Is Native Art really art or craft?

The first question I would ask is why wouldn’t it be art? Since my interest in native art grew evolving into venturing into the art industry, I have engaged in many interesting conversations with different people debating and trying to convince that native art is not art or that it is indeed art. At first, I felt compelled to defend it as art, eventually I thought. Either way, I would not say that wither way I have heard strong enough arguments why it is and why it isn’t. Yes, I hear opinions, but people normally cannot rightly articulate the right arguments. Well, for me, why would you? Why would you want to argue either way? In fact, among academics and experts, the same debate continues in terms of whether it is just art or fine art. Let’s pretend we can put aside just for a moment the academic layer laid over “products” let’s call it for now, and as you look at a painting or print ask yourself whether you would love to have that piece and hang it on one of your walls or there’s no way that you would. Now, why do you have that opinion? What caused you to love it or to hate it? Because you think it’s craft or because you think it’s art? Is it because you think it’s a good investment or waste of money? In the first case, you have allowed yourself to penetrate into the world the artist created for you to enter and appealed and stimulated your sensibility. Why should there be more and why should you bother answering whether it’s craft or it’s art? If you love it and would love to have it in your house, why not have it and feel proud to display.

Now, today, yes today because I may change my opinion tomorrow or next week or next year, today I agree with one definition of what is art and what craft is. But first, let me ask you, is the Mona Lisa art? What if Leonardo da Vinci had created two identical Mona Lisa paintings? Are they both art? What if Leonardo had focused his entire artistic life to perfecting the Mona Lisa and produced hundreds of beautiful Mona Lisa paintings each difficult to differentiate but technically better and better from year to year? Are these hundreds of Mona Lisa paintings art? Is Leonardo still an artist? Here is the differentiator for me. In the first case where Leonardo only creates one Mona Lisa, as he did (that we know of) the Mona Lisa is a piece of art because it is unique, it is innovative, it is expressive of the artist’s influence during the time in his life. In the second case, where we have hundreds of ‘attempts’ to me that would now make Leonardo a craftsman, or perhaps a performer of his own art, and the Mona Lisa (s) would be crafts or perhaps performances. Why? Now the intention moves from expression and innovation to technical perfectionism. It no longer is about creation, it’s now about perfecting technical skills, which is the focus of craftsmanship. A carpenter that dedicates his life to perfecting his techniques becomes a better and better craftsman.

I have shared my opinion and perhaps you may still be holding on to your own previous perceptions and arguments. We might agree on the classification but disagree on the arguments and argue the arguments instead. You see, this is not about convincing as there will always be disagreements, which curiously makes art the more interesting. However, I do hold that the value for your hard earned money when you buy a “product” is assigned whenever you walk by your new product and you feel proud to own it and display it in your home and talk to your friends what you know about it. What does it matter whether some people call it art and some people call it craft, when it makes you happy and stimulates your senses.