Art vs. Craft: Understanding the Difference Helps us Understand Our Creativity
I wondered down the steps of a bookstore in Boulder. I knew I really didn’t “need” a new book, but my obsession was calling. My husband was there which meant I couldn’t truly have any fun. I knew I needed to make it quick. We ended up in the spiritual/mystical section by accident. It was like something led us there. It was that one spot of the store where we could be alone and browse. I kind of glanced down and saw some words that intrigued me, “Freeing the Writer Within”. The words were fitting for the journey we were on. My husband and I were looking for freedom to live our new lives and I had been desperately searching for experiences, knowledge, and the understanding that it takes to open up hidden artistic expressions inside yourself and truly let go. I bought the book and found my artistic bible.
“I thought that writing practice, the foundation for the teachings laid out in Writing Down the Bones, might help me write lyrics for songs. Instead, writing practice became a sustaining means to its own end, and the book became my guide for living.”
Art vs. Craft
We live in a results driven world. For those of us who are natural planners and results driven people we live to obtain a result. Most of us have to plan and achieve a result at work so we have some skill in planning. Some people are driven to achieve and make continuous plans. Others kind of live by the moment. They don’t think too much ahead and are kind of happy letting the day unfold on its own. They don’t get too excited about stuff at home and don’t live as if they are on a consistent time crunch. Overachievers and planners think everyone else looks lazy and the relaxed think planners are crazy.
In 1938 author R.G. Collingwood, released The Principles of Art, a book written to provide a practical bearing upon the current condition of art in England in 1937, and provide artists with clarity on the difference between art proper and other aesthetic theories of the day. In this book Collingwood starts by clarifying the difference between art and craft. A difference that I think is helpful to understand in our results driven world and that can help us understand how we are creating. Understanding our creative paradigm will help us change it, if doing so is beneficial to growth.
Craft is always exercised upon something and aims at transformation of this into that. The craftsman understands what he wants to make. The craftsman’s skill is his knowledge of the means that are used to transform something and his mastery of those means. A fabricator understands what machines and tools are needed to transform metal into a desired shape. A seamstress is a master of a sewing machine. We typically think of trades like blacksmith when we think of craftsman. They are defined by the means they use.
The artist uses technique and has a form of skill like the craftsman. Skill does not make an artist, but a technician. With skill a technician can become an artist. An artist can also lack skill and technique and still create works of art. It makes me think of Van Gogh and all the criticism he received about his technique on his artistic journey, yet we do not doubt he created works of art. Artists need some degree of skill and some might say the better the technique the better the work of art, but what truly makes them stand out is the fact that they create with no concrete end in mind.
A blacksmith might look at wrought iron and see horse shoes. The blacksmith is named so because of the means he uses. Make and repair things with iron. An artist is prompted to express something and they do not know what the result will be until it has been expressed. Their skill will help them fine tune their expression, but their act is focused on sheer expression undertaken by a prompting. The artist does not have a specific end in mind. They are not creating for a single purpose. They don’t know what is going to happen until it happens.
What about Natalie?
I found a treasure that day in a used bookstore in Boulder. A piece of something that would fill my yearning heart. Writing Down the Bones can be seen as a guide for artists because in that book Natalie Goldberg explains how to write as an artist. The principles can be used for any art form and they can be used for life. She gives readers practice exercises to perform to write artistically. The basis-pick up a pen and write. Write without having a particular destination in mind. Just create. That sounds a lot like something an artist would do. As compared to what I did for this post. My writing, creating, comes naturally after doing research, reading books, and creating an outline. I write best when I write like I did in college. With a particular end in mind, but if I want to write and create like an artist I need to just sit down and write with no particular end in mind.
Being an artist in the sense that Collingwood discusses requires a shift for the planner and over achievers. Understanding the differences between artist and craftsman can help us understand what we need to do to grow as either. It can also help us understand what we need to change to become the other. Both require skill and technique. The hours we spend practicing and perfecting will not go to waste for the craftsman or artist. A definite shift is required to go from being results driven to freely expressing. A life shift can occur if we follow Natalie’s suggestion to “simply sit down with the least expectation of yourself, give yourself the space to write (create) a lot without a destination.” Wise words for artists, wise words for life.
I didn’t know it that day in Boulder, but my aimless wondering around was the exact answer I was looking for in my life and artistic pursuits. I simply went down stairs in the book store and wondered around. I let things happen on their own and they led me to a book that would confirm that to be more artistic I needed to simply sit down and create. I need to spend some time acting and less time trying to achieve a specified result. I need to grow my technique and skills and use them at times in my craft and at others time with my art. My life has been constantly driven by a well thought out plan to achieve a specific goal, but now I need to just live. To take actions and let them lead where they may. That’s what my life is missing.
What about yours? Over achievers and planners may need to create for creating sake. To sit down and just do. To get over their need to have things make sense. Maybe pick up some crayons and just color. Maybe splash some paint on a canvas, run down the road for no reason, drive to the middle of nowhere and park (leave your watch and phone at home). Maybe the relaxed people need to plan. Maybe they need to set some time aside to make an outline and come up with some specific goals. Maybe the craftsman needs to practice art once in a while and maybe the artist needs to plan and hone a craft. Maybe, as the two intersect, we will truly discover what lies inside and figure out how to create in ways that change the world.
Originally published at https://aprolificanthology.com on November 10, 2019.