When Craft Becomes Art

Posted 29/06/2023 in Tips for Crafters

There is a line of argument that would suggest that all craft is art in the first place. There is very little difference between the creators of art, such as painters or sculptors, or someone who works in three dimensions, creating collages, and the craft person turning wood, creating pottery, or even creating some nice needlework. Ultimately, the end result is intended to be the same, i.e., to create something that is beautiful and pleasing to the eye and would make a fantastic addition to someone’s home. It’s why you’ll see collectors and aficionados of high-quality artwork and crafts wandering around local and national arts and crafts fairs, seeking out any new and exciting pieces that might be available. There is also a good chance they might be seeking something bespoke, so it’s always wise for crafters’ public liability insurance to be in place for anyone producing and selling their wares.

When we look back through history, there is one fantastic example of where craft became artwork at the same time as being a first-hand recording of a series of monumental historical events. I am, of course, referring to the Bayeux tapestry, which is widely considered one of the most incredible pieces of art and craft ever made. The tapestry chronicles the story of how William I came to be King of England. In minute and incredible detail, the crafters hand-sewed the events, starting from the passing of Edward the Confessor through the adventures of Harold Godwinson in Normandy, before finally documenting the actual Battle of Hastings itself. Its famous image of William, crowned King of England, with all the gold stitched glory behind him stands as an incredible testament to the skill and knowledge of the people who sewed it. Contrary to popular belief, the tapestry was not actually created in Bayeux. It was in fact sewn in England and then shipped over to France so that the person who commissioned it, Bishop Odo, a relative of William the First, could view it at his leisure. Regardless of who created it, or the fact that it tells the story from William’s point of view, it remains a miraculous piece of work. This is even more incredible given that it has managed to last for over nine centuries and remains almost completely intact. As the work was crafted, it’s hard not to wonder if the people sewing it, mainly highly skilled needlework women, ever considered the fact that it would also be thought of as an incredible piece of artwork. Although its worth could probably never be accurately calculated in monetary terms, its historical value is immeasurable.

Needlework is a good example of how art and crafts merge. Throughout the mediaeval period, large-scale pieces of tapestry and pictures in needlework were greatly sought after by those who could afford them. If you were to visit some of the older National Trust properties, such as Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, for example, you’d see plenty of tapestry work that is extremely grand in scale. These homes were draughty and cold places, so thick pieces of needlework and woven linen were essential to try and retain the heat of the room. In addition, they provided much needed decoration for the hard stone walls, which were only offering a slate grey palette in terms of colouring.

These large scale crafts would have been big business for those creating them. Although they may not have needed crafters’ public liability insurance as producers do today, you can be sure that the crafters that created them were certainly enjoying a lucrative return on their work. However, it isn’t only needlework producers who could expect to get some return on their investment. Those that worked with wood were also highly sought after, and some pieces that woodturners produced could quite easily be counted as exquisite works of art as well. This is also true of the work of the potter, especially when it comes to the decoration of the cup, bowl, teapot or plate afterwards. As with many things today, wherever a piece of craftwork crosses over into artwork, it seems to be extremely dependent on the person viewing it and the person who created it.

Never mind the voices you might hear coming from the critical camp, who believe they are able to distinguish between art and craft. As with many critical insights, it all comes down to a matter of opinion. All that the crafter really needs to have is faith in their abilities and the work that they produce, so that it is of the highest standard that they can make it. If this is the case, their work will undoubtedly be seen as artistic and worthy of the accolades that a piece of art usually receives.

No crafter should be afraid to display their work openly on their stalls and be convinced that they are also displaying it in an artistic way and as an equal to any artwork that is there at the time. It may well be that what you produce could someday end up in someone’s private collection or even part of their gallery. As far as you were concerned, you created a piece of craft, but someone else might consider it to be art.

For example, one of the greatest testaments to this happening is that of Snowshill Manor in the Cotswolds. Within this Elizabethan home, you will find a huge collection of arts and crafts that was collected by Charles Wade. Wade saw no difference between what was art and what was craft.  He made it his life’s mission to collect examples of both to try and preserve the skills and knowledge that these artisans had shown to create the many pieces in his collection. These include tapestries, cabinets, models of ships, a huge array of clocks and even Samurai armour.

So, with crafters public liability insurance, you can safely trade in the knowledge that what you are producing will be protected should there be any issues arising from it, and who knows, one day your pieces may be considered to have caught the very epitome of artistic creativity of your time…