“Pure Art” vs “Craft”

I recently came across an opinion that art intended for sale is less pure than noncommercial art:

“I think, because [Van Gogh] never sold a painting during his lifetime, it’s pure art. Artists, when they sell their first piece, start to see their art through the customer’s or dealer’s eyes. It changes the work, and IMHO, diminishes its purity. The art starts to have a purpose; making money. If it has a purpose, then it’s a craft.

I disagree. Elevating one piece of art over another based on the notion of “purpose” overlooks two defining elements shared by all artworks: a) intent of the author; b) interpretation of the audience.

Irving Stone's %22Lust for Life%22, old Russian publication

Most artists create work with a goal in mind. Even when the intent is as high-level as “to inspire” or “to educate”, that purpose results in functionality. Additionally, most art serves as a mode of communication, and thus seeks an audience – the more the better. Does recognition in the form of critical acclaim really make a piece more worthy than would monetary compensation?

Besides, we experience the world through the lens of our histories; looking at the same piece, you see something different than I. So to me, the audience’s interpretation is more critical a factor than the original intent for the work.

This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Pure Art” vs “Craft”

  1. Sarah says:

    I don’t know who said this, but the excerpted quote at least comes across as incredibly classist. Okay, so if I’m rich eccentric aristocrat painting in my mansion and I have no monetary need to sell my pieces to anyone, I’m producing “pure art,” but if I’m a starving artist who must live by my brush, now I’m whoring out my commercialized crafts to people? Plenty of artists sell their work, and shouldn’t be seen as lesser-than because of that. Also “purpose”-lessness is not the defining aspect of what makes art “pure” or not. And don’t get me started on subtle sexist overtones to “pure art” (what male geniuses do) vs “crafts” (what women historically did at home) and how they are valued in society. Gah. I hope the full piece came across as less idiotic than the quoted two sentences.


    • 🙂 This was actually just a comment by a regular person, a woman, on non-art forum – she was merely gushing about how much she loves Van Gogh.

      I originally found the quote curious because it’s the starving artists, more than others, who create work with the hope of SELLING IT! I think that the artists who had another steady stream of income, or those who successfully ran large studios, actually were more likely to have the freedom and the established audience to create whatever they wanted (with disregard for how much it would be liked) – and in that sense might have produced “purer” art.

      I haven’t thought of it much before, but I’m actually interested in exploring the cultural connotations of the words art vs craft. So let’s totally talk more about that! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s