What is craft?

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller Art or craft? Where we draw that line is a matter that will not be resolved in this issue—but is fun to think about.

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller
Art or craft? Where we draw that line is a matter that will not be resolved in this issue—but is fun to think about.

Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly

Welcome to the first probably-not-annual Crafting Special Issue. We’ve been trying out a lot of new special issues lately, and will continue to do so, throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks (like our Summer Reading Issue, which is just way too much fun not to put out every year). In doing so for this issue, we ran straight into the philosophical question, “what is craft?”

Where are its boundaries? Does it include building anything, no matter how big or small? Does it matter what techniques are used? When do other words seem more apt than “craft,” sliding into “art” or other neighboring territory?

We haven’t answered the question in this issue, in case you were wondering. As editor, I took an inclusive attitude toward “craft,” letting the inclinations of our wonderful writers steer the issue.

It seems our writers like textiles. We’ve got stories on knitting and weaving, two avocations that fall solidly under the craft heading (though one wonders—at some point weaving becomes tapestry, which becomes art).

Roy Jorgensen touches on rosemaling. I’m sure our Norwegian license would be revoked if we attempted a craft issue without that most quintessentially Norse craft! Or is it art? Rosemaling is painting, and paintings are typically filed under “art.” Is rosemaling considered more of a craft because it’s most often done on other objects and furniture?

On the other end of the “is it a craft?” spectrum, we take a look at Heidi Håvan Grosch’s DIY construction project. Why not?

There are so many more topics we could have covered in this issue, an almost infinite amount of skills that go into making the objects that define a culture, from bunad buttons to stabburs. Maybe next time?

Barbara K. Rostad takes us inside Høstfest and the many, many crafts on display there, from sweaters to longbows to wood carvings. Can food be included under the craft umbrella (“craft” beer, anyone?)? What about music? Dancing? Don’t they just feel like more of an art?

When I think about the way these words are used, I detect a whiff of elitism. “Art” is taken seriously in our culture, “craft” less so. But in another sense, there’s something sturdier, prouder about a craft. These are often useful things as well as being beautiful things. Crafts are self-evidently worthy—even an ugly sweater still keeps you warm—but art needs outside validation in order to retain its status. Just look at some of art’s edge cases: who says that Jackson Pollock’s paint-splattered canvases are art?

For what it’s worth, in my own chosen field, fiction writing, we talk about both art and craft. Writing is an art when it hits readers right in the feelings, when it paints pictures and brings characters to life. The craft of writing is the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts detail of how one does that.

The same is true, I reckon, of any art.

In which case, here’s to craft! It may be a tricky beast to define, a know-it-when-I-see-it kind of deal, but at its core craft is the skill of making, creating, and doing. And that’s a wonderful thing.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.