Skip to main content


Read, the text below and answer Questions 1-10

Art or Craft?

Down the centuries, craftsmen have been held to be distinct from artists. Craftsmen, such as woodworkers and plasterers, belonged to their own guild, whilst the artist was regarded as a more solitary being confined to an existence in a studio or attic. In addition, whilst craftsmen could rely on a reasonably steady income, artists were often living such a hand-to-mouth existence that the term 'starving artist' became a byword to describe the impoverished existence of artists generally. Even today, the lifestyles of the craftsman and the artist could not be more different. However, what exactly separates craft from art from both a practical and a philosophical view?

One of the main distinctions between art and craft resides in the nature of the finished product or piece. Essentially, the concept of craft is historically associated with the production of useful or practical products. Art, on the other hand, is not restricted by the confines of practicality. The craftsman's teapot or vase should normally be able to hold tea or flowers while the artist's work is typically without utilitarian function. In fact, the very reason for art and its existence is purely to 'be', hence the furlined teacup created by Dada artist, Meret Oppenheim. The 'cup' as such was quite obviously never intended for practical use any more than a chocolate teapot might have been.

Artistry in craftsmanship is therefore merely a byproduct, since the primary focus is on what something does, not what it is. The reverse is true for art. Artistic products appeal purely at the level of the imagination. As the celebrated philosopher, Kant, stated, 'At its best, art cultivates and expands the human spirit.' Whether the artist responsible for a piece of art has sufficient talent to achieve this is another matter. The goal of all artists nevertheless remains the same: to produce a work that simultaneously transcends the mundane and uplifts the viewer. In contrast, the world of the craftsman and his work remain lodged firmly in the practicality of the everyday world. An object produced by an artist is therefore fundamentally different from the one produced by a craftsman.

Differences between the two disciplines of art and craft extend also to the process required to produce the finished object. The British philosopher R.G. Collingwood, who set out a list of criteria that distinguish art from craft, focused on the distinction between the two disciplines in their 'planning and execution'. With a craft, Collingwood argued, the 'result to be obtained is preconceived or thought out before being arrived at.' The craftsman, Collingwood says, 'knows what he wants to make before he makes it'. This foreknowledge, according to Collingwood, must not be vague but precise. In fact, such planning is considered to be 'indispensable' to craft. In this respect, craft is essentially different from art. Art is placed by Collingwood at the other end of the creative continuum, the creation of art being described as a process that evolves non-deterministically. The artist is, therefore, just as unaware as anyone else as to what the end product of creation will be, when he is actually in the process of creating. Contrast this with the craftsman who already knows what the end product will look like before he or she has even begun to create it.

Since the artist is not following a set of standard rules in the process of creation, he or she has no guidelines like the craftsman. Whilst the table or chair created by the craftsman, for example, has to conform to certain expectations in appearance and design, no such limitations are imposed on the artist. For it is the artist alone who, through a trial-and-error approach, will create the final object.

The object merely evolves over time. Whereas the craftsman can fairly accurately predict when a product will be finished taking technical procedures into account, the artist can do no such thing. The artist is at the mercy of inspiration alone and quite apart from not being able to have a projected finishing date, may never be able to guarantee that the object will be finished at all. Unfinished symphonies by great composers and works of literature never completed by their authors testify to this.

Having no definite end-goal in mind, the emphasis on the finished product that is true of craftsmanship is placed Instead on the act of creation itself with the artist. The creation of the work of art is an exploration and a struggle and path of discovery for the artist. It could be said that the artist is producing as much for himself as for those who will view the finished product. This act of creation is very distinct from the production of an object that is crafted, therefore. The goal of making craftwork is monetary compensation. Craft is produced for purchase and is essentially a money-generating industry. Any craftsman who followed the artistic approach to creation would soon be out of a job. Craftsmen are expected to deliver, artists are not. This is probably the most fundamental difference that separates the craftsman from the artist.

Please login to take the test. Click Here or the button below to login now. Log in