When we talk about art, usually pop up on our minds pieces like paintings, archtecture or famous sculptures. However, we also note that handmade crafts products, such as a vase made of clay or a crochet dream catcher, are not included in this concept.
Some people say that this separation was made dividing “appreciation X utility” (art is to admire, craft is utilitarian), but I have already shown here that both, art and craft, follow a similar definition and that, in the end, everything is mastery of technique.
Given this, it is common to ask: when was handcrafts no longer considered an art? We know that artisanal technique has been devalued for years (and I explain why in this article), but we rarely ask ourselves what was the starting point of all.
1. Pre-Renaissance Period
Crafts already existed between the 1300s and 1350s. After all, since the “stone age”, human beings have manufactured and sold their instruments manually to facilitate the daily lives of society. In the pre-Renaissance period, the concept of “artist” as we know nowadays did not exist yet.
At that time, most products were handmade and all these professionals who practiced the craft – whether textile, stone, paint or from other materials – worked together in the same place, like a huge studio to craft.
Through years of practice, progress and achievements, passed down from generation to generation, these professionals collectively presented their handmade products to a king and received a reward, according to the level of detail, usefulness or beauty. Therefore, the purchase of this product start to be considered a symbol of social status, not only for its beauty but also for the popularization of something that had become a local tradition.
Thus, handcrafts were considered a work of art worthy of conquering local authorities and becoming a trend in the society.
The turning point began in the 1400s. Renaissance Humanism, a French intellectual movement that preached a new cultural ideal, encouraged the reformulation of classic works based on individual creativity. In other words, individual artistic production became more widespread than collective production.
In this sense, those professionals who dedicated themselves to presenting an artistic work produced individually began to receive royal awards based on their merit. Therefore, in 1550, after a vast production by countless artisans, Giorgio Vasari, friend of Michelangelo, published an influential book called “The Artisan Life”.
This publication was one of those responsible for raising the status of these professionals and promoting the division of arts and crafts, with art being a superior and creative level developed by great artists. In contrast, those who followed traditional productions had their work seen as “inferior” or “merely utilitarian”.
3. The creative aspect of art
In many non-Western cultures, there has been no significant change in conception between art and craft. Despite this, many crafts, such as a porcelain vase, is only included in the art category for one reason: innovation.
Thus, handcrafted products that were considered “primitive”, that is, without a creative element other than the usual, were not seen as art. However, these same pieces were developed precisely for this purpose: to preserve visual traditions, creating only a reinterpretation, which is still artistic.
Years later, under this same point of view, several other models of pieces were created based on a traditional technique, such as creative or modern crochet. You can read more about this type of crochet by clicking here.
In recent decades, handicraft has gained more visibility, but it is still rare to see a handcrafted piece being classified as art or an artisan achieving recognition as a ‘true artist’.
Therefore, standing up for the appreciation of handicrafts is one of the first steps, so that we can regain a dignified and recognized space for handcrafted work. To learn some practical tips for adding value to handcrafted products, just click here.
Thus, follow our excellent photographer who produced the photos for this post: Aline Caron.