes of every social backdrop, pioneering value for materials and designs, whose influence made it as far as Japan.
Perhaps one of the most recognised names in the Arts and Crafts Movement was William Morris and his wallpaper designs, which gained prominence in the latter half of the 19th century. His patterns such as Daisy and Fruit were borne out of 15th century wall hangings, ‘mille-fleurs’ tapestries in the medieval period and links to decorative arts with Ruskin and Pre-Raphaelite painters. Morris also lectured that ‘any decoration is futile…when it does not remind you of something beyond itself.’ This statement presumes that crafts, as well as fine art, should stimulate the viewer to think beyond what they immediately see, thus prompting links to self-expression and higher echelons of craft-making.
Aside from the history of art and craft, the process of making something has numerous cognitive benefits especially when activities are implemented from an early age. Studies show crafts such as colouring and cutting improve bilateral coordination with the dual usage of both hands. Fine motor coordination is also developed with the drawing of patterns and shapes.
So whilst fine artists often look down their nose on craftsmen, we have to ask ourselves, are the distinctions really that clear? And why does elitism have to be instigated into something which brings so much joy to the individual?