‘Art’ vs. ‘craft’

In the last post Kat Allen raised the perennial discussion about the words we use to describe what we do and how we do it. This blog has a primary mission of educating people about the crafts professionals at Pike Place Market, but sometimes it’s tough to communicate clearly when there is debate about even the terms we should use.

Red Delicious sling bag

I sew functional things. The bags and gadget sleeves I make are my original designs, the combination of fabrics I use is deeply considered. I work hard to make things well, in addition to having commercial appeal.

Is what I do art? Typically, when using that term we think of painting, drawing, sculpting, the stuff you see in fancy galleries and big city museums, even though in the modern era the works of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and even Banksy have challenged the traditional view of art.

Is what I do craft? The dictionary says yes: I make my items by hand using skill and dexterity. In times past crafts were typically thought of as work like pottery, basket weaving and lace making. Making handbags and accessories isn’t exactly traditional, but because of how I make them – individually, by hand – it is surely a modern craft.

But then the value question arises. Even the rock stars of the art world have to be concerned with making a living and how much to charge for their creations.

Does labeling something a work of craft give it a lower status, and therefore perceived value, than naming it art? That ‘crafting’ is usually associated with home-based hobbyists means this is often so. And does being primarily functional reduce the value of my work, even though it should have cache from being individually hand crafted? In my experience it does in the eyes of many people.

Purse valued at $2,000 on Antiques Roadshow

The appreciation of art is highly subjective, and how it is judged in terms of value often depends on the labels we give it as much as its craftsmanship, perceived beauty and, of course, the reputation of who is making it.

These questions are among the reasons I love to watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS and am often amazed at the valuation. I’d be thrilled to see one of my bags turn up on an episode and be given a jaw-dropping valuation some time in the far future!

For now I claim the monikers ‘artisan’ and ‘craftsperson’, I call my work ‘handcrafted’, and I continue to work to make these terms marks of value in a world used to mass-produced cheap and disposable goods.

by Emma Roscoe, Red Delicious Bags