In his 1897 treatise, ‘What is art?’, Leo Tolstoy declared that art should be considered as ‘one of the conditions of human life’ and, as a result of years of study, he laid out the criteria on which fine art is judged. Art, he declared, is the communication of a feeling which ‘infects’ the viewer who then experiences the same feelings as the artist. We should all experience the same feeling, for this is the artist’s expression, according to Tolstoy; a celebratory communion between the artist and his audience. This communion is notably related to emotion and shared feelings but it could also be related to culture, spirituality, time and place. Tolstoy’s ruminations focus on morality, personal judgement, esthetic value and establishing a global standard for esthetics with reference to the visual, specifically to fine art.
Craft, however, also relates to feelings and emotions because crafted objects are again the result of the activity of the maker and furthermore crafted objects can act as a vessel (pardon the pun) for their life experience. Craft Makers apply their well-versed skills and demonstrable creativity on tangible materials using shape and form to produce objects that connect the audience to themselves, the maker.
Artistic expression can be found in a well crafted object and can remain with that object long after the maker and their original audience have passed on. One must not overlook the skill of a maker when attempting to gauge the value of the craft, nor should we ignore how a hand-made, finely crafted object actually presents itself, recognising that the craft maker has a deep engagement with the material that they use whether it is glass, metal, textiles or ceramics. This is how the maker speaks to their audience.
Historically, fine art and craft have been pitched against one another, with craft bowing to the ‘superiority’ of art. Theorists challenge the idea that craft is not inferior at all but is in fact a ‘foil’ as Adamson states in his 2013 book ‘The Invention of Craft’, essential for highlighting the qualities of visual art. Art history theorists still debate where craft falls. Is it a theoretical concept or is it art? Craft deserves serious recognition and the quality of skill and talent supported by training and education should reflect how craft is valued today. While this discourse will continue amongst scholars, craft has benefitted from a recent increase in popularity and this has for now earned it a place in the contemporary art world.