This is one of the favourite pieces of glass that I have ever made. But is Craft, or Art? You decide. And does it matter?
I say “piece of glass”, but I actually make this design in many different versions – the “Oceans Blue” blue and green as seen above, multi-coloured or black and white as seen below (perfect for modern monochrome kitchens), indeed, I will happily make a “Woven Fruit Platter” in any colour that my customers want to suit their decor.
But just because you can use it, does that make it any less “art”?
The woven fruit platter an incredibly practical item.
If you – like us – hate it went you get to the bottom of your fruit bowl and find that the base of your (expensive) fruit has turned into a gloopy mess thanks to the combined effects of humidity/water, touching the surface of the bowl and an anaerobic environment, then you’ll love these designs, because the holes in the lattice allow air to circulate around your fruit, keeping them fresh longer.
But I have had items (not often, thankfully) sneeringly derided by purists who think that “art” which has a practical purpose is somehow less laudable or less valuable than “pure art”. They dismiss it as “craft” – laden with patronising overtones of honest yokels labouring away to turn out an item for purely practical use.
Nowadays, of course, craft is recognised as being of great intrinsic value in itself. Clarice Cliff pottery, anyone? But still the debate rages.
So I’m going to put a flag in the ground. I think it’s an entirely artificial difference, created and perpetuated by people who should know better, if they did just stop and think for a minute.
Here’s an article which seeks to make the argument, and with which I politely disagree. Difference between art and craft.
Now here’s why I think the article is a nonsense.
For one thing, any item being produced has to have an intrinsic artistic worth to attract the eye and move the heart. If it is then reproduced (either identically, or in variety) how does that diminish the original intrinsic artistic vision? Answer: it doesn’t, of course.
Here’s a sentence I found in another article which made my blood boil: “Art is primarily a personal form of work that expresses the ideas and emotions of the artist.” Well, yes, for sure.
But that doesn’t mean that an item which is created and then re-created doesn’t “express the ideas and emotions of the artist”, does it?
Otherwise, to be honest, great swathes of Renaissance art would be dismissed as mere “craft”, as they were actually copies of work from great masters reproduced by artisans.
Indeed, in the 17th – 19th centuries, travellers doing the European “Grand Tour” demanded copies of famous paintings to take home, or paintings in the style of well-known great masters. An entire industry of “craftspersons” grew up to service the demand. A lot of the “art” hanging in galleries and museums today are just such copies.
The aesthetics of useful items
The second reason the article is a nonsense is that it doesn’t take into account that a practical item doesn’t always have to be in practical use to produce a purely aesthetic effect. My fruit platters often sit on sideboards on their own, delighting their owners and producing appreciative gasps from their guests.
The same is true of countless “craft” items.
An Alessi kettle, for example, is one of the most ordinary household devices imaginable – a container that boils water – but I defy anyone to say that they don’t also offer intrinsic emotional and artistic merit. Is this wonderful item (designed by Richard Sapper) any less a piece of art than the candlesticks it sits next to? I don’t believe so. Of course, some would say the candlesticks aren’t art, either …
Is Tapestry mere “sewing”?
And what of tapestry? Ultimately, in its essence, tapestry is no different from a little old lady patiently sewing flowers onto a piece of silk or linen as she perches in her rocking chair on the verandah of her home. (I think I watched too many Westerns as a kid.)
Not only that, but tapestries were usually produced in giant workshops where skilled craftsmen and women would patiently work away to create a part of the whole. And yet today, in their entirety, these tapestries are revered as “high art” emblematic of the societies that created them.
No one mentions, by the way, even sotto voce, that they were actually mainly used as an attractive way of insulating houses from the cold, or sometimes to make a strongly political or religious point. Propaganda posters, in short.
Think of the Bayeux Tapestry. History is written – or sewn – by the victors.
Today we are often asked to think of painting as a central medium of Western art history, and it is celebrated as such, but for much of the medieval and early modern period, it was actually tapestry.
For example, this ambitious tapestry sequence, 100 m long and depicting key scenes from the Book of Revelation, is the oldest surviving woven artwork in France.
It’s an intensely religious work, but it’s also a political one: made during the height of the Hundred Years’ War, it captures the privations and fears of a nation in seemingly endless existential struggle.
So when I make my fruit platters, or my ‘splat clocks’, or my coasters, or my bowls
and platters and sculptures, or sushi plates, are they Art, or Craft?
What do you think?
I will always, proudly, give you the same answer.
And thanks, as always, for reading.
(PS, there is a move nowadays, to replace both “Artist” and “Craftsperson” with “Maker”. I think I rather like that idea, as a celebration of the creativity involved.)
Tags: alessi art or craft artistic vision Clarice Cliff craft or art decor tapestry woven fruit platter