What Is An Art, And What Is A Craft?
Like most debates, the essential part of the argument is in establishing and agreeing on definitions. It is worthless to argue one side or another if we have not agreed on the common definitions of the subjects of discussion. This is important, as changing the subject of discussion is a common technique of sophists (a person who cleverly reasons with false arguments/in bad faith).
Agreeing on a common definition will also reveal why this is an essential question to some. If what makes an art different from a craft, as is argued below, is the intention of the creator and the value given by the creation, then that means each and every sewist out there has the power to choose for themselves.
In the same way that “painting” can be used to mean many things from oil painting portraits to spray painting car doors, defining the medium and type of work is important. When we talk about “sewing” in this context, I think we all think of the same thing, one sewer sewing a particular article of clothing, like a dress, top, bottom, skirt, etc. I think this is a fair example to compare to other works like paintings, pieces of music, novels, etc.
Art – That Which Gives Value From Emotion And Beauty
There are many definitions of what is art.
Google gives us two definitions:
- the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
- the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.
I think most people would agree this is an acceptable definition. I would only stress the part about beauty and emotion, only adding that good art gives a real-world value from the individual all the way up to the culture as a whole.
Craft – That Which Gives Value From Utility And Function
And Google gives us one relevant definition:
- an activity involving skill in making things by hand.
This definition is a little broad to work with. I think it is reasonable to argue that a craft is necessarily related to utility and function more than just skill with the hands. Most of the crafts I can think of relate to making something that has some sort of use outside of simple looks. Crafts like pottery, wood carving, and the like come to mind.
It is easy to see that there is a lot of crossover between the two. Almost all art does involve some sort of craft, but not all crafts involve artistry.
To help us a little, let's consult the famous Chat GPT3 for its opinion.
Prompt: “what is the difference between an art and a craft”
The terms “art” and “craft” are often used interchangeably, but they do have distinct differences in meaning.
Art generally refers to the creation of works that are valued for their beauty, emotional power, or intellectual content. Artistic works can take many forms, such as paintings, sculptures, music, literature, film, and performance.
Craft, on the other hand, generally refers to the creation of objects that are functional or utilitarian, such as pottery, textiles, woodworking, metalworking, and glassblowing. While craftsmanship can involve artistic elements, its primary focus is on creating objects that serve a practical purpose.
One way to think about the difference is that art is more focused on the expression of an idea or emotion, while craft is more focused on the skillful execution of a technique to create a useful object.
However, it's important to note that there is often overlap between art and craft, and many works can be considered both. Additionally, the distinction between art and craft can vary depending on cultural and historical contexts.
The Products Of Sewing Have Utility – But Have Greatly More Value In Their Beauty
Clothing is one of the oldest and most useful human creations. It is one of the defining and most visible aspects of culture, its manufacturing is one of the bedrocks of an industrial society, and it serves as one of the most important expressions of an individual's personality.
Clothing allowed primitive man to live in climates and conditions far from their natural habitats. It allows people to work in places and environments deadly beyond imagining. While these are still the main uses of clothing, it is curiously not the most valued. If it was, then why is a textile, like silk, which is costly to produce and easy to destroy, the most valued fabric in the world? Why is a process like dying so universal, even though in most cases it serves no practical use? This is nothing to say of the many very inconvenient and awkward fashions like suits, gowns, dresses, and the like, that have a very limiting effect on the wearer's movements.
All this is to say that despite the tremendous utility of clothing, humans and our societies value much more what beauty and emotion clothes can bring – particularly if it is complementing to the wearer. This, I'm sure you can recognize, is very much the purpose of a piece of art.
More Value Is Placed In Their Beauty – But It's All Worth Nothing If There Is No Utility
All that being said, clothing is first and foremost an item of utility. If it does not cover, support, and protect the wearer, it will have limited to no real value. Yes, there are strange and notable exceptions that you might see on some high-fashion runways, but in reality, do people exchange their hard-earned money for them? Clearly no. Unlike a painting, a novel, or a song, clothes must fulfill their practical responsibilities first, and the aesthetics second, even though as we pointed out above they a valued more for their beauty.
In this case, beauty must follow function, which reverses what is normal for most pieces of art. There are many, many novels that are treasured yet hold no practical lesson, many paintings that are glorified but show a pedestrian sight, and so on. In this way, we can see how clothing is both an art and craft, in a way that very few other creations can be.
Therefore, Sewing CAN OFTEN Be Art
The person who chooses to sew has a special choice compared to many other crafters and artists, they can choose whether or not they want to make a work of art or a product. This is not easily done by other creators, a portrait will always be a portrait, a table always a table, and a song always be a song. But your projects, by your own choice and effort, can be made as works of edifying beauty or valued possession.
The sewist then joins a rare group of special artisans. This group includes the potters, embroiderers, printers, stencilers, tailors, smiths, journalists, bakers, designers and undoubtedly much more – whom closely ride the line between artist and artesian, and produce some of the many valuable and beautiful things we enjoy each day.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, do you consider yourself an Artist or an Artesian?
I like this definition from Wikipedia, which is much as expressed by @Mea Cadwell.
An artisan is a skilled craft worker who makes or creates material objects partly or entirely by hand. These objects may be functional or strictly decorative, ie furniture, decorative art, sculpture, clothing, food items, household items, tools and mechanisms such as the handmade clockwork movement of a watchmaker. Artisans practice a craft and may through experience and aptitude reach the expressive levels of an artist.
More at Wikipedia
The last sentence is the most revealing, especially for this discussion.
Also think of costumes, whether for the stage, Hallowe’en, etc. These are not only functional but also often need to be representative of a certain era, country, icon, idea, etc. There must be art involved for the audience to recognize the representation. (I fail miserably at this on Hallowe’en!)
Just attended the Atlanta Sewing and Quilt Expo. Many, many quilts on display, from beautiful patchwork, to scenes of monuments, stadiums, barns and forests, and too many others to name. Some looked painted, and it was all done with fabric. I call that art, absolutely.
In my opinion, after reading your article, wouldn’t sewing hold 2 meanings depending upon what sewing the person does? Quilting might come under art? Especially when doing quilt art such as treasures sewn in, a portrait or picture. A unique beautiful gown. Ultarian craft could be considered in sewing clothing because of function, but a beautiful craft, as one would express when you see a beautiful well done piece of furniture 😀. Agree or disagree? Thoughts….
My take on it is sewing is a craft. But, if it goes above and beyond just functionality, then it becomes an art.
When a sewn item becomes a piece of art is up to debate. It also depends upon the people that appreciate and value said item.