Lesson Plan: Art or Craft?
Inspiration: Brent Kington, from his oral history interview, when asked about function in his work: “You know, it's something I've been thinking about for more than 10 years. It seems to me that sometime, maybe even before the '90s, but certainly into the '90s, that function started becoming less and less part of my vocabulary. I don't know where that puts me, and I don't even care. That's somebody else's problem-probably is going to be somebody else's job to figure out what it's all about. I do like making functional things, but most recently, if I made a functional piece, it's likely to be a tool, a hammer of a particular size, or another adze to do a particular job.”
Goal: students will be able to recognize the craft and art characteristics of metal objects after a discussion (of the history of the art versus craft split by aestheticians in the 18th and 19th centuries) by arranging a group of metal objects in a continuum from craft-like to art-like, backing up their choices with appropriate arguments.
Pre- and Post-test Questions:
History of Art versus Craft: Art for Art's Sake did not become a Bohemian slogan until the mid-to-late nineteenth century. There had been philosophical discussion of the idea in eighteenth century Europe. Before that most artists were guildsmen who learned their craft by apprenticeship and worked on commissions by rich and powerful people and institutions to make paintings, sculpture, metal objects, woodcarvings, etc. for public, ecclesiastical, and private use. As soon as there was a middle class in Europe, there was a demand for fine art and craft.
In the twentieth century, the split between craft and art has been discussed and argued. Many of the traditional crafts (wood, ceramics, metals, glass, fiber) have redesigned themselves as arts or art crafts. It is not enough now for a craftsperson to create finely made pieces -- an artistic quality is sought by those who buy craft pieces. While there is a wide gap between conceptual art pieces and unique wrought iron railings, for instance, there is also a gap between these railings and the mass-produced machine-made railings found at box stores. Students are encouraged to give their own current definitions of art and craft.
Discussion: It is possible for anyone to see the differences in artistic quality among individual pieces of metalwork. Some are purely functional without much thought for looks other than the shape necessary to function. Other pieces reflect an attempt on the part of the smith to add some flair or grace to a utilitarian piece. There are still other pieces in which the artistic style is as important as the function. Lastly, some pieces are meant to be appreciated for their artistic value alone.
Activity: After having familiarized themselves with the history of smithing in the previous lesson, and discussing the above concepts with examples, students will look at the eight images of metal objects presented here (print and display the images (pdf) on a table or pin them up in a circular group) and decide by consensus where each image lies on a craft-art continuum. They will arrange the images from left to right from craft toward art and give reasons for their choices.
Extension: teacher or students bring in man-made metal objects with which to do the same activity as above. Arrange the objects by craft to art order, including functional to non-functional, well-made to artistically well-made.