Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ART OR CRAFT?


Art: -the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. (Wikipedia)
-creative work or its principles; making or doing of things that display form, beauty, and unusual perception. (New World dictionary)

Craft: -a branch of a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work (Wikipedia)
-a special skill, art, or dexterity (New World dictionary)

It was January 1979, I was finishing my PhD in Geology at West Virginia University, and at my first job interview for a teaching position at a small college in Minnesota (dressed up in my very best long plaid wool skirt and cowl neck sweater!). After a long day of tours, presentations, interviews, and trudging through deep snow, I was in the college president’s office answering the usual questions. After a thoughtful pause, Mr. President suddenly threw me a curve ball: “What do you see as the relationship between the Arts and the Sciences?” I really have no memory of what answer I managed to cobble together. I had a really good appreciation of Science at the time, but what exactly did he mean by the Arts? I should have known all this because my diploma said “School of Arts and Sciences” at the top! I do remember quite well that while I was struggling to put my thoughts together in a coherent way, Mr. President dropped suddenly to his knees, snatched his binoculars off his desk, and exclaimed excitedly about the hawk that had appeared in the sky! Luckily for me I shared his interest in bird watching and actually knew something about hawks, so I was off the hook for that one!

It came back to haunt me a few months later. A friend of mine who is a successful professional artist showed me a sculpture that she was selling for hundreds of dollars. She had picked up rusted metal and driftwood from the beach, arranged it in an artful way, and hung it from the wall. It was beautiful and interesting! When I moved to a location near the beach and had a new house to decorate, I picked up rusted metal and driftwood, arranged it in an artful way, and hung it on the wall of my house. I thought it was beautiful and interesting! Every person who came into my house, without exception, asked me "Why do you have that trash hanging on the wall?" Eventually I threw it out in despair. Clearly, I needed to work this out!

Once I happened to be in a well known craft store franchise, shopping for yarn. Directly across the street was ANOTHER very similar craft store franchise. As many others had probably done before me, I sympathized to the sales person about the unfortunate (for them) juxtaposition. Her answer was memorable: “Oh, but that store sells only CRAFT yarn”. The implication being, I suppose, that her store sold ART yarn!

It bugged me for years: Is knitting an art or a craft, or something in between? It does take special skill and dexterity for sure, and I’ve known some people to churn out many knitted items (dishcloths) like factories. Definitely craft. But for many knitters it also can be a purely creative outlet. Some knitted items have very little practical use, but are very pleasing to the senses nonetheless. Definitely art. It seems to me that art and craft can overlap a great deal (certainly more than Art and Science!). In my opinion the very best knitted designs are both beautiful and pleasing to the senses, as well as being useful and challenging to make.


The photo above is lace knitted from hand dyed crochet thread. You can purchase the hand dyed crochet thread HERE.

The image of freeform knitting at the top of this post is by Prudence Mapstone, and can be seen in its original location HERE

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2 comments:

  1. I agree that the line between art and craft often merge and blurr.Always appreciate stories that show how another thinks or discovers. Thank you.

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