I’ve made things with my hands for my whole life. I’ve been knitting for 25 years and making quilts for 20. And over the years, I’ve struggled to understand just what my creations are. According to the powers that be, some of my quilts are art and most of my knitting is not. But where do you draw the line? How do you know where craft ends and art begins?
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, art work is the product of imagination. The artist imagines something, and then she constructs a piece to communicate that idea. Whether she uses concrete materials like paint or abstract concepts like words, the result is based on her inner vision. Craft is the skill with which something is made, and the dictionary even mentions artists as the sort of people who need this sort of skill.
Art and craft clearly overlap. The greater an artist’s craft, the better art she can make. And a craftsman of great experience can produce works of art. But a Venn diagram doesn’t satisfy some people. They want separate boxes to put things in, a way to assess the value of an object, and the labels “art” and “craft” are often used to make this judgment.
I questioned my ability as an artist when my family put on an art show in 2009. My parents and my sister are all accomplished artists in their respective fields: Dad is a photographer, Mom makes sculptures and tiles from clay, and my sister makes glass beads and sculpture. They devote their time to their visual arts and all of them sell their work.
I spend my time writing. Quilting and knitting are my hobbies, things I dabble in. While I spend lots of time on my projects, I do not put in the hours they do. When I saw my work in the gallery with theirs, I was embarrassed and ashamed. Several of the pieces screamed “amateur” and my Inner Art Snob made sure I knew it.
However, many people loved my work. Several were disappointed that specific pieces weren’t for sale because they would have bought them if they were. I don’t know if they saw them as art or craft. I’m not sure they cared. For whatever reason, they were attracted to the work and wanted it to live in their house. I tell my Inner Art Snob “they loved it” and then stop my ears to keep from hearing that the person is an idiot.
If we go back to what the dictionary said, then what is art should have to do with the imagination, how much of the artist’s vision goes into the work. This argues that someone making a quilt from a kit or following a purchased knitting pattern is just a machine following instructions to produce someone else’s vision.
But the most careful knitter who recreates a pattern to perfection still dreams of the finished project. She thinks about how it will be used, where it will go, who will use or wear it, and how it will symbolize her affection for the owner. Imagination is definitely involved. By applying her skill to achieve her dream, the knitter makes a work that is art and craft combined.
So of the three choices, I vote for the one where we no longer worry about art versus craft and instead just enjoy and accept each handmade object for what it is: a unique creation imbued with the dreams of its maker.
How do you feel about art and craft?