What's In A Name? #3 / by Jacqueline Iskander Mosaics

Which one of these is not like the others? 

I was talking about decorative mosaic, and how I consider the mosaics on the left and right above to be decorative art, but not fine art. If you feel yourself on edge a little (or a lot) after my mention of fine art, please review #1 and #2 of this ongoing discussion, which will provide a context.

Regarding decorative art, in no way do I feel it is in any way less than any other kind of art. Absolutely not. But, in the context of this discussion, I am clear that it is not fine art. Likewise, I would say the same thing about fine craft.

Let's not diverge into defining what is and is not fine craft. But getting back to my previous statement about the decorative mosaic on the right flirting on the edge of being craft, I should explain that and get it out of the way. 

I've spent the last few months mosaicking bottles and frames in that decorative technique used on that bottle on the right. The more I did of this kind of work, the more I could feel the craft-ness of it. I used different colors and patterns, but in the repetition of it, it became a craft. Here I want to quote from a book that has been a constant companion to me and which I highly recommend:

Yes, there is a difference between art and craft—it's just that both terms are so overgrown with fuzzy definitions that drawing a clear distinction between them is close to impossible. ...

Think of craft and you think of furniture shaped by Sam Maloof, of handmade clothing flaunted at Renaissance Fairs, of everything made before the Industrial Revolution. Think of art and you think or War and Peace, a Beethoven concerto, the Mona Lisa. Both disciplines obviously yield good things, valuable things, sometimes tangibly useful things, and at first pass the distinction between them seems perfectly clear.

But is the Mona Lisa really art? Well then, what about an undetectably perfect copy of the Mona Lisa? That comparison (however sneaky) points up the fact that it's surprisingly difficult, maybe even impossible, to view any single work in isolation and rule definitively "This is art" or "This is craft." Striking that difference means comparing successive pieces made by the same person.

In essence, art lies embedded in the conceptual leap between pieces, not in the pieces themselves. And simply put, there's a greater conceptual jump from one work of art to the next than from one work of craft to the next. The net result is that art is less polished—but more innovative—than craft. The differences between five Steinway grand pianos—demonstrably works of consummate craftsmanship—are small compared to the differences between the five Beethoven Piano concerti you might perform on those instruments...

Yet curiously, the progression of most artists' work over time is a progression from art toward craft. In the same manner that imagination gives way to execution as any single work builds toward completion, an artist's major discoveries usually come early on, and a lifetime is then allotted to fill out and refine those discoveries. As the Zen proverb suggests, for the beginner there are many paths, for the advanced, few.

At any point along that path, your job as an artist is to push craft to its limits—without being trapped by it... The difference between art and craft lies not in the tools you hold in your hands, but in the mental set that guides them. For the artisan, craft is an end in itself.

—David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards)   of Artmaking

Yes, I will concede that the mosaic on the right could be considered craft—fine craft, if I do say so myself. And it is also falls within the general category of decorative art.

That's that about craft, and I'm not going to distinguish between art and craft within a decorative or functional sense again. The thing that I think is relevant, within the context of this discussion, is the distinction between what might be fine art, and what might not be, and why this matters with regard to the struggle of elevating mosaic art to a fine art status.