Adam Wren

Roving journalist filing dispatches from the Midwest and beyond.

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Why You Might Not Want to Call Your Craft ‘Art’ (Yet)

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Is the product of your craft really art?

For a certain class of the creative cognoscenti, it’s become de rigueur to call your craft “art.”

We write a blog or e-book, ship it, and call it our “art.” But are we patting ourselves on the back when no pat is deserved?

Seth Godin writes:

“Art is the work of a human, an individual seeking to make a statement, to cause a reaction, to connect. Art is something new, every time, and art might not work, precisely because it’s new, because it’s human and because it seeks to connect.”

Are “craft” and “art” really synonymous? Not according to Godin.

And not according to Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar Animation, in his new and excellent book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.*

Catmull makes a distinction between “craft” and “art”—a helpful distinction, and one I think we’d do well to adopt ourselves, taking Godin’s idea a step further. He writes:

“Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”

For me, craft is reading The Elements of Style (Illustrated)*; art is learning when to break the rules Strunk & White set forth.

Craft is having read Twain and Talese; art is a breathing new life into Twain’s realism or reimagining Talese’s personality profile.

Craft is knowing the notes of what makes a good sentence; art is riffing on those notes.

You cannot make art without first becoming a craftsman. And you cannot become a craftsman without learning your craft, and that involves doing a large volume of bad work, as Ira Glass says.

Maybe your craft hasn’t ascended to the level of art yet. That’s okay. For now, your job is to learn the scales, to draw a better circle, to write a better sentence. The art will come. But for now, in this season, your work is the work of a craftsman.

Question: Do you consider yourself a craftsman, or an artist? Why?

*Disclosure: Some affiliate links are included in this post.

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