Musings on the rehabilitation of the word ‘Craft’…

I live in hope! The hope in which I am living, today in particular, is that the word ‘craft’ will one day not be considered a ‘dirty word’. That is often is, does not keep me awake at nights, but all the same it irritates me.

I had a conversation today with someone who practically bridled at the suggestion that ‘craft’ could be considered in any way connected with what he does. This person runs a small company making hand-blown glassware. It is beautiful and meticulous and absolutely stunning, and each piece is made by hand, and yet the manager of the company clearly thought that the association of the word ‘craft’ would be off-putting.

Another artist I know did not feel that ‘Art and Craft’ was a suitable description for the group of ‘makers’ with whom I exhibit. This group consists of a painter, two painter/printmakers, a jeweller and potter (yes some people would prefer ‘ceramicist, but she most definitely insists on ‘potter’). But no, the artist in question felt that none of this was ‘craft’.

Yet another friend was put down in such an offhanded way about her work by a smug and better known artist who dismissed her efforts as ‘more craft than art’, as if it could not be both, and as if ‘craft’ were an insult.

This sort of thing irritates me. I have a degree in Jewellery and a master’s degree in metalwork conservation, and I have worked in both professions, so my background requires the skills to create well-crafted work, and the scientific knowledge to understand and work with the objects of past craftsmen.

There is nothing wrong with the word Craft: it should embody the pinnacle of handmade achievement! And yet people shy away from it as if it is an insult. Someone suggested that this is because it had become associated with lesser and badly made objects and the glueing of eyes onto small rocks for sale in seaside tourist shops (apologies to any eye-gluers). But if I were to suggest that those who pierce the plastic covering on a ready-meal and stick it in the microwave and call it ‘cooking’, are in some way sullying the word so that it will cease to be used as description of what a fine and skilled chef does in a restaurant, you would probably say that was ridiculous.

I have left jewellery and conservation far behind, but I strive to create well-crafted paintings and prints, backed up by a growing understanding of how a whole range of materials behave and what can and can’t be done with them, and I am delighted if people say that there is a strong element of Craft in my artwork.

So, tell me what do you think? Is craft in fact a 4-letter word?

The printing of a Mezzotint
The printing of a Mezzotint: a demanding process requiring a very high level of craft skills to achieve (and which I am only just beginning to acquire)

12 Comments

  1. I hold my hand up! If anyone uses the word “crafts” (in the plural) I immediately think of boxes with shells tuck all over them. I recently published a post about my own screenprints which I felt were “more crafty than arty, if you know what I mean”.

    1. oh I know exactly what you mean, I just think it’s a shame because I can’t really think of a sensible alternative to describe what I would think of as the positive and proper meaning of the word. I think my jewellery / goldsmith / museum backgrounds make me more sensitive than most to the negative aspects that the word has accrued only in the last… what… few decades or so? Just thought it would be interesting to see what others thought, so thanks for commenting!

  2. I think anybody getting offended by the word “craft” is simply insecure about their work. Good art, no matter the type, speaks for itself, regardless of any words used to label it. It does not need to be defended, and it cannot be brought low by others calling it one thing or another. An artist who is confidant in their art does not care how others label it. That’s what I think, and being an artist myself, I feel the truth of this, because I don’t care what words others label my art with. I do believe they can go to hell. LOL

    1. Well said, Mgon! All the same, we turned that particular insult on its head and have since referred to any object in which there is, shall we say, a triumph of ideals over practicality as ‘more art than craft’ 😀 unfortunately, not all artists are confident at all even if they are skilled…

      1. It’s funny, when I first started reading this latest article of yours — well written, by the way — I was thinking “craft” as in magic. LOL. Obviously, after getting into it, I understood it was not about art that invokes supernatural powers…though I suspect some of YOUR art does, for it certainly has a way of casting a spell on us! 😉

        1. I like that slant… nice, hadn’t thought of it. And thank you also for the compliment 🙂

  3. Grayson Perry holds craft in high regard and berates sloppy artists whose work is poorly crafted. His fabulous exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum, was all about this.

    1. Sadly I missed that, Rosie, but I remember seeing a Grayson Perry exhibition years back and particularly appreciated the combination of high art and meticulous craftsmanship. Beautifully crafted vases and embroidered dresses with quite dark and complex imagery worked into them. I must admit I pay more attention if things are well made!

  4. it’s funny how we talk respectfully of someone’s ‘craft’, but when you talk about ‘crafting’, it’s diminished by implying a hobby.
    even i shy away from ‘crafter’ as a maker and a consumer.

    1. Yes, there does seem to be something that happens to the word when we add bits on the end of it: crafting, crafts, crafty, they all have different shades. I actually can’t bear the word ‘crafter’! Political correctness be damned, it’s craftsman! I describe myself as a ‘draughtsman first, painter second’ despite the fact that I am clearly a girl 😀

  5. I’m with you. The word craftsmanship is used to suggest intimate knowledge, deep experience, attention to detail, and highly-developed skill. But as you so clearly explained, there is always a range of results — in cooking, art, music, and pretty much every other activity of life. The word craft alone doesn’t necessarily place the subject anywhere within that range. At least not for me.

    1. ‘Craftmanship’ Yes, that’s the one that embodies everything you said. (now why did I not mention that one!) But ‘Arts and Craftsmanship’ doesn’t work on a flyer, which is a shame because that’s the impression I want to give!

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