The debate about the crossover of art and craft feels like it's having a resurgence at the moment.

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The V&A and the Crafts Council have a joint exhibition celebrating contemporary craft, The Power of Making; artist Grayson Perry has just curated a show at the British Museum, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman; and Tacita Dean’s FILM for this year’s Unilever Series engages directly with the tactile skills and crafts of making moving images through film.

Tacita Dean FILM 2011
Tacita Dean's FILM 2011 installed at Tate Modern.

It’s not a new question, the boundaries between craft and art have long been contested. But with the explosion of interest in craft, from the Make Do and Mend craze, the new cool of the Women’s Institute and graffiti knitting to artists’ (such as Ai Weiwei) connection with traditional skills and Richard Sennet’s collection of essays The Craftsman gaining interest and coverage, it seems to be the time to talk about it.

So what defines an artist or a craft maker, or even divides an artist from a craft maker?

Perhaps intention makes the distinction. If a maker intends to express something perhaps that makes it art.

However, I asked a few makers at a contemporary craft fair last week, and they often felt that it was the material they worked with that made it craft - textiles, ceramics, glass seem to fall into the craft category, never mind if their intention as maker might be an artistic one.

Perhaps it’s how a maker learnt their skill. As an apprentice coming through a process of learning a skill, hand to hand, as it were? That’s craft. As a fully formed genius honing an expressive talent? That’s art.

Perhaps it’s use. Something wearable or useable - jewellery or furniture for example - seems to fit neatly under the craft label, while something that has no clear practical purpose might be called art. However, this doesn’t take into account the decorative crafts, nor the artists who produce practical items.

So what do you think? When is a maker an artist? And what makes a craft an art?


Eva Hellqvist

Art or Crafts? Why not use the Swedish "Konsthantverk"= Artcraft):. I see no problem to combine art & craft when it's imaginative yet with a practical function. I'm selling Swedish arts & crafts at and hope to combine this two components.

Tracy Fiegl

Comparing art to craft is like caomparing philosophy to engineering: they're two separate ways of looking at the same thing. To me art is communication of an idea or an emotion, while craft is the physical manipulation of material. An object can easily be both, either, or neither. A sculpture, for example, may communicate, but it was constructed using craft. Likewise a teapot can communicate an idea, but it was crafted. Function is misleading and no distinction. Functional objects can still communicate ideas, so art can be functional. One object could be viewed two ways: if you look at the way it was made and the materials used, you are looking at its craft, if you think about its ideas, you are viewing it as art. An object could have been crafted, but contain no art. Even a painting can be crafted but artless. A ready-made might be art with no craft. I very much like the idea of a spectrum. One last thought: skill doesn't enter into the definition of art, since a piece could succeed as art but be poorly crafted.

Lisa Moren

When they break the paradigm in a meaningful way. The same for computer coding.

Guerilla Embroidery

I agree with this entirely. It reminds me of a very interesting programme which was on BBC2 a while back , where Griff Rhys Jones travelled to India to study the embroidery there. It was part of a series where he re-traced the paths of certain artistic heirlooms to their orginal roots. I found it quite interesting that at the end of the programme he said something along the lines of 'of course it's not Art' (even though the whole programme kind of suggested it indeed was!)It does seem that only in the Western world to we have to define items/ creations as 'craft' or 'art'. The two can obviously and so often are seamlessly blended. In my mind any truly great piece of art demonstrates a high level of craft skill in addition to artistic flair and concept.


but what if Warhol or Picasso had made da beer can hat,Jon ?

Tejesh Man Shakya

I agree with you David.

Jason Ahrendt


alec schulz

Of what particular use is the distinction at all? Do we need a definition of 'art'?

Kim Matthews

I don't believe it's possible to serve two masters and feel that while art and craft can be related, they are definitely not synonymous. As a sculptor working in craft media who places a high value on technical skills, I also consider myself a craftsperson. But content is what drives the execution-not the medium. Similarly, if I'm going to make a teapot, I want to make the most useable, ergonomic teapot possible-and the focus on utility will make it inherently beautiful. I can call it functional art, but when people see it, they will call it a teapot--not a sculpture with a spout and handle.

Rita Koterba

When the ordinary becomes something extraordinary and speaks to your heart.

David Bickle

All art is crafted but not all craft is art

robin wood

It all comes down to status. Art is higher status and is publicly funded, thus if you want to progress in the world of craft you should position yourself as an artist and move away from function.

Kim Evans Director Arts Council "You are correct in your analysis of support for innovative craft practice; this is where nationally funded organisations have focused their attention over the past twenty five years or so. Indeed this has been the case with the visual arts as a whole where the innovative has been prioritised over the traditional."

The paradox is that within the art world what is rare is valuable and now we have few folk with wonderful skills making traditional work and thousands of folk making conceptual work. The tide is turning....

As we approach the centenary of Duchamp's fountain I believe we are about to see a revaluing of traditional skills of making.

Grayson Perry understand art and craft well this is what he thinks

Joe Miller

Yes, I do agree with you to some extent, we do need the words to talk about the subject. I would offer up this example though; I was very impressed on reading a biography about Leonardo da Vinci, with the idea that in those days a painter was considered an artisan; you took an apprenticeship and learned your craft, as a painter. It was accepted that to be any good as an artist you had to learn the craft of manipulating paint, and that took years. There was no distinction between those who earned a living from manipulating clay, to those who manipulated paint. It's all about the skill. I guess the 'artistic' element comes from the passion and expression that goes into the craft. Maybe we need different words to describe modern 'artistic' practice. We use words which have an ancient history, and come laden with other meanings, long since detached from what they originally meant. I sometimes wonder if that's one of the reasons so many people perceive modern artistic practice as being, well, weird, because they still think of an artist as someone who wields a brush?

Lucy Hawthorne

Craft can be used as a noun or a verb. Craft is associated with skills and labour - notions that are quite political in the art world.

When we think of craft objects or skills, we often think of those methods or skills associated with the pre-industrial: knitting, wood turning, ceramics, quilting; and really it's only in the last century or so that craft and art have divorced (design could now be an extra category too). Each of those methods have particular connotations, which when used in artworks are often used *strategically*. The method (or subversion of the method) contributes to the meaning of the object in a significant way.

Because so many artists use traditional craft skills to make art, it can not be the method alone that defines an object, nor do I think intention can define an object alone, although the context in which they're shown may define objects as art or craft. There can be no concrete definition of either, and I believe we probably need to expand our understanding of the term craft and craft methods to consider post-industrial methods. For instance, can computer coding be craft?


Separation between handicraft and artists is in link with market and tradition. Now in the XXI e century, I think difference is an old paradigm. for a long time Art and handicrats were considered in USA like same force and respect. I engaged myself in Europe to erase limit between artists and craftmen and women, repetitive works and copy of model is perhaps more handicraft, but when a craft men make a single piece is an artist, and when Andy Warrol did painting in serigraphy he was a craftmen.... Time changed and the best thing is for everybody to work in respect of matérials and respect with the hearth, intellectual limit disappears.

Marissa Kurtzhals

In my opinion, the definitions are reliant on the maker.

Tejesh Man Shakya

Absolutely, the repetition and duplication of the art is called handicraft reproduced by the purpose of business.

Charles Valoroso

Ham Bone: Puka shirt wit da shaka sign mo betta!

Katie Katz

Kirstie great questions to ask concerning what makes craft an art? My husband Bernard Katz, recently wrote a blog post on this particular subject, "When Craft becomes Art.” As a glass artist for over 25 years, he writes about his personal insight about craft and fine art; and how the two merge. An excerpt from his post, "Good or bad, craft tends to rely more heavily on the mechanical end of the creative process - that is, the physical act of making something. Ambiguous terms such as the word "art”, are almost impossible to define in a concise way. That is why I believe the ambiguity of these words has been at the root in the questioning of what art is, and what craft is."

Tracey Rediker

Artists create something original. crafters follow patterns others created. That is how I have come to define it.


Who decides what's meaningful?

Jay Fox-Davies

I think to have a distinction between art and craft is rather archaic. There does seem to be an element of 'snobbery', usually attached to an anticipated price tag for 'fine art'. I myself, could be defined by some of my work as a 'Fine Artist', however, other of my pieces could be defined as 'Craft', but my 'Fine Art' is crafted and my 'Craft' pieces are 'artful'. Perhaps we need to redefine art, to accept that whatever can speak to the viewer, through its beauty, or its story, is simply art and anything that is utilitarian, with no inherent beauty or message is 'manufacture'?


I agree with Joe, I think the western idea of having to put things in boxes, is linked to both the need for understanding a thing, but also the need to deem it worthy of our attention (and therefore our money). It is elitist and also tied strongly to a particular style of economy. The art/craft dichotomy is problematic when we are faced with an anomaly. The idea of a spectrum or continuum is infiltrating many theories now to help us understand that the traditional black/white thinking isn't always suitable or necessary.

Tracy Hunt

I have always thought of a craft as being a trained or honed skill in making something well that is functional or serves a purpose, whether its a chair, table, woven scarf or hat, piece of jewellery or hand made glass vase. A stonemason, carpenter, weaver, ceramicist, basket maker or any of this type of skilled artisan generally makes things that are of use. Although I would not wish to categorise or compartmentalise, it seems to me that its the intention of the maker that differentiates craft from art.

Tejesh Man Shakya

It is very controversy matter that there are always making distinction between art and craft all over the world. Sometimes, it makes huge distance between artists and craftsmen.

In fact, both art and craft need creativity, high skill to manipulate the materials, aesthetic values and appropriate techniques as well as similar materials. Even though we always categorize the terms of art and craft.

In my experience, an art could not be a craft because art never reproduce in unlimited copies by an artist however, a craft always reproduce in numerous copies by a craftsman following the designer's design for the utility purpose; and a craft could be an art, if that includes expression of idea, thoughts and individuality like Marcel Duchamp's Fountain in 1917 and the latest combined show of The Unilever Series 2011.

If the art world and the craft world consider to not to distinction between art and craft, never make distinction between these two terms by now and begin to consider the art as the craft; and the great artists as the great craftsmen. For example, the great craftsman Vincent van Gogh; the great craftsman Auguste Rodin; the great craftsman Andy Goldsworthy; etc. And consider that their painting, sculpture and land art as the handicraft.

Obviously, nobody agree to consider easily whatever I said, but it is necessary to conclude the fact of the art and the craft by the art world and the craft world to not to make a puzzle between art and craft.

Virginia Trembles

Craft is how something is made and that making can be affected by all kinds of situations (training, experience, historical period, availability of materials and many more scenarios). "Art" is bit of a red herring. Wabi sabi finds art in the worn, damaged, disintegrated, (perhaps even the Elgin marbles). Duchamp found art a mental game and in whatever the artist/author claims is art. The American Shakers and the Bauhaus looked to perfect utility. I find it blend, I want it to have a physical substance, I am left cold by the conceptual, "only thinking in things". For "Art" I want the parts to add up to more that the sum of its parts, its craft.

Sonia Smith

I write from Southern Africa. I worked at an Auction house in London, on Bond str, in the late '90s, where works of art were sold for hundreds of thousands of Pounds.

Now back in Africa, I have a business selling (what I consider) the art of rural people - to help them earn some income from what they make with their hands. Yes, practical but so beautiful and intricate!

From a business and social perspective, the difference between art and craft is: the value that the western world / mindset adds to it - and the western world considers 'rural art work' as 'craft'. Any item made by a poor rural person requires the same amount of imagination, energy, material, time and dedication.

I recall a work of art which was sold when I was in London, around 1999 - 2001. Can't recall the artist (very famous), but it was a cow suspended in firmaldehide (spelling?). The amount it was sold for could sustain a rural village in Africa for 20 years, maybe even 50 !!!

I do feel the western world's distance from poverty and hunger as a reality makes them drift from what determines true value ... I vote for 'crafts' to be reconsidered from this perspective ...


I think what seperates art from craft is the fact that art inspires you and urges you to think about how it makes you feel or what it means or what was the artist's aim in doing such a thing? Whereas crafts are more related to skills rather than wish to create something meaningful. Therefore, the ability confer sentiments and ideas is what distinguishes the two.

Trinity Forbes

I started to write an invested paper about this forever-going debate; However, simply put it is a matter of semantics. Each word and concept can be dissected and defined, while also, inevitably finding shades of metaphoric grey. Both form of creation are just that, form of creation. The category where the creation can be stowed is entirely debatable by the creator. Any craft can be art and vise versa. The two words being neatly (or at least somewhat structurally) defined is important to the 'modern' creation of art. Artists are in a constant frenzy to challenge and question the 'neatly defined'. It is within the semantics of most things that the modern artists finds a way to transform and move between definitions. Like most linguistic and conceptual based debates, it can truly go on and on. In my opinion it is a matter of ego and or intent.

Gillian Montegrande

People say that craft is defined by the fact that it has a function and that art exists as an aesthetic or provocative tool to make/encourage us to consider the world within us and around us. Correct me if I'm wrong but does that not mean that art also has a function?

To me the crucial thing is that someone takes it upon themselves to select a raw material and then using the strengths and weaknesses of both material and maker, a tussle ensues until something emerges which moves the maker as much as it does the viewer/user.

Harvey Pincis

I understand where you are at but wait; today we, well a large body of people, regard much of the output of the middle-ages to art-nouveau, not as craft, but as works of art. While the hand of the 'masters' may be discerned the further back in time one goes the greater the anonymity of a workshop or group. Western art is not alone in this as there are countless examples in Islamic art also.

A very grey area!

Elena Castellano

A fine artist has to be at some point "artisan" or it could simply have ideas that materialize others? Do you think that contemporary art is sensitive to the craft or instead the harm? From the Ready - made I think this question is answered. Yes, it is possible. It is true that the ready - made using things of life, non-art, and through language, and name them as art, and position them in an artistic context, these were converted into something else. The artist's intervention was minimal, but essential. I suppose you mean more to that if an artist does not know a particular technique and have an idea that needs to be developed this technique, it is lawful to do so. The truth is that already happening and has happened not only now, after the ready - made, but in the entire history of art, where artists like Rubens, had in their studies other artists that helped them make the paintings (such as Van Dyck example in the study of Rubens). There is a South Korean artist, very interesting, called Ham Kyung-Ah, which brings internet images can not be seen in North Korea and sends them via secret North Korea after trying these images as follows: Writes through collage and drawing, with these images, a new image and this work is that it sends to North Korea, with traditional techniques such as silk tapestries, craftsmen copied from there the work. The finished work is sent to the artist which then uses them to their exhibitions. Thus it almost impossible to create a connection between these two countries, a link that generates art and why you need the intervention of artisans North Korea.

¿Un artista plástico tiene que ser en cierto punto "artesano” o podría simplemente tener ideas que otros materializan? ¿Crees que el arte contemporáneo es sensible a la artesanía o que por el contrario la defenestra? Desde el Ready - made creo que esta cuestión está contestada. Si, es posible. Es cierto que el ready - made usaba cosas con otro objeto que el artístico, y a través de el lenguaje, y de nombrarlas como Arte, y posicionarlas en un contexto artístico, se convertían en otra cosa. La intervención del artista era mínima, pero indispensable. Supongo que te refieres más a que si un artista no conoce una técnica concreta y tiene una idea que necesita de esta técnica para ser desarrollada, es lícito que lo haga. Lo cierto es que ya ocurre y ha ocurrido no sólo ahora, después del ready - made, sino en toda la historia del Arte, en la que artistas como Rubens, tenían en sus talleres otros artistas que les ayudaban a hacer los cuadros ( como por ejemplo Van Dyck en el taller de Rubens ). Hay una artista de Corea del Sur muy interesante que se llama Ham-Kyung-Ah, la cual saca imágenes de internet que no se pueden ver en Corea del Norte y las envía por vía secreta a Corea del Norte después de haber tratado estas imágenes del siguiente modo: Compone a través del collage y el dibujo, con estas imágenes, una nueva imagen y esta obra es lo que envía a Corea del Norte para que, con técnicas tradicionales, como los tapices de seda, los artesanos de allí copien la obra. La obra final es enviada a la artista la cual luego las usa para sus exposiciones. De este modo ella crea una conexión casi imposible entre estos dos países, un vínculo que genera Arte y por el que necesita de la intervención de los artesanos de Corea del Norte.

Annette Pearson

I my mind a craft is the use of materials for something practical, that has some individuality but limited imagination. As soon as the creativity hits a level that the piece assumes its own identity then it can be classed as art, whether it has function or not.


Hi Kirstie... !

Te envio esto de mi trabajo artistico..ojalá puedes verlos ...gracias


Besides craft being aligned with utilitarian purposes I think the main difference is the concept behind an idea, how deep is the idea presented. By deep I am talking about the level of thought and the research behind. The craft of presenting an idea using the right medium, the right metaphor where every aspect of the presentation has a layer of meaning that has been carefully chosen. The level of control is very high.

Joe Miller

Hi, thanks for an interesting article! Hope you don't mind me responding to it, from a personal point of view. I think that to attempt to define anything as either art or craft is a mistake. It's a fairly typical Western society mistake, trying to define something as either one thing or another, when in fact, the two are on a spectrum. I believe that the spectrum can be described as 'Skill at using materials' and 'Expressing something'. Some art demonstrates no or little skills at using materials, but expresses something really profound. Equally, some that we define as craft expresses nothing in particular, but demonstrates great skill. However, some great art demonstrates both; great skills at using the materials chosen, and expressing something profound. An attempt to define something or someone as art(ist) or craft(maker) is thus meaningless. Why is this distinction so important to us? I suspect it stems from an elitist attitude towards art, which sneers at crafts as being somehow inferior. I'm glad to see that so many artists and craft makers ignore this argument, and carry on producing the work they want to make, regardless of what anyone wants to call it!

Harvey Pincis

yes, functional useful items well crafted can have a higher meaning or idea than mere intended use, though art has discipline. As the saying goes, there can be craft without art but no art without craft!

Caryn Golonka

I believe Crafts become art when they not only serve as a function but envokes an emotional response from the viewer.

Muge Hestbaek

I totally agree with Joe Miller. Work matters. No need for naming or labeling. Work speaks for itself.

Cap'n Bombard

A craft becomes art when it's purpose is compromised, but it's 'value' is increased.


Art is the extended arm of your imagination, The feast of inspiration for your muse. Art isn't just creativity, its a way of life.


Hmmm .. A fruit bowl - plain and simple is a fruit bowl, made by a craft person. When the maker changes the uniformity and structure and creates movement, dimension, altered textures, unexpected colours etc .. then this becomes a piece of art.

I could put beads on a string and call it a necklace. However, if I follow the same formula as above and create a necklace with unexpected results, this then becomes art.

Art is about imagination .....


I think it's about intention. Creating something that is art and designed to evoke an emotional response is very different to crafting a beautifully designed functional piece. And if the functional piece evokes an emotional response that maybe it artfully crafted.


Art says of his time and not good for anything ... not just the crafts used.

Cathrine Clarke

Although the concepts of art perception are changing very rapidly, I believe craft is still an art when it no longer represents the philosophy of a group but rather that of an individual.

Kirstie Beaven

Great point @Joe; the idea of a spectrum I think accurately represents exactly what is happening in the world of making (art or craft).

The elitism point is also a good one. The idea of the "artist as genius" is hard to shake, and sets up artists as being separate from the world around them. Though I might argue that it goes both ways, that there you can often see a similarly "sneering" attitude to those who do not display traditional skills.

But do you think that the fact we have these different words (artist, craftsman, artisan) in our language means that we cannot escape making a distinction in our mind? Musicians are always musicians, no matter what music they make, writers are always writers.

If we all subscribed to the use of a generic word like "maker" for example, there would presumably be no debate to be had, but as it is, we do have to make the definitions to be able to talk about practice.

Charles Valoroso

I attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland from 1968 through 1972. The school's identity has dropped the "Crafts" (branding) in the mid 90's and renamed it California College of the Arts. Since then, the college has added Architcture, Fashion, Film Animation, Business Courses in Design and Writing to its vast curriculum. In my opinion art is not only about the art market, art fairs, art collectors and auction houses. The Oakland Museum has added dragsters and motorcycle choppers as well as psychedelic rock posters to its permanent visual art collection. The SFMOMA Artists Gallery recently exhibited surfboards by Jeff Clark, Real Hot Rods (curated by Phil Linhares / Oakland Museum) and tattoo paintings by Don Ed Hardy. Face it my fellow Americans, Contemporary Fine Art in the U.S.A has been low brow since Andy Warhol through Jeff Koons! ~Charles Valoroso Adjunct Professor of Drawing at California College of the Arts, Oakland, 2008


Da beer can hat stay only pretty, yeah?

See my page, which is basically just decorative fun. However, if you press the "pause" button, you've added an element of intentionality that arguably transposes it into art. Furthermore, you're then presented with options to modify the paused design, adding further intentionality.

Suggesting you can introduce intentionality merely by pressing "pause" is meant as an exploration analogous with monkeys at typewriters. The computer's the monkey. But although monkeys might accidentally type Shakespeare, they can't recognize the achievement. Ditto the computer's string art. The page thus tries to quotient art into craft and intention. You need no craftsmanship to generate the computer designs, but you need intentionality to recognize the good ones. So, taking a sometimes contrarian attitude, the page tries to suggest art is possible without craft, but impossible without intention. But sharing your own _original_ artistic intention probably does require craftsmanship. I can't seem to figure out a computer page for that idea.

The artist intends to make art and art only. There is no other utilitarian reason for the exercise.

An artist whose art consists of little more than technique or academic formula is making art that is largely craft only.

A craftsperson makes utilitarian objects that can rise to both the aesthetic levels of Fine Art and its commercial value. A craftsperson who intends to make art and art only using the materials of craft-making is making art.

The interchangeable use of the word art with doing something excellently is a cultural virus. Cooking is not art, hair-styling is not art, being creative is not art, producing media by-products due to sickness, brain-damage, trauma, dementia, therapy, social engineering, political conviction, and so on have nothing to do with Fine Art. These things are Art like praying is medicinal.

Under the auspices of Contemporary Art Art and Craft and Design, and Antiques are all "art" because they have a commercial appeal to patronage. The Post-Modern strain of Art largely maintains a conceptual difference.