Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC: Art, or Craft?

 This isn't my photo, but I wanted you to see the outside of this gorgeous building. It came from the Smithsonian site, here.

New York City-based artist Leo Villareal has pioneered a particular type of “light sculpting,” using tens of thousands of individual LED bulbs and a customized computer program to illuminate them. This is stunning in person.

"Craft for a Modern World" is how the Renwick Gallery, one of the Smithsonian Museums, describes its collection. This was probably my favorite museum in Washington. Every object in the museum is unique and handmade, and each one begs the question, "What is the difference between art and craft?"

I've often wondered where to draw the line. If there is one, it seems to me to be incredibly thin and extremely wiggly.  I often hear people refer to beautiful things like a hand blown glass vase or an exquisitely woven basket as 'just' "crafts". Yet when we study art history, we study things like this: 

Silver-gilt rhyton for libations or drinking, Greco-Parthian Hellenistic 2nd century BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art

And this:

Neo-Assyrian Amethyst Vase, c. 8th century BCE

Do we now regard these as 'art', because they're no longer being used as utilitarian objects? If we put flowers in the vase, would it then be 'craft'? So what qualifies as art, as opposed to craft, and what are the criteria for determining which is which?

I can't give you a definitive answer to this question, but perhaps some food for thought.

"Parallax Gap transforms the Renwick Gallerie's Bettie Rubenstein Grand Salon into a visual puzzle. This immersive, site-specific installation explores examples of interplay between craft and architecture through a ceiling-suspended structure running the length of the gallery. The installation embraces both Eastern and Western concepts of perspective through trompe l'oeil effects and multiple vanishing points to create a sense of soaring architectural volume."

While this installation references architecture, it doesn't really function as such. Based on a form that we might call craft, it focuses on one aspect of that craft, and expands on it to form a sculptural installation that highlights what we could call the visual beauty of that craft.

This one, I believe, was modeled after the architecture of the historical Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio!

Bottom: Robert Ebendorf, Lost Soul, Found Spirit. found materials and metal

I wasn't able to find information on this, but I think it's very cool. I know, I know, I should have photographed the identification tags in the gallery. 

Anna Von Mertens, 2:45 am Until Sunrise on Tet, the Lunar New Year, January 31, 1968, U.S. Embassy, Saigon, Vietnam, (Looking North), 2006, cotton

Monopoly, 2007, by Kristen Morgin, unfired clay and paint

Steven Montgomery, Static Fuel, earthenware and oil paint

 I couldn't find information on this, but I included it because I think it's a thing of beauty, and that what it might be used for doesn't really matter.

John McQueen, burdock burrs and apple wood

Albert Paley, Portal Gates, 1974, steel, brass, copper, bronze

 Dan Webb, cut, flamed, spalted, 2013, maple

 Karen Lamonte, Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery, 2009, glass

Gullah Fanner Basket, Lunette Youson

Andy Paiko, Spinning Wheel, glass, cocoboho, steel, brass, leather

While this lovely spinning wheel certainly can't spin any thread, I enjoy looking at it for its aesthetic properties. But then, I also enjoy looking at this very functional one:

antique spinning wheel

Barbara Lee Smith, Lay Inlet,  synthetic fabrics, acrylic paint, silk pigments

I fell totally in love with this piece. While it is made of fabric, a traditionally functional material, it wasn't made to be worn or to cover anyone's bed.

 Judith Schaechter, The Birth of Eve, 2013. flash glass, vitreous paint,silver stain, and copper foil

I don't see how anyone could look at stained glass as a craft, do you?

Glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly

I'm not sure I can shed any light on the "art or craft" question, but here's a video that explains how this division came about.

So, what do you think? Is there a difference between art and craft? Or is the line just too difficult to draw? I'd love to hear any wisdom, insights, questions, or thoughts you might have!


  1. art transforms how I see the world

  2. Wow, fantastic post, such a wonderful array of art! Beautiful photos, looks like such fun to explore and enjoy all of these magnificent beauties!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Victoria! It was my first visit to the Renwick, and I highly recommend it!

  3. I think that in the past, before industrialization, there was a lot more art around. Every object was, at some point, designed. Industrialization led to lazy design. It's a lot easier to see something as 'art' if there is only one of them, and made by hand. However, crafts are, too. We tend to consider something a 'craft' if it has a more utilitarian use. Yet even these, at some point, were designed. Maybe there is a lot more art around than we think?

    1. I have to agree. I think anything made by hand can be considered art. When you get into the realm of industrial design, that is another part of the question, isn't it?

  4. Art... Craft... I have always wondered the same thing. and feel they are one and the same.

    1. Me, too, Gwen. I cannot see any reason to separate them, or any reasonable way to do so! Thanks for commenting!

  5. Wonderful glimpses of your time there and what caught your eye. We don't have many museums here, sometimes I pretend that galleries are museums.
    Art verses craft..... Perhaps craft can be art and art can be craft.


    1. Yes, I think so, Tammie; to me, there's no difference. Thanks so much for commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. une magnifique exposition.. la boule 'arbres'... me plait spécialement!

  7. Yes, it's a great place to see, if you ever get the chance. My favorite museum in Washington! xo


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