Hand Forged Ironwork…Art or Craft?

“Port Washington Gate” by Dan Nauman, 2007

I recognize the fact that for centuries, there has been a longstanding debate about “What is art?” and “What is craft?” or, “Art vs. Craft.” Many folks feel to discuss the subject is folly.
I wish to address the question “Where is ironwork today?” Is it art, or is it craft? Can it be both? When is it one or the other?
I want this to be an open dialogue, so I am requesting input from you. I also ask that you get others that may not know of this blog to respond. If nothing else, it will be an interesting exchange of thoughts.
I raise these questions for a number of reasons. I will present some thoughts, and then my own conclusions.
Ironwork has long been considered by many, one of the lesser arts, that being the decorative arts.

“Detail, Port Washington Gate” by Dan Nauman, 2007

The decorative arts, as defined by most, include much of the work known to architecture, i.e. carpentry, wood carving, stone cutting, plastering, masonry, and metalwork (forging, casting, fabricating), etc. Stained and possibly blown glass could be included.
The visual side of fine arts include drawing/painting, sculpture, etc.
Some say the difference between art and craft is that in craft, the process is dominant, and design, or the end result is the focus of art…process is not the focus.
In the example of craft, take for example the blacksmith. If the work is performed and completed in the traditionally accepted manner of the trade, and the smith is steeped in disciplined knowledge, applying years of practice to his work, coupled with an astute sense of design, proportion and style, likely the piece will be wonderful in function as well as appearance. This is what many would then refer to as craft, as the process reigns.
We then take for another example the painter, whose work is also enriched by years of discipline, visual proportion, and style, and likely it will be wonderful and highly regarded…..but here it is called art.

“Table” by Dan Nauman, mild steel, paste finish, 2009″

Is reinterpretation, or imitating of style, past or present, art or craft?
Looking again at the smith, who today uses many classic motifs, may focus on a specific style (Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau, etc.) in modern works, but reorganizing them to his/her own design….. Then we look at a stone sculpture, with the same characteristics as the above….which is art….which is craft?
With all that said, I then ask these questions:
“Is true art dependant on the fact that it is truly an original idea, especially based on what is popular for the day/period?”
“Is something functional automatically placed into the realm of craft?”
“Are art and craft equals, but different depending on the audience?”
On another, but similar note:
“Can a style of work be copyrighted?”
And there are obviously many more questions and directions this dialogue can take. I have no defined answers or conclusions to this debate, and recognize we will not settle anything in this dialogue. It will be interesting to hear from you, and that alone will give impetus to these questions. It may provide insite as to how ironwork is looked upon in today’s culture.
Your thoughts?
……..Dan Nauman

“Candlesticks” by Dan Nauman, waxed mild steel, 2008

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”……..Marilyn vos Savant, Columnist.

4 comments to “Hand Forged Ironwork…Art or Craft?”

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  1. mark - March 6, 2010 Reply

    “Art vs Craft” the endless conflict. Why can’t they just learn to get along?

    • George - March 6, 2010 Reply

      They actually do get along very well. Most serious collectors own both visual Art objects and beautiful “functional” objects.

  2. George - March 6, 2010 Reply

    “Visual Art” generally refers to works (or limited editions) produced to function primarily as an object to be appreciated for its beauty and/or emotional power alone; such as sculpture, painting, prints, drawings.
    When an object is designed to function primarily as something other than a purely aesthetic object the naming convention will change to a gate, a table, a lamp, etc.; no matter how beautiful or emotionally charged they may be.
    Placing electric lamps, or candles, and a shade on a piece of sculpture detracts and distracts from the beauty and emotional power of the sculpture as a purely aesthetic object. Turning a piece of sculpture into a table to hold a lamp, flowers and coffee cup likewise detracts from the sculpture’s main purpose.
    So “primary function” serves as the distinction between works of Art and other beautiful objects designed for purposes other than pure aesthetic power.
    “Craft” generally refers to the skill level used to create objects.
    All works of Art require high levels of craft. While high levels of craft will not necessarily result in works of Art.
    Obviously many works have been created which test this distinction. We’ve seen pieces of furniture whose aesthetic beauty far outweigh their function as chairs, desks, etc. Yet the distinction remains useful: form (and name) follows function.
    You ask, “Is true art dependant on the fact that it is truly an original idea, especially based on what is popular for the day/period?”
    Art depends on both history and originality. What do I have to say that has not already been said very well? Popularity opens up a whole other topic.
    You ask, “Is something functional automatically placed into the realm of craft?”
    I believe most museums refer to the objects in question as “decorative arts;”
    which implies decoration of functional objects.
    “Are art and craft equals, but different depending on the audience?”
    Most collectors of high quality objects collect both Art and decorative art objects.
    Museums, galleries and publications tend to make the distinctions.
    You ask, “Can a style of work be copyrighted?”
    No. One can only copyright single individual works.

  3. francis leidinger - July 30, 2010 Reply

    art without craft is a good idea poorly expressed.

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