Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #4: Craft

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Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

Terms of Art #4:


William Morris, Tulip (n.d.) [source]

Pronunciation: you already know how

Definition: Craft is typically thought of as skilled work applied for the sake of some pre-determined aim, typically one that provides constraints on the work done. For example, cobblers have an aim that determines how they use their skills: fixing shoes. They’re not just creatively riffing with leather and glue. Anything you’d say involves craftsmanship can be a craft. Following a recipe or a clothing pattern, making whiskey barrels, painting by numbers, or even performing open-heart surgery can be a craft.

As a result, ‘craft’ sometimes refers to any design or construction of objects for practical use, even including “decorative arts” like wallpaper. Not just fixing shoes, but designing and making shoes becomes a craft. It too involves crafting something.

Art vs. craft:

Craft is traditionally contrasted with art. But think about this: Isn’t a Renaissance portrait artist whose aim is to create the king’s likeness on canvas also doing something with an externally determined aim? How does that painter exercise vision or creativity – or skilled work – any more or less than someone designing and sewing a dress?

Related terms:
(1) technê, the ancient Greek term opposed to epistêmê – Very roughly, technê is practical knowledge or know-how, while epistêmê is theoretical knowledge (knowledge of pure theory, of abstract facts, etc.). Much more detail here. (Greek scholars: Don’t @ me!)
(2) Craft beer, craft stores, etc. You see the connection.
(3) Kraftwerk – Yep, the German electronic band’s name contains the etymological origin of craft, Kraft, meaning power or strength. Kraft+Werk = power station/power plant.


Not to be confused with:
(1) Um, maybe art?
(2) The Arts & Crafts Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, starring William Morris and his wallpapers and textiles, with specific views about what makes art and craft beautiful (definitely not mass-produced factory junk!).
(3) Kraft, the blue-box-mac-n-cheese food company conglomerate once owned by cigarette company conglomerate Philip Morris (no relation to William… I think?). 90s kids can now rejoice at the classic ad below.


One Comment

  1. Love this series! Thanks again!

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