Art, design and craft are terms that are increasingly closer together, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fully distinguish the three. This is partly due to the rise of design art or collectible design, the growing interest of craft in design and contemporary art, which increasingly provides answers to social issues. Design becomes a collector’s item with limited editions. Artists are increasingly trying to sell their art. And finally, craft products become something for the elite, a luxury product, which contradicts the purpose of craft. But there are certainly still differences between art, design and craft. In this text I discuss this topic, and I have formed my opinion around this with the help of a number of texts: ‘The beauty of everyday things’ – Soetsu Yanagi,’ Design for the real world ‘- Victor Papanek,’ Lives of the artists, lives of the architects’ – Hans Ulrich Obrist and ‘Design as art’ – Bruno Munari.

First, you have objective and subjective qualities. Objective qualities are measurable and therefore separate from an opinion, subjective qualities are based on feelings. Feelings are personal, different for everyone and therefore not measurable. For the most part, design and craft have objective qualities, such as dimensions, materials, ergonomics and much more. With art it is different, art works on the haptic, one experiences a work of art with all senses. A work of art gives the audience a feeling, an experience, and this is different for everyone. An example are the monumental sculptures by Richard Serra, one person experiences it as peace and quiet, while another experiences it more as power / force majeure.

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Richard Serra – Band (2006)

But aesthetic aspects are also very important in design. The more beautiful a design the better it sells, or how Bruno Munari says in ‘Design as art’:

The better designed it is, the more it will sell.’

And by better designed he means the harmony of all features from ergonomics to cost calculation to the aesthetic and much more. Design classics such as the Eames lounge chair are not only an icon because of the good ergonomics and innovative materials, but also because it is aesthetically very pleasant to look at. With craft products, sales are also very important, they are anonymous utensils. There is no known name on a craft object, the maker is unknown, so the sale depends on whether it is a good object to use every day, an object that stands the test of time. They are items that do not intimidate at all, very easy to buy, because of the anonymity there is no story or person behind them that influences the sale. In art this is in most cases different, an artist focuses less on selling his artwork. As Marina Abramović says in her interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist:

“There where so many artists who didn’t sell anything during their lifetime … It doesn’t mean anything, if you don’t sell anything. It doesn’t mean you are “not a good artist.”

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Marina Abramović – The Artist Is Present (March 2010, MoMA)

Secondly, design and craft depend on a specific material and technique. A designer designs something with the intention to have several pieces produced industrially, the design is also functional or has the intention to be functional. A design object is therefore produced by machine, creating several identical pieces that are perfect by definition. With craft, less attention is paid to the design process, but the object does make itself, there is also a mass production, but because it is handmade, each object is unique. No piece is perfect for craft, but it is made so that it is durable and robust, and thus withstands time. Or as Soetsu Yanagi says in “The beauty of everday things”:

“Folk art is necessarily a hand craft. … No machine, no matter how powerful can match its freedom of movement. The hand is nature’s greatest gift to humankind. Without it, beauty could not exist.”

Design and craft can therefore be autonomous, but only within those specific materials and techniques. Art against it doesn’t depend on materials and techniques and is therefore autonomous. But for example in social artistic practices this can be different, where art is made out of necessity for society, in response to society.

Thirdly, art tells a story, the narrative of a work. Before the invention of daguerreotype, and then photography as we know it today, there was a need for realistic images, copies of reality, because there was no other way to capture a phenomenon. After those inventions, there was no longer a great need for it because a photo could capture everything much faster and more correctly than an artist. So the artists began to finish an interpretation of reality images in their art, new art movements emerged such as impressionism, expressionism, cubism, modernism, surrealism … What is now evolving in the 21st century is an answer to all previous art movements and our society. Design is now also increasingly telling a story, social design is becoming more popular than ever. Design as an answer to society, for example sustainable and ecological design. So you could say that art becomes more conceptual while design becomes more narrative.

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Sol Lewitt – certificate wall drawing #42 (1970)

Finally, art is also the only one of the 3 terms that cannot be materialistic. Design and craft depend entirely on the techniques and materials used, they can only exist in their physical form. This is partly because they are used for functional purposes, they are utensils. Art can take various non-materialistic forms, such as performance art. This art can be viewed when the performance is performed, but afterwards no longer, you cannot collect it, cannot share it in the physical form that was the original. It is possible to share photos and videos that were taken during this performance, but is that still the art? Also in conceptual art you have certain examples of non-materialistic art, for artist Sol Lewitt and his wall paintings this meant that he drew up a certificate with detailed instructions to make the work, so that everyone holding the certificate could make the work, time after time.


Dry clay head on concrete floor by Mark Manders (2016)

Mark Manders was born in Volkel, the Netherlands in 1968, and now lives and works in Ronse, Belgium. His oeuvre mainly consists of drawings, installations and sculptures. According to Manders, his works are part of his “self-portrait as a building.” With the intention that the viewer can decipher the mysteries of his works. So all his works belonged to one Gesamtkunstwerk, called “self-portraits as a building”. A Gesamtkunstwerk is an oeuvre in which his works can be understood as a whole.

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This artwork is one of the many works by Manders, he already has many works to his name and most of them are self-portraits, in the form of sculptures. At first sight, this work of art seems older than it is, the materials also do not seem to be what they are. This is the case with most of his works. One sees an ode to Greek art in his sculptures, including this one. The way the face is elaborated and depicted is very reminiscent of the Greek way of sculpting. These Greek sculptures in something that many artists are inspired by. Also the colors, there is only one color present (that of clay or another stone-like) which also makes you think that the artwork is much older than it is, that the paint has already completely disappeared after the centuries of wind and weather that the sculpture could have endured. The wooden part also seems to have been added afterwards, because it seems younger (and wood withstands the years much less well than clay), but as far as we know the artwork was only made in one year in 2016, not in Antiquity. This is something that can influence the spectator’s mind, something that only Manders, the artist, has control over.

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Self-portraits have been around since the early Renaissance, and are common among artists for a variety of reasons. The first is self-promotion, the viewer can stick a face to the artist, who has been carefully selected by the maker himself. Secondly, it is a way to visualize themselves, to find who they are, to be able to reflect on themselves. A third reason is to capture a certain moment of their life and be able to represent it forever. With Manders it was the last two, he saw it as a form of self-reflection, he made all his works for himself, self-expression is a form of self-reflection. But he also wants to bring the image he has of himself into eternity, so that it is never lost.

Manders says that an artist always creates art for himself in the first place, and the public comes second. Otherwise you are a designer, you make things for others. And then there can be no deep meaning behind it because it is made between two persons. The best thing about being an artist is when you really have time to think about everyday objects. He has a reflection on the evolution of the cup, so he is mainly focused on the evolution and timelessness of things. For example, the cup used to be just a pair of hands, which collected the water, which became a leaf and so it eventually became a cup with a handle against heat. But that cup has not changed in times, there is a designer who makes it his own, but the basic principle remains the same, and that ensures the timelessness of the object. He also thinks about his own evolution and how he has evolved and grew up over the years, it is his own body but he does not always have control over that, which is why he also wants to show his own image of how he wants the self-portraits to be. people see him. Because he does have control over that.

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He does not want his works to be placed in a certain period, therefore he also uses techniques of all times, and uses cultures for inspiration, for example the Greek image. In some works he uses newspapers to make the viewer think that it was made in a certain time, but that is not the case because the newspaper was composed by him from randomly unusual English words from which no one can extract a time or event. By means of his self-portraits he also wants to express himself timelessly, showing how the artist sees himself, the timeless image that he will always have in his head. And how the spectator will recognize the artist.

The use of certain techniques, the use of color and the appearance of the materials all contribute to the timelessness of the design, he works with illusions to express his vision and thus influence the spectator’s way of thinking. The work of art also seems unfinished, as if a part is missing, or if it is only a small part of a much larger work of art, for example a very large sculpture. But the artwork is indeed finished, the artwork is also more what it seems because also the pedestal on which it stands and the glass that frames it are part of the artwork. Whatever reinforces the artwork, in the way that Manders aims at it and how he wants it to come across to the audience and the spectator, that timelessness again because it seems unfinished but there is a pedestal underneath, creating another doubt.

The materials are also an illusion, it seems to be made of a stone-like material, such as clay or plaster, certainly with the title of the work “dry clay head …” which insinuates that it is clay. But it is bronze painted by hand so that it resembles a stony material. The statue is made of a small sculpture, from which a mold is made for casting the bronze. Something that seems very fragile is actually very sturdy and unbreakable. This also reflects the timelessness, the image will last much longer than it seems, it is made of a sturdy durable material, and not of clay, a material that can break or break quickly.

Lorenzo Benedetti, curator of Manders 2013 biennial presentation in Venice, said:

“In Manders’ work there is constant attention to inserting multiple elements that meld into one entity that seems to come from a mysterious lost encyclopedia.”