I read an article in a recent issue of Canada's MagazinArts lately, entitled WHAT IS ART / WHAT IS CRAFT? The author was fairly obviously on the side of "good craft is Art ", but I thought that the case being pleaded was rather weak in its explanation.
Basically one of the messages was " there are even pieces of furniture that are artworks because of their design and execution." Secondly it was stated that there are "everyday objects that are so well executed that they become iconographic, " but ( the author asks ) what makes them become Art ?
The only idea I could find in the article as an answer was the reference to "honesty of execution", and a dedication to perfection through being "well made and designed, and also provoking an emotional response." So we have - well made, even perfection.
- honesty designed, special and exceptional
- evoking an emotional response.
Another and final explanation made was to the effect that " the best artists are master craftsmen, first and foremost."
Now I am always eager to discover well explained "whys and hows" crafted works may be "art", but for me this article falls short on good answers. First I have to ask about "well made". This term refers to the work's construction in a technical way ( not its "design"; that is the next point ). I believe that there are many manufactured goods being produced for sale that, relatively speaking, are "well made", but I'm not convinced that makes them "art", even if they do end up in the Smithsonian collection.
Conversely, we might agree with that final statement of the article about master craftsmen. That is probably true in many cases, because the "craft" part of producing a work of art usually becomes very refined throughout the long process of developing as an experienced artist. But there are instances from the past where the treasured works of certain master artists have proved to have been so poorly made technically, that conservationists have found them difficult to preserve accurately, yet the artists continue to be revered.
As for the second point, that a crafted item would be a work of "art" if it is "honestly designed" ( that term would also include the term 'well-designed' ), that is, acknowledging the basic principles of good design as they are now well defined. Honesty of design to me means that the crafter has worked within the essence of the medium and has expressed a concept that enriches it, without introducing "foreign" influences that fight against the medium.
Having met those requirements, can we assume that the end product is automatically "art"? But wait, the author also requests "an emotional response". Here's where it becomes very tricky! On one hand, one can can have an emotional response to a beggar in the street, but that doesn't make it "art". On the other hand, emotional responses to the objects in our lives around us, be they photographs, TV Ads, household objects, fashionable items, illustrations jewellery, paintings, or hand-crafted items; to all these,
the emotional response depends on many things, - our education, and sophistication, our immediate longings, our needs and personal preferences and interests, our sex, age and culture, just for starters.
It seems to me that crafted items, just like paintings, drawings, photographs, printed images, electronic images, in order to be "art", must actually "say" something to the viewer, something that goes deeper than the mere existence of the object, something that is expressed as the best poetry and the best music are an expression of the talents and ideas of their authors.
Because many craft items are made by hand does not automatically guarantee that is "art"; crafts must be well made and honest in their design in order to be excellent examples of craft, but to be Art, they must also have the magic of good poetry, and of music that speaks to the soul.