“Art” and “craft” arc two contrasting kinds of aesthetic, work orga-
nization, and work ideology, differing in their emphases on the stan-
dards of utility, virtuoso skill, and beauty. Activities organized as
craft can become art when members of established art worlds take over
their media, techniques, and organizations. Conversely, through in-
creased academicism or subordination of traditional art concerns to
exigencies that arise outside an art world, activities organized as art
can become craft.
People often use commonsense folk classifications to categorize their occupa tions, the organized forms of work they participate in (see Hughes 1971, pp. 360-63). They may speak of the medical “profession,” the music “business,” the “science” or “discipline” of sociology, the garment “trade,” or the num bers “racket.” Each term conveys in shorthand form a conception of a dis tinctive way of organizing work: the characteristic activities that make up the work, the typical settings in which it is done, and the cast of characters with whom one usually associates while doing it, the kinds of people who do it, their typical careers, the problems that ordinarily arise, and the moral evaluations those inside and outside the occupation make of the people and activities which compose it. The shorthand folk term suggests that all these matters cohere in a neat, interrelated pattern. Thus, when we call some line of work a “profession,” we imply that its highly trained members perform a vital social fimction by assisting people who do not understand what is being done for them and police themselves according to a high ethical standard, and we imply all the other things included in the conventional definition. Conversely, when we speak of a “business,” we imply that it is carried on for a profit, that the applicable code of ethics involves only living up to contracts one has entered into, that the operating logic is that of efficiency, that the principal of caveat cmptor applies, and so on. Since the world is less neat than that, the elements of work organization do not fall into such tidy patterns in real life. Some features of an occupation may resemble those of a profession, while others suggest, a business or a racket. The folk categories predict what elements will be found in what arrangements, but they often predict wrongly.Order now
They are not so much accu rate descriptions of reality as ideological descriptions of some preferred arrangement of elements. The members of art worlds (Becker 1974, 1975, 1976; Levine 1972; White and White 1965) usually describe the work of those who produce their characteristic products with such shorthand folk terms as “art” or “craft.”1 The person who does the work that gives the product its unique and expres sive character is called an “artist” and the product itself “art.” Other people whose skills contribute in a supporting way are called “craftsmen.” The work they do is called a “craft.” The same activity, using the same materials and skills in what appear to be similar ways, may be called by either title, as may the people who engage in it. The histories of various art forms include typical sequences in which what has been commonly understood by practitioners and public to be a craft becomes redefined as an art or, conversely, an art becomes redefined as a craft. This paper considers such shifts, with an eye to understanding how they occur and arriving at a better understanding of the meaning of both “art” and “craft” as those terms are conventionally understood and applied. T have no preferred meaning for either term and no intention of legislating definitions for them: quite the opposite.
As folk terms, “art” and “craft” refer to ambiguous conglomerations of organizational and stylistic traits and thus cannot be used as unequivocally as wc would want to use them if they were scientific or critical concepts. Since I will nevertheless have occasion to speak of art and craft worlds, organizations, and styles of work, it should be understood that in doing so I am referring to one or another aspect of some folk definition. I often refer to particular organizations that come close to realizing the ideal combinations implied by the folk terms, but even these do not live up to the expectations embodied in the ideal, nor docs it matter analytically that they do not. In fact the ambiguities of the terms and the contradictions between what they predict and what the world exhibits will be most useful in the analysis, as those ambiguities and contradictions occur in particular fields of activity undergoing change. When change occurs, the people involved argue over the meaning of the activity; therefore examining cases of change from one defini tion to another will help us understand better the social meaning of our basic terms.
I have made indiscriminate use of materials from a variety of sources my own experience in a numlier of worlds of art and craft as well as socio logical and historical studies of such worlds but 1 have not examined any systematic body of data in a systematic way. For my major examples I have used the worlds of the conventional handicrafts (especially ceramics), which produce objects capable of visual appreciation and thus tend to be linked to such high art worlds as painting and sculpture. But the analysis is intended to be more general than that, and, though I speak largely of such crafts, I will occasionally indicate applications to other kinds of media and to per forming as well as object-producing arts and crafts.