Artist, Crafter or Craftsman What is the Difference and Who Cares

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The distinction between “art and craft” and “craft and crafts” is often blurred and not well understood by the layperson and sometimes even artists. Why do we care? If you are a potter or a ceramist do you care if someone says that

Even Michelangelo and DaVinci had squabbles over the validity of one form over another and the value of certain expressions of art. Today the debate rages on as to the definition of various artistic and creative expressions, and creative types are no less passionate about it today than they were during the renaissance.

Let’s do a little self-test just for fun. I will give you the circumstance and you answer with the answer of what activity the person is engaged in “craft” or “art” or “crafts”.  Let’s also give a label to the person who creates the object of “artist” “craftsman/artisan” or “crafter”. I am guessing that you already have a picture in your mind of what activities these various people might be engaged in.

So it will go something like this:

Making a braided lanyard key chain out of leather strips - my answer would be crafts done by a crafter.

Making a leather handbag – craft done by a craftsman/artisan.

Making Christmas ornaments – crafts done by a crafter

Carving a marble statue – art made by an artist.

OK – your turn:

  • Making a pottery bowl on a wheel
  • Building a kitchen cabinet
  • Making greeting cards
  • Building a dining room table
  • Painting an oil painting on canvas
  • Drawing with colored pencil
  • Creating jewelry using polymer clay
  • Creating jewelry using silver or other precious metal
  • Knitting an afghan
  • Weaving a rug
  • Making a garment
  • Creating a bronze statue
  • Making a stained glass window
  • Painting the exterior of a Victorian mansion in a five color palette
  • Framing a house

It is important to point out that an artist may be a poor craftsman, and the execution of his art may leave something to be desired. A craftsman in the same vein may be unimaginative but technically excellent. So you can have art without craft and craft without art.

There is no exact answer to some of these examples but some might be clearer in your mind than others as to where they fall on the art/craft/arts & crafts spectrum. You might choose to label some of the creators in these scenarios as craftsmen and others as artists or crafters. Indeed a cabinetmaker is a craftsman but he might also be called an artisan. But, are all carpenters craftsmen?

You might notice that some artists will cringe when someone, upon learning that they are speaking to an artist, says “oh, I am no good at arts and crafts” You might also notice that a carpenter will identify themselves as “cabinetmaker”, “finishing carpenter” or “framer”. It is because they, the artist and the craftsman have been trained or educated and worked very hard to learn their trade and take pride in their craft. This by no means diminishes those who do arts & crafts but there is a distinction.

OK so now you might be rolling your eyes and saying “who cares”. Let me present this to you in various other fields where distinctions in labeling a person’s activity might matter to someone.

  • Tree trimmer, Arborist
  • Landscape architect, Landscaper, gardener
  • Athletic trainer, Personal trainer
  • Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Therapist
  • Baby sitter, Nanny
  • Optometrist, Ophthalmologist
  • Chef, Cook

An artist is not a crafter and a crafter is not a craftsman. Craftsmen do not make crafts. Craftsmen do craftwork.  If you think that the distinction is silly or not worth mentioning, just try to think about your own vocation or avocation and think for a minute about the distinction between your work and the work of others.  Just to be clear, I am not judging the value of the various forms. I do lots of art, craft and crafts. Just food for thought…


john doe
Posted on Apr 21, 2012
Jerry Walch
Posted on Apr 20, 2012
Ron Siojo
Posted on Apr 20, 2012
John Smither
Posted on Apr 20, 2012