How Art is Different from Craft?

Every art is an artist's impression. Leo Tolstoy felt that "Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by those feelings and experience them.". We asked Dr. J.F de la Teja to explain this idea further. How can an artist translate his gift of beautiful drawing in a Fine Art?

Dr. J.F. de la Teja is just retired as a Professor of History at Texas State University. His response is as follows:

It has been very busy first few months of retirement, and I am eager to finish writing a conference paper, which is my last outstanding academic commitment. Once that's done, I can pursue my historical interests as a "gentleman scholar," which is how it was in the old days, and just fade into irrelevance.

As for your thoughts, I'm not sure I wouldn't do more harm than good, but if you think I can help, I can certainly consider your request. Maggie gave me a set of color pencils and a drawing pad hoping to get my artistic juices flowing, but I find myself struggling to figure out what I might have to say in that medium. I remember reading about Beethoven that he thought himself an opera composer, yet he only wrote one (although he wrote four different overtures for it). I have done some drawing, and I once painted a set of cartoon characters for my mother, who ran an elementary school cafeteria, but that's the extent of my art. On the other hand, I used the cash gift I received from my colleagues at retirement to purchase a Nikon DSLR outfit, and have begun taking nature pictures. I think that might be a more realistic artistic outlet for me.



In any case, the question is, what can you say about the subject matter that might be distinctive enough to merit someone else's appreciation of it? For what it's worth, I think that whatever is painted, photographed, or sculpted first of all has to have personal meaning. If the work is merely being produced for someone else, then it's more craft than art. Picasso had to prove that he could do the craft of painting before he could set out to reshape the art world. He was lucky to find that his vision resonated with a broad public during his lifetime. Van Gogh had no such luck, yet he and Picasso are both recognized as masters today. Just as most writers (myself included) have to have day jobs (or a good pension) to write, achieving limited success (or none at all), I think most artists just have to paint or sculpt or photograph for their own satisfaction, while having day jobs to pay the bills. (Although sometimes those day jobs employ their technical skills. There are large companies that employ hundreds of artists to reproduce art on demand and for a fee.


There are many companies that would do the reproduction at whatever size at a very reasonable price.I can't imagine that the artist, who I think is located in China, felt any great emotional attachment to the work, but perhaps the technical challenges--and the pay--provide him/her practice and insight that can be applied to his/her original work.

So, I don't want to keep rambling on but did want to let you know that I think about these things, even though the extent of my training in art consists of an art history class during my undergraduate days at Seton Hall. I do think that art is important. At the end of the day, we might well discover that the only thing that separates us from the rest of biological creation is the sense of abstraction necessary to produce artificial beauty. I hope your students find the means to keep expressing themselves.


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