Differences between art(s) and other crafts?

This is a new topic created after reading a few posts in the thread The corporate hand of benevolence (RBMA et al) and Art.

I’m interested in what could be said about :

  • differences between activities often called arts, and other crafts that are, by a lot of our contemporaries, excluded from this category ;
  • the difference between “Art” and doing something “artfully”.

I’m aware that my description of the subject(s) is somewhat awkward, and would be glad to see a better exposition of it if someone feels so inclined.

As I’ve said elsewhere, a lot of people have probably thought and written on this subject already, but I think that a discussion about it between members of this forum might be a different take than an article or book by a single author or a group of like-minded people.


The delination between the two often feels false to me, that much if it is based on jockeying for better social standing. In the past, the two weren’t particularly easy to separate.

But I think the world has settled towards arts being something made to think about, and crafts being something made to use, with varying degrees of aesthetic bleed over between the two understood to happen.

The elevation to Art, though, just seems like attempts at being the voice of authority.


I don’t really draw a firm distinction between art and craft. Certainly when I designed gig posters, my primary aim was to be eye-catching and communicate well. This goal was wonderfully grounding for me: it let me put my ego away and focus on the work. I didn’t have to worry about whether it was “good” in any nebulous sense; I could just ask myself whether I was satisfied that I had succeeded in my task.

I think I shared something about this in another thread, but it has sometimes been a strange personal struggle to produce art work or consider my work art. I think the source of this struggle is actually very simple: I hadn’t (haven’t?) found the goals that would let me put away my ego and ground the question of “is this any good” in something achievable.


I always sort of conceived of “craft” as something akin to “mastery of technique” and “art” as the process of using craft to express ideas, emotions, and thoughts.

There’s a gray area where the emphasis is on aesthetics rather than concepts or feelings and this is where the line between art, craft, and “design” also gets blurry. And then in design there’s a gradient or tension between aesthetics and function.

So for me, they’re just words that describe things from different angles. A thing can be some, all, or none of the above.


I feel like the question isn’t framed quite right… craft is involved in many things, including art and design. To me the separation along a spectrum is between Art and Design as practices, vocations, and focuses.

(I capitalize both words to point out that I’m speaking of them as practices with rich histories, theory, criticism, and community. Not as the general words “art” and “design” which have many applications and implications.)

And it is a spectrum, not a hard line. Or more accurately, spectrums between facets that provide the basis of focus for both the practice/practitioner, the context, and the outcome.

There are also many overlaps between Art and Design practice that create an opportunity to overlap: aesthetics, critical intent, imbuing objects with meaning, politics, production, craft

In my studies the differences fall along some main areas of focus.

Some primary focuses of Art include:

  • provocation
  • expression
  • emotion
  • asking questions (often unanswerable)
  • open to interpretation
  • aesthetic at its core
  • creating “things” (including actions) that embody ideas
  • no central imperative for use/utility in the output/object/action
  • central imperative for meaning

Some primary focuses of Design include:

  • solution
  • utility/function
  • production/reproduction
  • no central imperative for meaning
  • aesthetic as important component
  • answers questions
  • create “things” (including actions/services/behaviours) that embody Vetruvian ideals (useful, beautiful, strong)

And each of these things can exist on a spectrum, but the core purpose of “creation” is important.

For example:

Both an artist and a designer may build a chair. For the artist the purpose of this practice is to ask about what chairs mean, what they imply for their context, and many other potential critical questions. The end result might be a chair, and it might be usable, but it doesn’t have to be and that is not their interest or point of making it.

For a design the point of making a chair is that it is comfortable, beautiful, and well made. If fits in the context where it will exist, and likely there will be a number of them made exactly the same. They may also put into it some criticality about sitting, or the behaviours around a chair and provoke some questions, that that is not their central purpose in creation.

The types or practices, research, theory, and craft that goes into the creation of a similar “thing” (object, activity, event, system…) is quite different from these perspectives.

They could be the same person (I do both things in my work), but the mind set, goals, and outcomes will be very different.

I don’t think this is an artificial construct or wrong headed dichotomy… like I said, it’s a continuum and different practices fall in different places on this spectrum. But art and design are different in their primary goals and the theory, craft, and practice that informs them.


I was about to post something similar. “Craft” is doing. “Art” is expressing.

Thanks for breaking it out into another thread.

For my take on the (false) dichotomy, I look more to agency, and how a human relates to art. As in, does art exist without a human? Does art exist if made in conjunction with a human? How much of a role in the creation of art does a human need to have?

To ground the focus of art on human-centric things (and I don’t mean this in a posthumanist way, but rather in a ego/human way), it can box out a lot of what I find amazing and beautiful about art.

I think about a lot of the things I do in this way, as being just part of the process of art (verb), which may or may not pop nouns out of it.

This applies to improvisation, in specific, or creativity, in general in that I don’t really feel like I’m the originator of (m)any ideas. I am often a conduit or an agent of serendipity, and happily play my role in the “creation” of art. And this can manifest in a “unit” of art, which may share many of the properties of what is conventionally viewed as Art, but it may also manifest in a piece of software, which skirts the line of what is being talked about. Even further over would be conversations or teaching, which can also tick all of the “is this Art?” boxes. Or even further over would be looking at a sunset while thinking about an experience you had in your past (or future). A genuine aesthetic experience.

To me, all of that (and more) is art.

And to reduce to a (historically contextualized) “container”, doesn’t do it justice.

Or phrased as a question: Can there be (a work of) (A/a)rt that isn’t a physical object, temporary/spatially bound, and/or authorless?


Yes (mostly, see below).

Although I feel like some of your examples stretch the meaning so far that it starts to be “art is everything”, which is not very useful IMO because it also implies “art is nothing” …

I think art can be ephemeral, experiential, activity based, serendipitous, have an outcome or not… all of those are great properties of something. And if it does output something, like software, that’s great too.

In terms of authorless art – I feel that art is a human construct. It doesn’t include everything that is beautiful, it has to have some sort of human intervention to transform it from something that is just “being” to something that has meaning imbued in it. I can be authorless in the sense that the output/outcome is not created by any one person or is not created from a direct action of a group of “authors”, but it probably still has people doing something to make it what it is.


Yeah I can see that, and I’m on board with all of it. Art is

I agree with this, but I extend the human component to being an experiential thing, and not just confined to being created by a human. So art can exist that had no human hand in making it, if a human perceives it as art.

What if the human perceives it as a tree? Or a rock? It could be a lovely tree or rock, but why is it Art?

We risk spinning off into philosophy here, but why is it a tree or rock, even?


I’m mostly with you :slight_smile:

I think the thing that moves it from just being an experience or observations/feeling into art is in the framing. If a human frames their feeling/experience in a way that changes/adds meaning that could be an act of art making… but I struggle a bit with it being so ephemeral and singular, I feel like for it to become art it needs some sort of intervention, documentation, or communication… but I might just be getting into areas I’m not as comfortable with or have had time to settle.


Photography feels like a very direct expression of this idea, to me.


No problem, I was hoping that someone would look at the question from a different point of view !
My own expressions were mostly a means of starting the discussion…

Absolutely, thank you for this comment.
It shows that, obviously, the word craft can have a different meaning depending on the context.

1 Like

I couldn’t disagree more.
People have called me an artist for quite a long time. I’m not slightly interested in expressing myself. I make things. I hope that they can enrich life.

I like this way of thinking.
The role of the reader, the listener is generally undervalued. There is no metaphor if the reader doesn’t find it.

Not sure about this. I think When we find stuff that pleases us, or seems to demand our interaction with it, that wasn’t man-made, then that’s usually what I’d call beauty, or, on the other hand - horror

Yes, which maybe puts us into linguistic philosophy territory and I’m VERY rusty on that stuff.


You are expressing your interest in enriching others’ lives through what you make.

If so, certainly involuntarily and accidentally. More likely is your idea of what art is is tied to the idea of expression and my lack of interest in expressing myself doesn’t fit that mold.

1 Like

This, and other posts, remind me of these words from a composer :


…I removed the last sentences, which take us into yet other deep questions :

I may not feel in line with all that he expressed, but there seemed to be many parallels with what has been said in this thread.

Or, perhaps you’re trying too hard to seem you don’t care.

Best to you. Peace.