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Is Craft Really Art?

May 22, 2008
During my 21 years of teaching art and craft in secondary colleges in Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria, I have constantly heard hot discussion on what constituted art and what was craft. Questions fly around: is painting fine art? Is craft really art? The answer often depended on what medium the debater was using when expressing their own creativity.

I made the distinction thus: art is when you generate an image, idea, concept or design using your creative skills; and craft is the medium that you choose to express your creative design with. Craft includes painting in various mediums, sculpture, ceramics, fabric, photography etc.

Those who believe that Art should simply come from a deep seated soul and simply burst forth, using whatever is at hand to create it, may have trouble with my definition.

Another regular question I get asked is Can you teach creativity? My response is yes. Of course there are people more skilled than others and some have greater natural abilities than others. But basically, creativity can be taught.

My experience with teaching is that the more structured you are, the greater the creative skills become. I no longer believe that you simply have to express yourself, whenever and however you wish. Those who are prepared to build on basic skills such as observations, drawing, colour, and tone, will more quickly come to a creative solution to a problem.

And that brings me to another point. If you have a problem to solve, you not only are more likely to be creative, but you can also expect more satisfaction from your endeavours. So how do you find a problem when all you want to do is paint a picture? Van Gogh certainly had a problem he wanted to solve. He wanted to capture the aggressive movement of light and colour in an ever changing landscape of wind and rain and dust. He did not go out simply to paint a landscape, he wanted to solve a problem.

I think this is the biggest dilemma of teaching art in schools. Teachers try to teach a skill such as ceramics or silk printing, but the results are often most unsatisfactory because students were not given a problem to solve.

Let me give you an idea of what I mean. I wanted to teach a class to use air brush to create a strong design image on a large canvas. They were not told what the medium was going to be. First of all I collected a large number of balls and had the students draw groups of balls for 4 hours (over two weeks). This was their research. I specifically made them aware of drawing the negative space (background) as well as the positive space (the actual balls).

Once the research was completed I gave them the problem to solve. They had to create a design using two colours only which emphasised the negative space. The best designs came from those students who began to treat both the positive space (the balls) and the negative space (the background) as abstract shapes. By using a light box, they got the shapes more and more simplified until a truly beautiful and creative balance of two colours was achieved. The final job was the craft, the airbrush and tape technique.

So,is craft, art? Well, I do not think so, as I see a lot of good craft with no real art awareness. But I do believe for you to be successful and produce worthwhile work you have to marry both art and craft in a sensitive and insightful end product of your Work of Art.
About the Author
Barbara Gabogrecan is a renowned author and award winning artist, having won 7 of the Australian Gift of the Year Awards, where she combined her art and craft into exceptional product. http://www.paintingandcraft.com
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