Art Chapel’s ceiling and Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” both considered

Art vs Craft:An Extended Essay000272-0019Central High School As a race, humans have tried to understand art as long for an extremely long time. Even from childhood, we are able to ask questions about what we see in pictures. As one Pablo Picasso said, “Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one love the night, flowers, everything around one without trying to understand them? But in the case of a painting, people have to understand.” This ‘need’ stems from the human craving for reason and understanding. Reason, from a Theory of Knowledge standpoint, is one of the most commonly cited forms of knowing, coming in second shortly after sensory perception. Understanding is the ability to explain and see the significance of a particular thing. It makes sense that us humans have an urge to understand what we do not. Why, in particular, do we want to ‘understand’ art? Why are the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling and Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” both considered art? Why isn’t whittling considered art, but making subtractive sculptures made from blocks of wood is? Why isn’t handwriting considered art while calligraphy is? There is a debate among art scholars, art critics, artists, and bystanders that has been going steadily on for decades, bordering on a century. How do art and craft differ? Why are some crafts, though (subjectively) just as relatively attractive as time consuming to make as Monet’s “Impression Sunrise”, not considered art? When does something cross the line between art and philosophy, between art and craft, between craft and only production, between philosophy and only thought? When does it become mechanical, robotic work? What separates the artist from the craftsman? Where lies the line between art and craft? An artist without skill is a philosopher, and without thought is simply an executor of an idea. Let’s start with a small set of questions to think about and mull over in our minds while reading. Is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” art? What if it was done in crayon? What if it was done in crayon by a person that is not da Vinci? What if it was done in crayon by a very young child? What if it was done in crayon by a child on a sheet of paper instead of on canvas? What is it was done in crayon by child on a sheet of paper, which happens to be on the back of an alphabet-writing worksheet? What if it was done in crayon by a child on the back of a worksheet and the lines were not as distinct? What if it was done in crayon by a child on the back of a worksheet and the lines were scribbles? What if it was a scribble in the back of a worksheet, done in crayon by a child? When, if ever, did it stop being art?Furthermore, how do we classify ancient African masks? And Egyptian sarcophaguses? Mesopotamian vases? Ancient Greek tapestries? We must accept and understand that art is bigger than just drawings, paintings, and sculptures. Art is whatever it is defined to be art by the “art-world”. A scribble done by a child can hardly be considered High Art. Or can it?In order to answer these questions, we must understand the mechanics of, as well as accept some working definitions for, art. Art can be defined two ways: classificatory (Classifying something as art or not objectively) and honourifically (complimenting something by calling it “art”; a more subjective definition). Now, we ask again: Who defines art? The “art world” (which is composed of people that are ready and willing, eager, if you will, to receive, understand, interpret, and appreciate an artwork, as well as artists) defines art.     Technically, art can be defined (denotatively) as the human cognitive skills of creativity and imagination put to play or use in the act of creation, meaning that a work of art, or a creation, if you will, employs both thought and skill. “Beauty, truth, immortality, order, harmony,” these are all words used to describe art in Terry Barrett’s Why Is That Art?: Aesthetics and Criticism of Contemporary Art. All of these are things that people commonly regard as ‘values’, which is certainly one reason as to why art may be so important to the society we live in today. “Art for art’s sake” is originally a French saying translated to English. In its original form, it was “L’art pour l’art”. Art just to make art – to satisfy the human craving for aesthetics. Arts are treated differently than crafts in almost all western cultures. Making crafts is seen as being more “fun” than making art, which is seen as being a serious thing. Making art is revered while children at summer camp make crafts. This dichotomy, though maybe not in the same way (children didn’t go to the same summer camps we’re thinking about back in the fifteenth century) has existed for hundreds of years and many more to come but it is important to know that in some parts of the world, parts that are usually not westernised or very influenced by western culture, there has never been a distinction between art and craft. Art and craft have never been questioned because, often times, they are the same thing. By this, I mean that art can be functional, like an ornate throne for a king. In other places still, the distinction is very small. In these places, the people call the work ‘art’ or ‘craft’ based on what the maker calls it.Art, by its honourific definition, is used more as an adjective than a noun. Art, in this sense, is only art if it is good art, making it worthy (as deemed by people not of the “art world”) of being called art (as it is thought of as an honour to be called so). People use it this way when they say “Wow! This essay is a work of art! It’s so great!” or “Wow! This spaghetti is a work of art! It’s perfect!”In history textbooks, one cannot as easily or as often come across or find a piece that is considered ‘ugly’ or ‘bad’ as one can stumble upon a piece that is ‘beautiful’ or ‘truly art’. The only ‘art’ we study in history is the art made by the Greats. Art made by the Greats is widely considered to be great art and is, using the circular reasoning that we humans love so much, seen as art (in its honourific definition) because it is great. High art is valuable art and not always functional art. Art is often said, in this sense, to be good or not. Art, if it’s bad, by this definition, it’s not art at all. In its classificatory sense (which is used more commonly by the “art world” as a working definition than the honourific definition), art doesn’t have to be good or great. The whole concept is just art, something extraordinary, being compared to some other object that is ordinary. Art is a thing that the art world (composed of people that are prepared to appreciate and understand art) can like some aspects of. Another definition of the same concept is that art is something to be interpreted. A common question that one asks oneself in the identification of art (whether it be visual or performing) that confirms whether something can truly be considered for the definition: a work of art or not. When we think of ‘crafts’, we think of elementary-aged children with bottles of glue and googly-eyes, covered in glitter. A craft can certainly be thought of in this way but is, by its definitions, “an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill”, or “craft can be denoted as an activity that employs the talents and skills of a person in the producing of a creation,” as supplied to me by Charles Ward, M.F.A. Very similarly to artists, craftsmen are categorised by what they produce and what they use to produce it. A person who works with silver is called a silversmith, one that works with wood is called a carpenter, one that works with floors is called a floorist, one that works with jewels is a jeweller, etc. One that paints is a painter, one who sculpts is a sculptor, one who draws is a drawer, one who makes art is an artist.Let’s ask ourselves  another short series of questions. Is a beaded bracelet art? What if this bracelet is handmade? What if there are no other bracelets like this one? What if this handmade bracelet has handmade beads done of clay? What if these clay beads were painted colourfully? What if each bead was to represent something? What if this handmade clay-beaded bracelet is suspended in the air by near-invisible fishing line? What if this bracelet is hanging in a museum? What if this bracelet is hanging in a gallery? What if the bracelet was named by its maker/creator? What if this bracelet in a museum has a plaque beside it with the name of the bracelet, the name of the maker, his/her birth date and, if applicable, death date, along with the materials used to make it? At what point, if any, did the bracelet become art? An artist is said to be a “person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria”. In visual arts, it is important to remember that artists are often categorised by their media of choice, and not simply as “artists”. This begs the question: Can craftsmen be artists too? In this case, we must acknowledge that not everything made by someone considered to be an artist is art. Claude Monet was a painter, Michelangelo (even though he is most known for his having painted the Sistine Chapel) was a sculptor, Edgar Degas (though he sculpted and sketched) was (and is still) considered a painter. Artists can be craftsmen and craftsmen can be artists as these groups are not exclusive but elusive and ambiguous in definition. The dichotomy between artist and craftsman began in the years surrounding 1400. If one was to walk into a shop or a smithery, he would see much of the same thing, no matter where he went. There would be a type of caste system followed by the workers. At the top would be the workmaster who followed a strict set of prominently posted rules, passed down from generation to generation. Under him would be men that were finely trained, producing good and adequate work, usually meant for the upper classes. These men could handle the finer materials like gold and bronze. Their work isn’t always necessarily better than the other worker’s, it’s just that these men have followed the set steps to move up in rank. To move up in the ranks, generally, you must be very experienced (experience was brought about by working at the same place for a long time, rather than the quality or quantity of works produced.One could be considered experienced if he or she had been working at the same place for ten (10) years and finished seventeen (17) tasks but not if he had worked there for one (1) year and finished eighteen (18) tasks, even if they were of the same level of production, and produce okay works before being considered for a move-up or a promotion. Promotions could be given to those who had been working at the same smithery for years and produced five (5) mediocre works rather than those who had produced eight (8) great works, but only worked at the same smithery for four (4) months. At this time, the works of the workers were valued by their employability to be used as symbols of status. Value was soon to be placed more upon “individual creativity than collective production”. A small group of people petitioned to be paid based on their ability instead of just completing the job.Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects  was a book written by a friend of Michelangelo to bolster the status of many artists (who were, consequently, the friends of this friend of Michelangelo’s). This book was successful in its endeavours. This book is what started the general dichotomy between art and craft, the very one we know today. Those who maintained guild traditions had their pay remain the same. Their works were to be considered minor or decorative arts. These were those who are now (and then) considered craftsman. Those who were written about in this book were thought to make higher, almost divine works –  art. Their makers? Artists. People who imitated these? Artists.But it just wasn’t that easy. It was similar to sweepstakes – many will enter, few will win. The people then had to be in the right place at the right time,  creating the right work for the right people to see and appreciate. These people were recognised by the critics (then, the critics were the aristocrats, who were affluent people of the upper class) who had sufficient funds to tell the artist to simply name a price. This is where the honourific definition of art came to fruition. Art was, henceforth, considered valuable because of the prices paid by the aristocratic class. If an artist is one that produces works, then why is it that a craftsman cannot be considered an artist as well? One definition of craftsman says that a craftsman is “a person who practices or is highly skilled in a craft; an artisan”. Perhaps it lies not in the “producing works” aspect, but in the philosophy? To accommodate the plausibility of such a concept, I have come up with a sort of compass, fashioned for this argument of century’s age.The following compass shows a primitive scale that I’ve come up with. There, like in every circumstance, are always bound to be numerous exceptions to this. One defining difference between art and craft is what the products are to be used for; if they’re even supposed to be used at all. A man which is called a craftsman presumably makes work to be used every day, less for the aesthetical and philosophical (but more aesthetical than philosophical) value but for its functional value, which is quantified by a number of different things of which include how many different ways it can be used/how many uses does it have, durability, how it makes life easier/how does it assist us, and what it can do. A man by the status of artist makes work to be valued for its aesthetical and philosophical value (one of which is its ability to be interpreted), less so for functional value and everyday use. Can something that isn’t really art be considered art? Yes! Since art is defined by the “art world” (which is a large and diverse group of humans, which are notorious for having limited knowledge of things), art can be anything and every single person in the art world is both right and wrong at the same time because since there are many differing opinions in the art world, if we are to believe that Barrett is right in that the art world defines and identifies art, every single person is correct because he or she is part of the art world. Every single person is also incorrect because they are bound to differ with at least one person.Like “Iron Curtain” (Christo and Jeanne-Claude, 1962), the art was the traffic jam. The barrels, or the ‘wall’ that caused the prolific traffic jam were not the art. This is widely accepted and acknowledged as art in the art world because it can be interpreted and is borne of thought but is cause for many people from the outside looking in to question what art actually is, since this example is  rather unorthodox. How reliable is the art world’s definition of art is art is for everyone and not just the art world? Marcel Duchamp’s fountain (a ready-made) didn’t take nearly as much work, planning, time, or effort as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. They are both together considered and widely accepted as works of art. Both are featured in numerous textbooks and alluded to in academic papers.Is Marcel Duchamp merely a philosopher? Since art is defined by the art world and the art world says that he crates art, and because it is said that he is creating art, he is considered to be, and therefore called, an artist. Handmade fine flutes and clarinets that cost thousands of dollars each are not considered art. Unlike the aforementioned works hey are used often by their owners. What if the definition of art actually lays in the usage of the finished product? Instruments are often admired for their aesthetical value as well as their practical purpose (to make music). Back to the definition aforementioned (see footnote 6), Visual artworks are admired for their aesthetical value, how well made they are, how thought out they are but are not actually put to use. Perhaps it is because we use what craftsman and artisans and various other -smiths create that makes it not art, but an ordinary object. It can be reasonably deduced that art is somewhat defined and identified by how it is projected to be used.This all is not to say that just because an artist says that his/her work is art, that the work is truly art. Marcel Duchamp, the man behind the infamous ready-made “Fountain”, was part of an artistic movement called “Dadaism”, a movement which had a goal of making fun of high art. This perhaps is why we consider it to be art; it can be interpreted and has intentional philosophical value. There is more than meets the eye in regards to the porcelain urinal ready-made that is “Fountain”. Deeper meaning and physical product are trends in what we consider to be art. Marcel Duchamp’s goal was to raise questions, he produced this work to make people sceptical of the world around them. Sometimes, the art world calls people that plan out art but let other people actually create it ‘artists’. One (in)famous and widely-known example is Alexander Tarrant. By this philosophy, it can be said that the people that give other people ideas and pay them to make them (otherwise known as commissioning) are artists, even though they had no actual hand in the production of the work at all. Commonly, people that commission artworks aren’t called or considered the artist of the work. This, obviously, is because the person commissioning it is not the person making. This tells us that art is sometimes somewhat about execution, aesthetic value, how the work will be used (it is preferable to many artists that their work not be used at all, but be valued for its meaning and aesthetical value only, and yet, other artists want their works to be used), and finally: the philosophy surrounding and rearing the work. This is to say that the art world, otherwise known as the art community, is not always right. In subjectivity, there is always human fault, otherwise known as “interpretation”.Through much research, investigation, interviewing, and deep critical thinking, I have come to the conclusion that line, however grey it may be, between art and craft is a matter of subjectivity to any one person. But, it is reasonably to say that the subjective matter of personal preference in reference to this particular question depends on at least these things: the originality of the product, its medium, the creator, its ability to be interpreted, its intended use, the ideas behind the work, aesthetical value, context, presentation, and pure circumstance. It is important to know of the distinction between art and craft. Knowing and understanding the distinction between the two can aid in the deciding of methods of creation, understanding the philosophy behind works, appreciating the craftsmanship and artistry put into the works, and finally: knowing and understanding the dichotomy between the two may trigger the human craving to create and understand, bringing to fruition an endless possibilities of works that are yet to exist outside the mind. ReferencesUnderstanding Art. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from, Laura. “Is There a Difference between Art and Craft?” TED-Ed, (n.d.). 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