What is art and what is craft? Are they the same or do they possess distinct differences?
Many an art historian has sought to understand the nature of art and its boundaries. The current ubiquitous presence of the word artisanal has opened this debate for me once more. In some quarters, artisanal has replaced the word gourmet, a food or drink that requires refined preparation and may only be truly appreciated by someone with a cultivated understanding of the food or its genre. This definition is often broadly applied to any specialty item requiring skill to prepare. In others, artisanal appears to be a stand-in for the idea of quality and is applied to any item, regardless of whether it was handmade or mass produced. Using this definition, any object that claims to be distinctive can be called artisanal. In still others, artisanal is a code word for obscure or unusual.
But are any of these uses are appropriate? On the one hand, to say that what is artisanal is in the eye of the beholder is to resist definition, almost to a fault. If anything can be artisanal, then nothing is. I’m not sure this is fair to craftspeople and artists. On the other hand, to say that only items made by masters who, as I have recently read about food artisans, are completely and wholly integrated into the creation of their product, is to apply an ideal perhaps too exclusively.
What does the term artisanal really mean? How can understanding the place of the artisan help us to understand our relationship to art, creativity, and authenticity? Finding answers to these questions, and others, is what this blog is all about.