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  Craftsmanship (the term predates such egalitarian usages as ‘craftworker’) is the work of a skilled artisan, a practitioner of skilled manual labour, such as a stonemason, carpenter or joiner. The attempt to define the ‘craftsman’, particularly perhaps as distinct from the ‘artist’, has a distinguished pedigree. In Plato\'s Republic, in his discussion on ‘The Theory of Art’, he describes three makers: God who makes the ideal Form (which exists in its perfect quality in a different world); the craftsman who makes, say, a bed, ‘with his eye on the form’; and the artist who copies what the craftsman has created. The skills represented are user, maker and artist. The craftsman is the maker of objects, who takes his instructions from the user.

In the history of the construction of great buildings of all periods it is clear that a master builder often had the role of an architect, surveyor and engineer in the process of construction, and it should be noted that the word ‘architect’ itself derives from the Greek word for a master builder, or overseer of craftsmen (tekton). The architects of the early modern period of Western history were often the sons of master masons, who by virtue of education and social preferment were seen as professional designers of buildings, as distinguished from the craftsman who works with his hands.

With a fine disregard for (or ignorance of) such notions, or of Plato\'s categorizations, many ‘fine-art’ pundits from the Renaissance onwards—and indeed, many craftworkers themselves—tended to see craft as hand labour devoid of intellectual content. A typical attitude is that of the 17th-century founders of the French Academy of Painting and Sculpture, who denigrated guild artists as ‘craftsmen’ lacking ‘invention and learning’. The distinction was accentuated by the almost total disregard of the fine-art establishment for folk artists of all kinds, whom (if they considered them at all) they categorized as people of craft rather than of art.

In the 19th century, such attitudes persisted in European art establishments, and in architecture a similar distinction grew between ‘craftsman’ and ‘architect’, thanks in part to the establishment of professional architectural associations and examinations, and partly by the increasing rise of civil engineering and surveying as distinct professions. Several groups of the period, for example the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, did attempt to bridge the gap between ‘craft’ and ‘art’ through the promotion of handcrafts, aiming to recapture, in the face of machine production, the traditional cratsman\'s understanding of materials—as the motto of one influential group, the Art Workers\' Guild, put it, ‘to use materials aright’. Characteristic examples are William Morris\'s printing and bookbinding activities (using methods which Gutenberg would have immediately understood) and Ernest Gimson\'s Cotswolds workshop in the late 19th century, using traditional methods of furniture design.

Unfortunately, such Utopian schemes tended to founder in the face of economic necessity, and the old idea of ‘craftsmanship’ failed to make an impression. Indeed, developments in both architecture and design in the 20th century, from the work of the Bauhaus and Le Corbuiser onwards, have brought machine processes to a level of skill and beauty which seems to need nothing from former styles or ideas. In contemporary usage, the idea of ‘craftsmanship’ has lost its dignity, becoming an advertizer\'s word for a kind of fuddy-duddy traditionalism. Recently, however, female artists and feminist critics have rehabilitated the idea of ‘craft’, seeing in its subservient position to fine art a mirror of their own equally unjust social and political subjection. PD MG JM KMcL

Further reading H.M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (especially chapter 1, ‘The Building Trades’); , M. Greensted, Gimson and the Barnsleys; , Lionel Lambourne, Utopian Craftsmen: the Arts and Crafts Movement from the Cotswolds to Chicago.



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