Nature & Art

Disk 57

In considering the nature and value of art in this essay, I have taken painting as my example of art in relation to craft, within the structure of society today. The reason for this is because it best describes what I am trying to illustrate in this essay. Both art and craft have been discussed in much detail with respect to whether they should be classified together or separately. Much has been disputed about where to draw the line between the two Harold Osborne suggests some distinguishing features,

  1. Art is expressive of feeling and emotion while craft is not.
  2. Craft is end directed but art is not.
  3. Crafts, typically envisages utility and function;
  4. While the products of craftsmanship function within the countries of everyday social life, the fine arts carry new countries of everyday social life, the fine arts carry new insights or suggest new ways of apprehending life and affairs.

To an extent, these points are valid, but on a very general scale. Osborne too argues in his essay “THE AESTHETIC CONCEPT OF CRAFTSMANSHIP” that these points have only come into effect as of the present century. He gives a fairly balanced insight to the overlapping qualities that exist between the two demonstrating the ‘simplified’ conditions separating them. He concludes that above all art and craft should be appreciated for what they are rather than for what functions and theories that are possibly embodied within them. I believe many other factors, such as Becker’s view that the structure of society affects the differences and similarities between the two, Becker defines the qualities of craft,


“In the pure folk definition, a craft consists of a body of knowledge and
skill which can be used to produce useful objects; dishes you can eat from, chairs you can sit in; cloth that makes serviceable clothing…. from a slightly different point of view, it consists of the ability to perform in a useful way to play music that can be danced to, serve a meal to guests efficiently…..”


Becker’s discussion centers mainly around how art and craft have over the centuries, in many ways, entered one another’s boundaries, so that despite all argument, they are in ways essentially very much bonded. What he stresses on and illustrates is the way society’s change has affected the development of art and craft. Hence, I feel what we should really consider is the function of both art and craft, pre-photography and industrialization as during this period both the arts and crafts were made for the same specific function – mainly, to please patrons. In both cases, little or no emotions or expressions were evident as their ‘useful’ qualities predominated. Patrons looked primarily for academic qualities and whether they matched the required criteria of the time.


As Becker illustrated;

“We can speak of academic art as art produced in a world in which artists and others shift their concern from expressiveness and creativity to virtuosity.”


He goes on to give an example’;

“Virtuoso engravers (of the 16th century) chose the pictures as vehicles for the exhibition of their particular skills.”


And Herman Schafer gives us some insight into the role of the craftsman during this period;

“He made everything that man used and enjoyed from the simple cup or chair to the most elaborate artistic piece of goldsmith work.”


Thus one could almost say that at this time, most art was a form of craft. With the advent of Industrialization and photography, however, the purposes of and approach towards craft and art were severely altered.
Before the discovery of photography, there was only one criteria by which one judged art (assuming we are referring to painting as our take-off point) – the ability of the artist to imitate the world around him. With photography, came a rebellion. The whole purpose of art changed, springboarding from Impressionism, whereby artists started creating to their own standards, for their own means and reasons. It became art purely for the sake of creating art. Above all, art to please oneself. As a result of this, artists went off in all directions, manipulating all mediums, techniques, disciplines available to create what they termed “art”. Although it satisfied their needs and theories, much of it seemed useless and meaningless to an onlooker, for example, Duchamp’s “readymades” whereby there were no distinguishing features between an everyday object and an artwork. Danto quotes;

“But telling artworks from other things is not so simple a matter even for native speakers and these days one might not be aware that one was on artistic terrain without an artistic theory to tell him so”.


Craft was one discipline that had been exploited by artists wishing to make a new statement. However, as Becker says,

“When artists invade a craft medium they deliberately make work that is non-functional as a way of showing that though the medium is associated with a craft, the work is art”.


Conversely, there are artists who have turned their art into craft, as a form of rebellion against an art world that had become conventional.


Becker illuminates;
So the end point of the sequence in which an art turns into a craft
consists of younger, newer, rebellious artists, refusing to play the old game and breaking out of its confines.”


An example would be artists who illustrate purely for commercial purposes such as advertisements. Andy Warhol is an artist who falls into this category. He mass-produced work that the public wanted in his factory for “fame and money”. The only difference between this and the impersonality of a factory’s standardisation was that they were taken through each process by the artist (as in craft) and therefore, contained his ‘personal touch’. The art establishment nevertheless gradually came to accept these works as art simply because as Danto puts it;

“it is the role of artistic theories these days, as always, to make the artworld and art possible……
without the theory, one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory…..”

Industrialization marked the downfall of craft in the sense that machines now replaced craftsmen. The ‘one-off’ original craftspiece was abandoned for the mass produced and purely functional one. The craftsmen’s major role as maker of all things of utility, catering to all of society was suddenly reduced to that of maker of things for special occasions or functions, serving only the elite minority within society.


As Schaefer states;

“The more industry took care of our needs in the realm of the useful and functional, the more the craftsmen was denied his role as maker for the necessary and useful and the more he became the maker of the superfluous, the costly and the extravagant.”


William Morris who tried introducing ornament and craftsmanship discovered it was too expensive for all society to afford ‘handmade’ items for use in everyday life, when there were cheaper machine-made ones that were equally functional. Perhaps Adolf Loos’s theory about developed countries not requiring ornament as a necessity applies here;

“The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use.”


He adds;

“the form of an object should be bearable for as long as the object lasts physically.”


Inevitably this struck some reaction from some craftsmen within this industralised society, who now had lost their whole purpose for making works of craft by hand. Their rebellion took the form of making objects that did not conform to traditional criteria: FUNCTION AND VIRTUOSITY.

As Herwin Schaefer discusses in his essay that craftsmen were at a loose end because of industrialisation. Those who refused to accept their fate lost their insight of what a craftsman meant and hence, started creating “functionless’ craft that could be termed as ‘art’. On the other extreme lay those who adjusted to the accepted new society by becoming industrial designers. Schaefer points out to us that most craft within a society such as ours, is essentially art because it is ‘for the most part, willful, self seeking, pretentious beyond measure and pointless to anyone but the maker’. Evidently though, there are still existing traditional craftsmen who work to the ‘old ways and methods’, catering for a small group of patrons.

Therefore, it can be concluded that events in society have affected the academic meanings for both art and craft. It would be ‘just’ I think, to conclude that craft in an Industrialised society is on par with art in that ‘the utilities toward which the work is pointed are those of the artworld-appreciation, collection and display’. Hence with this in mind, it is inevitable that economics and social structure play a big part in the survival of both the artworld and the craftworld. Thus it has to be considered.

Both craft and art are not necessities in our lives. Priorities play a large role here and economic situations account for the difference between what we want and what we need. Both art and craft are considered things of luxury in our lives, funded predominantly by people with money to indulge. Within an Industrialised, machine-orientated society, art and craft are treasured for their originality, exclusivity and personal qualities, as opposed to the standardized and impersonal. As a click here result of Industrialization, the status of the arts and crafts could be said to have been elevated. Perhaps in order for us to understand why the arts and crafts are treated with such respect in our society, despite being non-necessities, we have to consider our origins and reflect on primitive cultures, as Mark Sagoff relates;


“Although the word totem used only by the Ojibway, an Algonguin tribe, to describe their ornament poles, early ethnographers, including Fraser, Boas and Dunkheim, extended the term to cover any art or ceremonial object with which an individual tribesman identifies his group or clan. The totem, among many or most tribes, is supposed to contain or have some contact with the souls is the ancestors of the tribe. A totem is kept as a sacred trust by the present generation and handed onto the next….”
“The value and function of art in civilisation perhaps has not changed in principle from the time of the Ojibways. Their totems had the same value as our artistic tradition has to us.”


This perhaps, best explains the value and nature of art for mankind. Art and craft is made and all society is free to view and enjoy it. Those that have been classified as great works by the artworld, such as the ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo Da Vinci, are priceless and displayed in museums for all of mankind to share. Works such as these are akin to the Ojibways ‘totems’, which were to be handed down from generation to generation. However, it is only those with sufficient funds who can afford to own and purchase works of art and craft and these are the members of society who are the supporting base of the art and craft world.

This, thus, brings us to the question of why or how people judge art and craft when looking to purchase work. As opposed to traditional craft and art pre-photography that both have a set academic criteria with which to be measured, the arts and crafts now have no set principles or qualities to adhere to due to the broad spectrum of styles it now encompasses. Rather with each style, comes a new set of qualities and theories that one has to understand in order to make any sense of the new work. In addition to this, one should have a strong grasp of the history of art as most art has some sort of relation to that which has come before it.
Danto demonstrates this with his ‘scientific theory of art’, whereby he likens the ever changing styles and theories in art to the development of science theories. The similarity here lies in the fact that in science one theory leads onto another or rather a new discovery is built upon what factual information is already known. This is however on a more straightforward level. An excerpt of this theory below illuminates Danto’s main point;


“a new theory is worked out capturing what it can of the old theory’s competence, together with the here too fore recalcitrant facts. One might, thinking along these lines, represent certain episodes in the history of art as not dissimilar to certain episodes in the history of science where a conceptual revolution is being affected and where refusal to countenance certain facts, while in the past due to prejudice, inertia and self interest is due also to the fact that a well established or at least widely credited theory is being threatened in such a way that all coherence goes.”


An important factor to consider, would be one’s purpose for wanting an art or craft work. We can, I think, break up these buyers into two main groups. One, those who purchase art and craft purely for the pleasure and enjoyment (and possibly function in craftwork) they derive from them. Two, those who acquire art and craft for their economic value. In the first case, it is relatively easy for one to assume that the work chosen hasn’t any criteria with which to one judged, only in so much as it appeals to the senses of the buyer. As everyone within society has their own interests and tastes, the arts and crafts too holds different meanings to everyone. Perricone states;


“ Primarily, I judge (or one could say experience) the artist and his work on its own merit, secondarily in comparison to others. This is another way of saying that in artistic judgement, intuition is the main ingredient.”


In this instance, traditional functional craft would be looked at more for ‘experience’ value then for its functional qualities. Thus all art and craft falls into this category regardless of its ‘status’ within the establishment. The second category, consists of those who collect works primarily as status symbols, or to satisfy their egos. Deriving pleasure from or choosing works to fit their tastes only comes secondary to this. Undoubtedly then, it is only art and craft that has established itself within the art and craft world, that appeals to them, because it is respected and can only appreciate in value. Sagoff states;


“….accepted or established masterpieces of art will never lose their economic value…”


Therefore, art and craft of this type has got a criteria with which to be judged, according to the style it has been classified under by the establishment. Evidently to those in the first category, a work of high monetary value may not necessarily correspond to what they consider work of ‘value’.

Overall though, it can be said in both cases that, artists and craftsmen have turned the tables, in that people and patrons now comply to what the artist or craftsman sets out to achieve. This is in comparison to the past when both art and craft were tailored to suit the needs and whims of the patrons. What should be noted here however, is that although artists may now dictate the direction towards which they wish to head it is ultimately (even in the past) the most marketable and appreciated style that he sticks to and develops from. It is also this style that he is normally remembered by. Picasso is such an artist who in a bid to find what appealed to people and could therefore be easily marketed, constantly altered his direction and style of painting. Therefore, I think it can be said that the diversity in styles of the arts and crafts at the present moment is such that everyone can find an artform/style that fulfills their meaning and value of what art and craft should be.



Therefore, art and craft (within a photography and industrial age) are very much based upon the economics of society. However, the nature and value of art and craft, varies and has varied over the years, with respect to the way our world had developed and how different people have reacted to it. In the past, art had academic qualities to adhere to in accordance with what patrons wished to see. Craft was made purely for functional purposes and judged by its craftsmanship and skill. As time has progressed technical qualities came secondary to intrinsic value, and artists and craftsmen did not create with specific patrons in mind. In this sense the arts and crafts in our society are bonded and people look at them for the same reasons, hence the gap between them is broken. Although Harold Osborne’s distinguishing features between the two in cases may be evident, their end means is the same. More than anything though, I think the arts and crafts have developed in relation to the way our world had changed and reflects the different ways people have reacted to it.

Art and craft will survive for as long as the way our society is structure is not altered dramatically. As has been seen, art and craft is solely supported by money from the more privileged in the social hierarchy. Picture this scenario, whereby this hierarchy was broken down and our society lost its monetary and material value and we were ‘reduced to savages’ (as Sagoff aptly puts) by circumstances beyond our control – our only aim on a daily basis being survival. What then, would the arts and crafts mean to us? Since both arts and crafts are not the necessities for survival, they would not be of any worth us. Furthermore, their economic value under these conditions would be nullified. Hence, although their intrinsic values as artworks are still intact in times of disaster (war, floods etc.) art and craft would not be considered or even created. Basically, what I am trying to outline here is that (at present) the arts and crafts as with other materialistic luxuries within our society, are money orientated. And would not be worth anything (economically) in terms of survival in a ravished world. However, what this illustrates is that the arts and crafts are very much a part of our thriving world, hence, when we no longer value or acknowledge it, it marks the beginning of the end of mankind. As Sagoff so aptly puts it, when art is no longer a subject of consideration, …”a clan, society or civilisation is at an end…..”