Thursday, April 29, 2010

Art vs. Craft

This past weekend, I attended a woodcut class at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, in Amherst Mass.  Part of the course included tickets to a joint presentation by Barry Moser--If you haven't seen any of his engraved illustrations, image search him--and Caldecott Medalist, Mary Azarian.  While the course itself was fun and fascinating, the presentation by these two illustrators was spectacular.

The talks began with a brief biography of each artist and then focused on their methods.  Needless to say both are experts in their field.  But what really peaked the audience's interest--and mine in particular--was the question and answer session...and something Barry Moser said.

"I do not consider myself an artist.  This is a craft."

He went on to explain the distinction he made between the two.  In essence, a craft is the physical act of creating...whether it be painting, drawing, sculpting, or wood carving, the physical act that produces the product is a craft.  It only becomes "art" when a maker makes use of his craft to produce a something that transcends the work that went into its production.  This is an important distinction from the modern idea of art which is so prevalent now-a-days, which sees "art" as something created by an artist and "artist" as one who creates art.  With this modern definition there is no need to become proficient in your craft because it will be seen as art regardless and a person need only say they are an "artist" in order to create "art".


Barry Moser hit the nail right on the cuticle when he said we do our children a great disfavor when we unconsciously give in to this modern mockery of art.  He described art classes in which children no longer are taught the fundamentals of drawing, color, and the basics of different art forms and instead are treated to colorful crowd control.  They are told that having fun is all that really matters in art, and self expression is the single quality that makes an artist while the mastering of a craft is optional.

Imagine if Vivaldi decided to let his "inner self" decide what notes to put down without first learning the fundamentals of music theory and harmony...

Imagine if Caravaggio decided to skip learning the painter's craft and instead focused on "self expression"...

Now imagine if T.H.White, J.K.Rowling, J. M. Barrie, T.A.Barron, and other great children's book writers followed the same mindset...

And while I'm at it, what's the deal with all the double initials in their names...hmm....back to my point...

Although it is true that great picture book illustrators are suffering from the dumbing down of the publishing world, the writing area (thankfully) still seems to be holding out.  There are of course many published books which would better serve the world as cheap sofa stuffing, but fortunately children still recognize when a book has a satisfying story and is told in a way that captures their attention and imagination.



  1. Great post! I agree with Barry Moser.

  2. I read an interesting comment on this subject from an illustrator (I'm sorry I can't remember which one!) who pointed out that while children's artwork is often a beautiful thing because it shows the incredible growing mind of a child, that doesn't mean it is art..she pointed out that no child would ever want to read a picture book that had another child's drawings in it. They want real art--and often they are the harshest judges of it.

  3. Interesting post. I never thought about it in that way, but it is so true. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Are you currently updating any blogs? Here as a result of your comment on a WRiTE Club post.