Artisan vs. Craftsman

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Forum topic by Mark A. DeCou posted 08-04-2006 06:20 PM 15711 views 1 time favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 4375 days

08-04-2006 06:20 PM

Hey Jocks:
I’ve been thinking about something, and thought I would get some input.

Most of us living in the USA, live, work, and sell our works, to a culture where the terms “craft” and “art” has become widely used, with variations as to the definition of the words. I also see that many woodworkers from around the globe are looking at this website, so I thought maybe another culture may be able to help me, and the rest of us, understand the definition better.

So, I was wondering what do the “Jocks” say is the difference between someone working in wood that is considered a “craftsman” versus an “artisan”.

I’ve been trying to decide if I am either one, or neither one, or just a “wanna-be”. I have my opinions, but I thought I would hear from some others first.

Mark DeCou

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

27 replies so far

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4297 days

#1 posted 08-05-2006 04:02 AM

What a great question Mark!

While the two may be considered synonymous (for they likely were once upon a time), I think the difference could lie within the root terms art and craft. Starting with the terms artist and crafter, these tend to evoke one thoughts of the fine artist dabbling in paint or sculpture, or the crafter creating useful, decorative, if not fuctional items. (things we wouldn’t frame, or leave on a shelf)

My high school graphics teacher had a sign that read “A laborer is one who makes something with his hands. A craftsperson is one who makes something with his hands and mind. An artist is one who makes something with his hands, mind and heart.”

Does this imply that a artist is greater than a craftsperson? No. Different perhaps, but neither better or worse.

Up here in New Hampshire, we have The League of NH Craftsmen. A group I hope to count myself a member of someday. This collection of artists and crafters work in such diverse mediums as wood, clay, fiber and paper. What they have in common is a very high level of quality about their wares.

For me, (at least before I started typing this, and giving so much thought) an artisan is a professional crafter or artist (but not a stereotypical “fine artist”). One who make a living, or partial living with their hands, whether they make bread, jewelry boxes, hand woven rugs or jewelry.

For me, artisan also implies creativity (as does artist). Nowadays the term craftsman evokes the image of someone who produces a noticably high quality product. Which I think is an accurate description here.

So to answer your question Mark, I think you are both.

But, for all of us, what we choose to call ourselves is probably a personal preference.

Being still in the 9-5 world I could argue I’m neither… but I like to think of myself as an artisan, if not an aspiring one. Meanwhile others among our numbers are happy to create reproduction pieces, and no matter the quality level, should they be called craftsman? Proudly! Artisans, technically, but perhaps not.

Again is one better than the other? In a similar vein, perhaps best saved for another time… Which is more important; the medium or the message, the idea or the execution, the form or function?

Anyone else agree… have a similar or different position?

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View mike's profile


46 posts in 4280 days

#2 posted 08-11-2006 02:40 AM


I often have pondered this question when friends or family marvel over something that I have created in my shop. For me, I consider myself a craftsman. Give me a picture, a drawing, or a plan and I can build, adapt and create. But to me an artist is someone that can visualize and design from an idea or a vision – something I find very hard to do.

My 2 cents.

Cheers Mike

-- Mike, Maryland,

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4297 days

#3 posted 08-11-2006 05:06 AM

Well put Mike… gorgeous mirror, by the way. You are a craftsman indeed!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Martin Sojka's profile

Martin Sojka

1893 posts in 4442 days

#4 posted 08-11-2006 12:08 PM


IMO that’s very clear definition of the difference between the two:

  • cratfsman follows plan (or drawing, picture) to build, adapt and create
  • artist visualizes and designs from an idea or vision

I like it.

View john's profile


2370 posts in 4351 days

#5 posted 08-15-2006 02:39 AM

I agree with you Mike I have always been called an artist but never a craftsman.
I prefer to design and build my own creations rather then follow a drawing or plan. thats just me. I am always looking to design things that haven’t been done before. it’s a never ending quest.
There is definitely a lot of talent on this site craftsmen and artists

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4297 days

#6 posted 08-17-2006 05:30 AM

While searching for quotes for my latest project, I came across this nugget of wisdom by playwright Tom Stoppard; “Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”
This seems to agree with our take on craftsmanship. But for artisan-ship(?) I guess that’s harder to nail down.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 4375 days

#7 posted 08-17-2006 08:21 PM

I have enjoyed everyone’s thoughts on this subject, and I have seen concepts and ideas I had not considered before. I am not through with this yet, still working my mind over the right definition for myself.

More than ten years ago, when I was struggling with life and work, a friend and co-worker from San Jose, CA ate dinner with us, and we discussed my many problems. We were both working with oil refineries at the time. He listened to me for awhile, and then he said,

”Mark, if you can imagine that my left arm stretched out straight with my left hand being ”Art”, and my right arm being stretched out the opposite direction making my right hand ”Function”. Now, in the middle, or where my head is, that is the combination of both, Art with Function, making this the term ‘Craft’. Mark, you are drawn to work on functional things that are artistically designed and produced. Art, is a non-functional item, supplying only beauty and generating emotion in the viewer as it’s only reasons for existence. On the other hand, ‘Function’ is what an oil refinery does, or something else where ‘function’ is the reason for it. Functional items are things where beauty, grace, & emotion, are not the purposes for it’s existence. Mark, you need to find some way to follow your heart and work within the combination of beauty and function, and that will NEVER happen in an oil refinery.”

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed he was right, and the more sense it made to head another direction with my career. I have tried to draw with pen and ink and make pictures that I could print and sell copies of. Something similar to the artwork that I do on powderhorns, called Scrimshaw. I tried to draw on the paper, but I just got bored. However, I can spend dozens and dozens of hours sitting under a small lamp with a knife in my hand decorating a functional item like a powder horn. Weird, I know, but “I am” all I have to work with.

It seems to me that in either case, whether Craftsman or Artisan, a person should have a “mastery” of certain techniques, whether self-taught, or learned from another. This would mean that a person would need to have the multiplication of education that a number of years working in the same medium can produce. But, just working at something for many years, doesn’t mean that I am good at it. So, there seems to be an element of time, skill, and artistic expression in either term.

Keep thinking, I’d like to hear more from you all.
Thanks for the help,
Mark DeCou

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Duane Kohles's profile

Duane Kohles

40 posts in 4270 days

#8 posted 08-17-2006 09:06 PM

That is a tough nut to crack. My first definition is that an artist can visualize it, the craftsman can get it done. But the more I think about it I think they both have to co-exist for a project of any size scale to be truly successful in form and function. After all you can make something performs its function perfectly but has no form and vice versa. Not that all things need to meet both criteria, after all who really cares what the air filter to your car looks like, all you care is that it performs its function and your car keeps running.

I have never claimed to be an artist, I see myself as more of a craftsman. But I dont like to build two things that look the same. No two tables, no two cabinets are ever the same unless it is desired by the end user. I like to give each its own personality, even if the differences are subtle. So maybe there is more artist in me than I think.

I built and installed a cedar fence for a customer once. He is an engineer and she is an architect. She initially designed the fence, I helped tweak it from the builder/materials aspect. Half way thru the project she said to me “He is an engineer, and I am an architect, between the two of us we can’t build anything.” Go figure.

-- Duane Kohles

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 4375 days

#9 posted 05-27-2007 08:05 AM

Hey Folks: if any more people have thoughts on this topic, please let us know. I’m trying to put my hands around this topic for a blog, and I am hoping to get as much input as possible before hand.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4281 days

#10 posted 05-27-2007 01:44 PM

From the definitions given, LumberJocks are a mix of both. Just look at the Thorsen Table Challenge, we were required to work from a plan, yet visualize and design some aspect of the table from our own hearts and minds. Is there a real need to be able to label one’s work either way? What is the benefit in doing so? What do you call us, since most of us can do and do both( work from plans and design and build from our imaginations, hearts, etc.)? It will be interesting to see what the final definition is, that is agreed upon.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4297 days

#11 posted 05-27-2007 03:06 PM

Funny how we are all able to compare artIST and craftsman, but not artiSAN and craftsman.

after pondering this for the past several months, I’m no closer to defining a difference, save which sounds better with a particular medium. Artisan sounds better with crafts (rugs, weaving, leatherwork, even bread). – not sure about boxes, tables and home interiors.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

656 posts in 4103 days

#12 posted 05-27-2007 03:33 PM

It’s funny how things work because I just happened upon this topic and I’m in the middle of a carving that will have a quote from an unknown author on it that goes with this topic.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

!Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket!

As you can see I liked it so much that I chose to make it be known that I believe in it. I can't seem to get the picture to come up so I will post as a project. Sorry!

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View gizmodyne's profile


1777 posts in 4060 days

#13 posted 05-27-2007 04:29 PM

I finally read this post. I agree with the spirit of the quote of Mark’s friend; most likely the oil refinery was not going to be the place to get it going.

I don’t agree with the definition of art given, as I do believe that art can be functional. I think we had a recent discussion elsewhere that delved into modern art, form vs. function, etc.

I think this is a pretty artsy discussion however, therefore indicating to me that many of you, and I as well, are seeking artist’s paths in some form.

Art doesn’t require a skill level. I think about the guy who built the Watt’s Towers in his back yard, or average guys in my first wood class who had this desire to expresss themselves as demonstrated in highly detailed mallets and tool boxes.

If you have not heard, PBS is airing a show on Craft in America on May 30th, 2007. This might illuminate this topic. Maloof and Nakashima will be featured. Cool preview video here:

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4006 days

#14 posted 05-27-2007 04:33 PM

Up in Canuckistan, it would have to lean towards what Mark said. An artisan is involved in the conception, design, plan and build. A craftsman makes what he is commisioned, from plan, picture or crayons on the floor. But the artisan is the person that looks at the location, the mood, the theme and makes a piece to suite. The craftsman and artisan will have skills on par with the actual creation of the piece. Just my thoughts.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4131 days

#15 posted 05-27-2007 06:47 PM

I would agree with several others that there is a difference, but defining that difference it difficult. I think it is kind of like a pie, the filling you have may be more artist or more craftsman, but both are a necessary ingredients. Someone has to design and create it, but someone also has to build it. The artist has to know some amount of craft to create their conception, and a craftsman has to have at least a small eye for art to finish their work.

For myself, I say I fall more of the craftsmanship side than the artist. I can build things from plans, modify them, even come up with some interesting designs. But, I do not say these are works of art. Maybe that comes with being a more left brain person, but there is at least a little bit of artist there to help the process along.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

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