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  • Writer's pictureGina Ferrari

Art vs Craft

In our Podcast this week, Izzy and I tackle the big meaty topic of art vs craft. As we are both embroiderers, we are well aware that embroidery is often way down in the art and craft league. So perhaps the best place to start is by looking at what we mean by art as opposed to craft. I looked up various definitions and most seemed to agree that Art is a form of work that expresses emotions, or provokes an emotional response whereas craft has its roots in function or utility.

To some degree this does make sense. Historically, certainly since the Renaissance, fine art was either painting or sculpture and it was learned through many years of study from a master. It was practiced for its aesthetic value and beauty rather than function. Anything else would have been considered an applied art or a craft and had its base in utility.

Also, historically most fine art was practiced by men and women artists were few and far between. Crafts such as embroidery were performed by women in the home and so were therefore classed as domestic and useful. However, this division between the two is no longer as clear cut as it once was. There are now several examples of artists, both male and female, who work in a variety of materials that might once have been considered the stuff of craft. Think of Grayson Perry whose work spans sculpture, ceramics and tapestry. Or Tracey Emin, who not only paints but also makes patchwork blankets. There was the Bauhaus weaver Annie Albers, whose work was the subject of a large retrospective exhibition at the Tate a couple of years ago, or quilter Faith Ringgold whose work makes a strong political statement on racism, and of course Louise Bourgeois who in her later years, worked with discarded clothing, incorporating it into her sculpture

Arched Figure 1999 - Fabric Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

This has got me thinking that perhaps it is less about the material used such as clay or fabric and threads rather than paint, and more about the actual artist. Perhaps the debate should be artist verses craftsman and what makes someone an artist? Are you an artist just because that is what you call yourself? To be honest there is some truly awful art out there and at this point I will put my hands up and admit that this is entirely subjective. What I think is awful or poor quality, you might think is wonderful. So, if someone calls themselves an artist does that mean they actually make art, even if it is bad art? I think it has more to do with intent or the message behind the work which brings me full circle to the idea that that art should express or evoke an emotional response. I think that good art should move us in some way and in moving us it has an inherent beauty. Which is not to say I think it is necessarily beautiful in a ‘pretty’ sense, but there is beauty in its message

So, the big question… is embroidery art or is it craft? You might accuse me of sitting on the fence here but I think it can be either. Whilst I might admire a beautifully embroidered cushion or tablecloth and have respect for the skill and craftsmanship involved, I don’t think that it’s art. However, I have seen other embroidered work where the message is so powerful that I’m left in little doubt that it is art. But I can also tell you this won’t be found on my sofa or dining room table, which again backs up the argument that craft is functional, whereas art expresses an emotion. It does bring in yet another question though, that of context. Does art have to be seen on a gallery wall for it to be art? And so the debate goes on!

Izzy and I touched on most of these points in our discussion and finished by asking what we call ourselves. Izzy said she’s an artist but her tool of choice is a sewing machine. I was brave and said I’m an artist, full stop… although I work in textiles as well as paint. It’s not to say everything we create is art but on the whole we put a lot of feeling in our work and a lot of ourselves in our work… and so far, neither of us has embroidered a tablecloth, although I do admit to making the occasional cushion!

There is so much more that could be said on this topic and Izzy and I just touched the surface, as I have only just started to do here. I would be really interested to know what you think so do leave a comment or send me a message.

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Isobel Moore
Isobel Moore
09 mar 2021

Very interesting and eloquently expressed (how did you know I haven't embroidered a tablecloth?)

I love that Helena BC quote - I'm going to have to steal that one ;)

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