I found myself in another hotly contest debate yesterday. I really need to stay home, I think. That being said, these lively discussions are great for providing me with blog ideas. I was speaking to a friend who makes soap and she kept referring to her "art"; I corrected her, letting her know her work was a craft, not art. I didn't mean it as an insult, not at all, but I think, well I know, at least initially, she took it as such. And the debate took off!.
Before I get into the basis for my stance, let me explain that I'm examining this on a pure academic and objective level. I'm not making a subjective assessment on either. I'm not saying that one is any better than the other. They're both forms of creative expression and both have their place in the world. It has nothing to do with one being better or a higher form than the other. It's like comparing apples and carrots, you can't, they're different, both great for what they are, but different. That being said, I think a great deal of the confusion between what is art and what is craft stems from a recent trend I've noticed among some shops that have decided to call themselves galleries. They attempt to sell both fine art (painting, sculpture and the like) and craft, such as knitted wear, candles, soap, etc. I suppose they do that in order to maximize the profitability of their retail space and to attract the widest possible consumer base.
The main difference between art and craft is in the purpose for which it is created. Art is created for purely aesthetic purposes, it generally serves no practical human objective other than the pure beauty of it and the emotional and/or cognitive reaction it elicits. Craft, on the other hand, serves human objectives that are more tangibly useful, you wear knitted wear, you wash with soap, you burn candles for light, you put stuff in baskets.
Further, the process of creating between the two is different. Art is more unstructured, it expresses emotion, thoughts, visions. The focus is on the ideas, the feeling and the visual quality of the work. Craft is more about the proper use of tools, materials and technique. Art is more about that innate ability whereas craft is more about learned skill and experience. That's why a skilled craftsperson can duplicate their work, they can make 30 virtually identical baskets, soaps, sweaters, etc. Art doesn't work that way. Sure, I can paint 20 landscapes over my lifetime, but none of them will be the same. Because they rely more on emotion, my mood at the time, what I'm thinking, where my head is at, so to speak, than on the simply my ability to put a brush in my hand and paint a tree, they will all be different.