Is there a gap between art and craftsmanship?

Is there a gap between art and craftsmanship?

Curatoria interviewed Roxana Amarilla and other artists and artisans to rethink this historical dichotomy.

By Carmen Güiraldes

UNESCO maintains that artisanship is a vital part of intangible cultural heritage. Artisans produce handcrafted goods, both entirely by hand or with the help of manual or mechanical tools, and from raw materials obtained from sustainable resources. When speaking of art, however, one can find no official definition. There are many of them, and very varied. Perhaps because art is not an answer but a treat, something that challenges us. Louise Bourgeois, the French sculptor who authored "Spider Woman" said that "something is art when it fulfills a therapeutic function for the artist." In contrast, the founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, believed that there was no substantial difference between craftsmanship and art. That, if something separates them, it is just a barrier of arrogance. And yet, artists continue to resist the idea. As if craftsmanship were lesser, or art, something finer

But crafts are gaining space in museums. The strongest proof of this is the Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 exhibition, which will be on display at the Whitney Museum in New York until February 2022. The catalog states: “This exhibition reveals how visual artists have drawn on materials, methods and techniques originary to craftsmanship over the past seven decades. Some take up historical traditions, such as weaving and ceramics, while others experiment with clay, glass, textiles and beads, among other unique objects. The reasons why artists incorporate crafts in their works are varied, but most of them coincide in the desire to dismantle the idea of fine arts. By highlighting other modes of production, artists challenge the power structure that determines what has and what does not have artistic value. "

Another argument that is often cited to differentiate art from craftsmanship is the utilitarian: while craft tends to have a practical purpose, art is “an effort to make you walk half an inch above ground”, as Yoko Ono said. . While the craftsman replicates learned forms, an artist creates new ones, it is said. But Roxana Amarilla, Director of MATRIA (Market of Traditional and Innovative Argentine Handicrafts), thinks that “no artisan merely reproduces. Creativity, innovation and research are the heritage of the artisan, and this is a constant. "

“Somewhere, it is implied that artisans are more open to interacting with their buyers and collectors than artists. While sculptors are reluctant to collaborate with architects, interior designers or with their clients, because they feel that their opinion could condition their work, artisans are more malleable ”, says the article Crafts and Art: do they differ?, published in The New York Times.


MARINA DI PAOLA graduated as a set designer from the Universidad del Salvador but she also studied art at the Royal Society of Arts in London. In 1999 she won a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a Master of Art Direction for Film. She studied art with Sara Mansilla and Guillermo Roux. “For me there is a big difference between art and craftsmanship. The craftsman receives the techniques directly from the traditions surrounding him and maintains them, or improves them. The artists, on the other hand, set themselves on another path: they can take some things from the artisanal tradition, but their creative process is different. It seems to me that the craftsman is a métier and that the artist takes many more risks. While some may be wonderful artists, not all artisans are. I think they are two different worlds, which can be merged by technique in some cases, but they are two different routes. "

AGOSTINA BRANCHI is a designer and architect who runs her own studio, where she creates unique products that fuse the industrial with ancient techniques. Her products are exhibited at international fairs such as Salone del Mobile de Mián and Wanted Design in New York. “I consider that there is a big difference between art and craftsmanship, since being an artist in general requires certain studies, while the artisans -most of them- learn their trade in the community where they live, incorporating techniques that are transmitted generation to generation. I define myself as an artist but, in addition to producing my pieces, I work together with different artisans in the realization of certain products. I believe that their contribution is unique, I respect, value and like to give them visibility. I do not believe that there is a gap between art and craftsmanship. Rather, I believe that there are beautiful differences between the two that, when transcended, can result in a magnificent and powerful ensemble. "

IVONNE COOKE owns the gallery @Ykw/art. “The concept of art is neither absolute nor universal. Each era defines it in a different way. There is no hegemonic definition. I believe that, if there is a difference between art and craftsmanship, it has more to do with art’s political role, which crafts do not have. Art and craftsmanship were closely related in ancient times, and both made reference to a certain skill (or art) in executing something, which meant it was beautiful and well done. The term ars (from which art derives) involved different practices: it could be a craftsman, a blacksmith, or an artist ... It is during the Renaissance that the figure of the artist begins to detach from this, with the identification of a particular style that is signed with a name. In Romanticism, art acquires a metaphysical function; Starting with Duchamp, art serves to question art itself and, in the 1960s, it acquired the political function of denouncing the inequality of this world. At this point, beauty and art no longer go hand in hand. In addition, there is the issue of the uniqueness of the work of art: there are not a thousand Mona Lisas but a handcrafted piece can be reproduced many times without losing its quality. I think art and craftsmanship were more closely related in ancient times than they are now. "

CELESTE VALERO is a weaver from Quebrada de Humahuaca, in Jujuy. She is the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of weavers, and creator of the @tejedoresandinos.jujuy network, a textile enterprise that brings together weavers in the region. “I think that society has separated art from craftsmanship very well, to the point that each one has its own denomination. Until a few years ago, I believed that there was a difference, I thought that an artist was a painter or a sculptor and a craftsman was someone who weaves baskets, for example. However, today I think that the essence of where artistic expression comes from includes anyone who has an inherited or acquired talent. I believe that everything is art, for me there is no difference. I believe that we are heading towards a world where the gap between art and craftsmanship is bridged forever, forgoing the tradition that belittles artisanal work and values ​​the artistic more. The artisanal pieces are a conjunction of many different expressions that make them unique, and give them great cultural, sentimental and familial value. In our case, the textile pieces contain tremendous cultural value: we have pieces for ceremonial use that are used in the Pachamama festival, for example. This value is more and more evident and is increasingly recognizable in textile art, or ceramics. "

ROXANA AMARILLA, is a Social Communicator and Director of MATRIA (Market of Traditional and Innovative Argentine Crafts), a program that promotes Argentine crafts and depends on our National Ministry of Culture. “MATRIA is a committee that serves as reference for the quality of artisanal products. We work socializing certain parameters so that they may be of reference for artisans. What are those parameters? Traditionally, handcrafted goods were produced mainly for the communities own consumption, but there was always a percentage that was destined for commercialization. Richard Sennett, in his book The Craftsman, says that the motivation for an artisan lies in doing things well, that is his greatest strength. But commercialization is not excluded from the essence of the products. It is what we call quality, when these parameters coexist. Functionality is another parameter that one refers to when defining craftsmanship. A craft is an object made by hand (or with the help of simple tools) that has aesthetic beauty and functionality. Functionality is an essential part of this type of cultural production, because craftsmanship involves the human hand transforming raw material into something usable, with purpose. But apparently, and unnecessarily, it also has aesthetic functions. People trying to position themselves in the dichotomy of art vs. craftsmanship are eventually faced with this paradox. It is true that the purpose of pure contemplation does not fit within the artisanal field, because its objects are useful. But the uses are numerous: sometimes the use is a cult, sometimes it is a sacred moment, sometimes it is the relief a person from the city feels when encountering beautiful crafts that fills them with hope because it reminds them that there is a human hand behind it, a community, an ancestral knowledge...For 2,000 thousand years, the same cultural system united the artist and the artisan. They weren’t differentiated. Art being viewed as Fine Arts is a product of capitalism, of the bourgeoisie that is set on consuming the object that’s been instituted as the latest cult favorite. It is there where handcrafted goods begin to differ from the work of an artist. But in that equation, the value of beauty is removed from artisanal work. And so, instead, it is instituted simply as a trade, which is a great lie. There always were aesthetic operations and research of beauty, there always was an artisan procedure that could be used as a shelter for self-expression, as the Chilean Pedro Mege Rosso says. Instead of using a brush and knowing color theory, a weaver knows how to combine resources to make a guard, for example, or makes drawings of welts, or creates paths to differentiate one guard from the other...A weaver, capable of sorting and organizing fibers in order to achieve a gradient of natural tones is an artist, doing an aesthetic operation. So, removing beauty from the equation, as far as artisanal work goes, has to do with the rules imposed by the Fine Arts, which are aimed towards a market. Fortunately, this view has been under scrutiny lately because of the worthy contributions ​​that craftsmanship brings -and has consistently been bringing- to the table. Values ​​that humanity now sees as our strength, as a safeguard. "

Perhaps the time has come to talk about bridges (rather than gaps) between art and craftsmanship. Because there are many artists who work side by side with artisans, and vice versa. Because craftsmanship has escaped from the anthropological rooms in museums and is now the central theme in several exhibitions of the best galleries in the world. Because the debate over the training undergone by the author (and their motives) ends where their authorship, their work, their expression begins. And because culture is a living, breathing organism.

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