These definitions and meanings often overlap, troche and not everyone is going to agree with my definitions. But for the sake of understanding my show and blogs, thumb I’ll offer some interpretations.
“Craft” is the easiest one in my opinion. It means how well the artwork is made and it implies virtuosity with techniques and materials. Something that is “beautifully crafted” usually means that the craftsman has a true mastery over the materials and the processes to create a given object. But craft does not always mean beautiful. Something could be well-crafted, but in a rugged, rough-hewn way, or something could be crafted in an intentionally “ugly” way. The level and type of craft needs to match the concept or idea of the artwork. Or a work could simply be about the craft in and of itself; these works are crafts and not art, in my definitional spectrum.
“Decoration” is easy too. Decoration implies something that is simply meant to please the eye…something pretty or nice to look at. Something that might give some pzazz to an object, building, or place. Decoration does not provoke or stimulate intellectual thinking…it is merely visual eye candy. Unfortunately some public art is really decoration. The giant tulip sculpture in front of a bank in downtown Seattle is an example of corporate decoration (a status symbol) in my opinion. Wallpaper is decoration.
“Design” starts to get complicated. Design often refers to the building arts such as architecture, furniture, landscape, bridges, etc. Part of the meaning implies a functional or structural component, but it also includes aesthetics, or visual comprehensiveness (or audio, or motion, or ….). Good design implies that care has been exercised to consider and integrate all aspects of a project, and often involves creating a form to solve a functional purpose as well as creating a meaning and appreciation for the object or structure. So buildings, bridges, benches, bus stops, etc can be thoughtfully planned, innovative, and carry a concept. Some of my favorite examples of good design are the Chrysler Building in New York City, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. I’m also a big fan of Calatrava bridges and Stickley furniture. And Porsches and Harleys.
“Art” is the hardest of all to define. Suffice it to say that good art involves craft and design, plus it infuses the object or place with a thoughtful or provocative idea or concept. The idea could entail a human figure in a memorial context (one of the oldest and most prevalent forms of art…think of the Lincoln Monument in Washington DC, Lincoln seated in deep and troubled contemplation), or it could be an abstract idea created to capture an emotion or feeling (e.g. Jackson Pollack paintings), or it could involve a socio-political idea where the artist is serving as a provocateur of morality
or ethics or cultural constructs (such as Barbara Kruger’s gigantic billboards dealing with feminist issues). The spectrum of concepts is probably infinite. My own Fin Project : From Swords Into Plowshares deals with turning weapons and warships into Art, as another example.
The level of craft must be just right too, to match the concept…too “crafty” and it becomes about the technique more than the idea; not crafted enough and the concept is not portrayed effectively. The works, if in the public, must be structurally designed to withstand weather, traffic, earthquakes, and other interaction and abuse. One of my public art colleagues even had to design a cast bronze wall relief sculpture for a Boston subway station so that all the surfaces and planes drained downward….to prevent urine from the homeless transients in the subway station from collecting, creating a health hazard, and discoloring the patina! So the best public art is going to be well designed, well crafted and presents a rich and multi-layered concept.