Submitted by: Maia Stark, Gallery Assistant

As a gallery assistant at Affinity Gallery, I often have the opportunity to engage in discussion with visitors or artisans about the current exhibit. Occasionally, the conversation turns to the definition of “craft.” Some visitors are confused or dismissive of some “non-craft” media which the Saskatchewan Craft Council accepts submission of, such as photography, printmaking, and painting. Others are excited by this more contemporary inclusion. This has not always been so: prior to the mid-1980’s photography, painting and printmaking were not recognized by the SCC. Since then, however, the boundaries defining Fine Craft and Fine Art have become blurred, as the requirements for what is to be considered “craft” become less about the medium or technique itself and more about the artistic endeavor.

Many individuals, artists and non-artists alike, have differing views of what encompasses Fine Craft versus Fine Art. The argument that I find most conversations tend to scrape down to is the comparison of “form” and “function.” This is a traditional distinction between Fine Craft and Fine Art, and one which I think tends not to apply so strictly in contemporary practices. In the case of form and function we see more and more that fine craft magazines, galleries, and councils accept works which seem to emphasize form over function: this is contrary to traditional models which focused on fine craft as functional, technical, quality work.

Contemporary fine craft is still about technique and quality; but an artisan can sometimes be more excited by the prospect of aesthetic form than the probability of someone using their piece for water, for food, to sit upon. Sometimes the choice to be non-functional is a comment on the idea behind the piece: contrasting the concept of comfort with harsh or sharp materials, for example. The pieces become not only fine craft pieces, but art objects. Some artisans seem to focus on both: making works which are intended for display and also making works intended for use. 
What makes something Fine Craft? Media or functionality? When does craft become sculpture, and in what sense?
Wedgwoodn’t Tureen, Michael Eden, 2010
The question then, is, if the status of that individual is categorically changing as their intentions change? Is one only sometimes a fine arts artist, and then sometimes a fine craft artisan, and, need there be a difference? Can “artist” be the term for all of this? Well, that’s another blog post I suppose. Art has moved so far and beyond what was known before, in every generation or movement of art, that it becomes difficult to understand how any previously defined terms can stay relevant without flexibility. At the same time to deny any labels at all would be chaotic and would not serve anyone’s needs. However I do not think it necessary that fine craft be functional more so than formal, or neither formal more so than functional. The decision to lean towards form or functionality seems no longer necessarily indicative of the defining category of art, but instead is fueled by intention, expression, and creativity.

If you have an inquiring mind for the more traditional philosophy of aesthetics, check out this summation of R.G. Collingwood’s Aesthetics or John Dewey’s Art as Experience