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Source: p. 18 Middle, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (2011) by Roger Scruton.

That said, we should recognize that the distinction between aesthetic and utilitarian interests is no more clear than the language used to define it. What exactly is meant by those who say we are interested in a work of art for its own sake, on account of its intrinsic value, as an end in itself ? These terms are philosophical technicalities, which indicate no clear contrast between aesthetic interest and the utilitarian approach that is imposed on us by the needs of everyday decision making.
[1.] Other epochs did not recognize the distinction that we now so frequently make between art and craft. [End of 1.]
Our word ‘poetry’ comes from Greek poiēsis, the skill of making things; the Roman artes comprised every kind of practical endeavour. And to take our second platitude about beauty seriously is to be sceptical towards the whole idea of the beautiful as a realm apart, untainted by mundane practicalities.

The entitled question is based on 1 above which lacks an explanation.

2
  • I see art as 'high craft', such that it extends or somehow transforms what can be done in the medium. I would look to art as a kind of play: a creativity with what creativity is. See: `Video games as new art' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70048/…
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 29, 2022 at 1:37
  • It's interesting to think about the origins of a 'master-piece', in the guild system of craft working; where it was a demonstration of competences & skills that meant somebody was given the rank of master & could take on apprentices. A masterpiece is a term that has always been applied to high art, but originates from craft, including painting workshops.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 29, 2022 at 16:54

4 Answers 4

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I should imagine a fairly simple explanation would be that in past epochs judgement of art was solely in the consumer. If one made a pot which was more aesthetically pleasing than another, that pot would be preferred by the consumer of pots over the other. Contrast this with our current distinction of art as a thing judged by a set of standards contained within a fairly small set of selected judges (art critics). The aesthetic of the thing produced under our modern definition of art is largely redundant, certainly as judged by the consumer of the art. Other factors (not immediately relevant to the more utilitarian 'craft') like novelty, shock value etc are considered and their relative weight a matter for appointed judges, not consumers.

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Try looking at Benjamin's Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction; Scruton is referring to the 'Cult of Beauty, which was a early modern European cult; it's referred to, for example in one of Hardy's novels. I forget which.

In most ages (epochs) objects of art had a status within the life world of the society, rather than being something placed apart - say in museums or galleries; Benjamin referred to them as cult objects.

For example, the paintings in the Lascaux caves, done 20 thousand years ago, are generally felt to have ritual value.

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From the words themselves art seems to stem from the Latin word for "skill" and is usually used when referring to things that are not naturally occurring, but which require skill to produce. Words like artifact or artificial come to mind, which describe that something is human made and not just a result of nature. Which is sometimes used with a positive connotation like despite humans being part of nature we like to separate our accomplishments from pure entropy while in terms of unnatural waste could or cheap copies of natural processes could also have a negative connotation.

Craft on the other hand seems to stem from the German word "Kraft" which technically just means "physical strength". Which in a broader context could also describe power, energy and a general capability to do something. Which brings it back to also having a synonymous usage to "skill", making "craft" and "art" closely related.

My guess as to where that distinction is coming from would probably go to the industrial revolution, the ease of reproduction and the obsolescence of skill in the production process.

Like unless you are a poet or a singer, your skill likely also had a physical component and your product likely had a purpose and even if that purpose was just to impress people and serve as a status symbol. So for all intents and purposes the difference between an artist and an artisan (craftsman) likely weren't even all that big in a practical sense. They both likely produced single unique pieces from start to finish, which had a practical purpose and the quality of their product would correspond to their skill and time invested. And maybe even both as a contractual work as well as on hold.

Now contrast that in the first iteration with "manufacturing" (which technically only means "hand made"), but which I use in the sense of "algorithmic production" in bigger workshops. Where you aim to produce "the same" or at least a very similar item time and time again and where every worker just does one step of it over and over again. That allows for parallelizing the production process, reducing the production time and increasing the output. But that also means that the uniqueness is gone, the skill required is diminished, the market gets saturated, the functionality is cheaper, the quality is more equal, the price per piece is lower.

So independent craftsmen are largely pushed out of business, because products with similar quality or even slightly lower or higher than that are cheaper and more accessible. So in order to persist they either need to abandon their craft and become a worker or provide the designs for a workshop or sell to people so rich that the low quantity/high quality production still pays suffices to live.

Which might explain from the perspective of the artist a sense of pride and superiority over the regular craftsman (worker) who just do menial uncreative "craft" while they produce ART. Or likewise for the consumer the uniqueness that previously was the norm, where only quality and functionality (often the same thing) mattered, now could have become a status symbol of its own. Like if everyone is wearing the same branded stuff having something custom made is a luxury. So if the quality and functionality is largely the same, the design itself becomes a selling point.

And in the second iteration with the mechanization of the production process. Which further reduced the required skill, the price, the level of independent artists and increased the output, quality and market saturation. Now even the design process might have been made an algorithm in order to keep continuity and brand recognition further reducing the necessity for skill.

So while the craftsman previously combined elements of aesthetics, functionality, operative skills, those things are nowadays split into different professions.

The functionality is largely envisioned by scientists and constructed by engineers, who's creations are artistic (in that they are skillful and novel), but who are only concerned with functionality. The actual production comes down to workers who's skills are mostly operational and who often lack any creative freedom to build skills. And the aesthetics is largely covered by artists/designers as the intrinsic aesthetic of and design of a machine is most often hidden from the world in a literal or figurative "black box".

So the aesthetic side of art is reduced from the skillful fusion of function and aesthetics to the decorative or on the other end to the explorative. Like how art in paintings apparently moved away from naturalism as nobody could compete with the naturalism of a photography to the exploration and evocation of emotions and stuff like that.

So art and craft might have actually been separated into different steps of the production as functionality and design which were previously inseparable are now almost completely separate from each other.

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In the old times before industrial manufacturing there was no difference. Both kinds of artifacts were made by the designer or his apprentices. Both kinds of artifacts were:

  • Unique
  • Made for a purpose
  • Made for a paying customer

There was no art for art's sake. All art was "commercial", made to a commission by a paying customer, the church or a patron of art.

Likewise, there was no craft for craft's sake. People designed and made things for other people to use, to earn money.

Actually, one should ask why did art lose its focus on the paying customer?

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