There has always been heated debate about the use of the word craft, but does it matter what a person making craft is called? I believe it matters because it changes how people perceive what they do and perceptions influence decisions. Decisions such as whether they go to exhibitions or events, their understanding of the value of craft objects and where to allocate arts funding.
I’ve never been very comfortable with the use of the term maker as it is often hard for the public to understand what it means, however, it isn’t easy to find a term to describe a group of people working in craft. There are discipline specific descriptions, such as jewellers and ceramicists, and several other terms such as designers, designer makers and artists. The most common and frequently used description is makers, but what does that say about what they are creating?
Let’s begin with definitions of the word maker. It is ‘a person, company, or machine that creates or produces something, especially goods for sale’ used in terms such as a car-maker, film-maker, coffee maker, and my favourite, mischief-maker. Other definitions are ‘One that makes or manufactures’ and ‘a person who makes things’ with the word maker attached to the product they make, such as beermaker, patternmaker, shirtmaker, sailmaker, winemaker, toolmaker, tentmaker, hatmaker and shoemaker, and this style is sometimes used in craft such as basketmaker, glassmaker, bookmaker and jewellery maker.
These definitions align craft with manufacturing and products, where the people doing the work are considered to be delivering a service or selling a product as opposed to expressing an idea creatively. This is probably why many people working in jewellery, glass, furniture and books moved towards calling themselves artists or designers.
Using the word designer transforms the meaning. Definitions of the word include ‘A person who plans the look or workings of something prior to it being made, by preparing drawings or plans’ and ‘a person who devises and/or executes designs, as for works of art, clothes, machines, etc’. It suggests through association trendiness, exclusivity, fashion and prestige.
Then there is the word artist, defined as ‘a person who practises or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer’. It is here that craft sits most comfortably, as people working in craft are inarguably ‘able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value’. They are individuals ‘whose work shows exceptional creative ability or skill’, ‘who displays in his/her work qualities required in art, such as sensibility and imagination’ and ‘whose profession requires artistic expertise’. Another definition ‘an artist is a creative person who is skilled in one of the fine or performing arts’ explains why there is not only fine art but also fine craft. The word artist also leads us to the term artisan, defined as ‘one who is skilled in a craft or applied art that requires manual dexterity: carpentry done by skilled artisans’.
Amusingly all three words have a dark side as a maker can be a mischief-maker, a designer plots and schemes and an artist can be someone adept at trickery or deceit.
The words and terminology used to describe craft and the people who create it are a serious matter. In my view the word maker does not satisfactorily describe what people working in craft do, and extending it to craft maker doesn’t resolve the inaccuracy of it. If we look at the visual arts, exhibitors in art exhibitions are termed as artists not painters, there are painting workshops and demonstrations by artists, so it is an artist painting, not a painter painting, so it should be an artist making not a maker making.
A person who makes craft can be described in many ways – and ultimately it must be how they want to define themselves - but they should all be viewed as artists. It is vitally important we do this to ensure craft is always recognised as a form of art.