Lindsey Studio, (1854-55) Amid the Renaissance, in Italy artists

Lindsey Wheatley

Essay 1

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Throughout art history there has been a
debate on the status of what we call an ‘artist’ which is viewed as more
imperative than the status of the artisan; which has been disintegrated
throughout history. The focus of this issue has been influenced by the evolution
of the Renaissance artist from the society of medieval craftsmen. There are
many aspects that will be explored on this issue. One of the main topics that
will be examined is how the artist gained this hierarchy in comparison to the
craftsmen. Two significant factors that contributed to this hierarchy of status
had a lot to do with the art academies and guilds that were establishing how
art and craft were being defined. Another issue that will be explored is the
difference between art and craft; as well as the differences between the artist
and the artisan. Also looking at the aspect of autonomy and originality; if
both are capable of existing within each other. Lastly the evolution of the
artist and artisan will be discussed in terms of how we now see the two being
correlated in the art world; examining how and why these changes have occurred.

During the Renaissance there was a rise
for works of art that led to the rising of the artist; which during this time
were members of the middle class. Artists went from having no foundation to
progressing into a socially and economically viable group. Artists during this
time had craft workshops that were equivalent to their studios; which were
filled with assistants and apprentices. The workshops were commenced by pairs
of artisans and masters who taught the apprentices into further development of
what they were specialising in. These apprentices

would
eventually remove themselves from pure craft activities once they left the
guilds.

Gustave Courbet’s The Artist Studio, (1854-55)

Amid the Renaissance, in Italy artists
were appreciated and valued by the Italian princes and despots. Artists in
Italy were less reliant on the guilds which resulted in being regularly
employed by the courts. The princes emphasized the importance enticing their
courts to exceptionally skilled masters, but also specific artists who weren’t
familiar with the territory, this resulted in being released from the constraints
of the guild rules.  Hauser (1951)
states,

“The emancipation of the
artists from the guilds is, therefore, not the result of their own heightened
self-respect and the acknowledgement of their claim to be considered on an
equal footing with the poets and scholars, but results from the fact that their
services are needed and have been competed for.” (p 50)

Their dignity is simply their voice to how
much they thought they were worth. Because of how much importance was put on
the demand for their work, it resulted into this higher status of necessity.

Amidst the Middle Ages, masters and
journeymen aspired to establish themselves as individual entrepreneurs. Their
intentions were to hire assistants without having the obligation to instruct
them. Their expansion highly relied on making themselves known for their goods;
which is what we now refer to as a “brand label.”  During the material culture of the
Renaissance, the name of the maker had become admittedly essential when selling
the good. For example, with Cellini’s saltcellar falls, because it had a
practical use it attracted attention to it and its maker. If a craftsman
created their work with a certain uniqueness they at many times thrived and
became well known. Even though craft had attracted attention, in Europe during the
sixteenth century there had developed an apparent distinction between the artist
and craftsmen.

Benvenuto Cellini, Saliera (salt cellar), (1540-1543)

The expansion of art academies was
evidence of and the push to the rise of the artist status. The main goal
academies were attempting to accomplish was to create a hierarchy of subjects. Artists
were now put in the same class as men of intellect and enquiry, like
philosophers, scientists, writers and mathematicians. Whereas craftsmen would
be categorized as manual labour workers. This had a lot to do with the argument
of whether an object could be used or not.

Objects like glass or a ceramic plate
would be categorised to the lesser world of craft. Whereas a work of art would
directly exist as itself; even if it didn’t possess a message or concept.
Therefore, a piece of art was valued more than something that was made to be
used.  The most frequent question asked
is how art and craft are different. Sennet (2006) states that,

In terms of numbers this is
a narrow question; professional artists form a mere        speck on the population, whereas
craftsmanship extends to all sorts of labours.” (pg. 65)

In the “Craftsmen” Sennet discusses how
to the Wittikowers fixed artists on a more autonomous foundation than the
craftsman. The artist would affirm originality for his work; originality was
the character of someone who worked alone. Sennet gives Cellini as an example,
and how originality brought on social dependence, and humiliation. When leaving
the guild, Cellini entered the court life blindly without having any idea what
his work was worth. Sennet states,

“his experiences of
unrequited dependency and misunderstanding heightened his self-consciousness” (pg.
71)  

 

 

Cellini’s story illustrates the
sociological difference between craft and art. Both inhabit an agency; art has
one leading agent, craft entails a unified agency. Both renowned by time, the quick
versus the lagging. Ultimately, they are renowned by autonomy. According to
Sennet the artist may have had less because they are more reliant on wilful
power which results in being more vulnerable in comparison to the body of a
craftsmen.

In recent years the highly crafted
aesthetic in art made a reoccurrence. Visual artists have broadened their
skills with new techniques and methods. Artist’s now can make work on a grander
scale working with an assortment of mediums. With the growth of creative and
technical aspiration, many artists are now teaming up with others to help
realize their art. Overtime the traditional belief that an artist works alone
has changed. The “artist” is now defined as someone who directs the project to
those that have specialised in a certain technique and do most of the work.
This idea isn’t uncommon and has been seen through history. We now see art and
craft being used together more and more. In
The Art of Not Making, Petry has a section where he talks about Fred Wilson,
an American artist. Wilson wanted to work with glass because it was something
he had never worked with before. He collaborated with Dante Marioni, who is one
of the best glassblowers in the US. Wilson states,

“I wanted to use materials that were
extremely difficult to make art with, because they are heavily laden with other
issues – the notion of craft.” (pg. 28)

Collaborating with Marioni helped Wilson
understand the properties of glass and was able to accomplish his vision. Dark Dawn was a piece blown by Marioni,
the drop like forms refer not only to the tears of slavery, but also to oil.

Fred Wilson, Dark Dawn (2005)

Since the start of the art history the
status of the artist and artisan has further developed and changed. The artist status
transformed quickly as soon as they became recognised by those of a higher
class; those in royalty. Most of the change in status came from the standards
academies and guilds were setting. However, as time went on there was still
this argument on whether art and craft could correlate. The definition of the
two during this time caused a continual argument over which one contained a
practical or non-practical use. Now in todays art world, we see the drastic
change of the artist and artisan. With the rise in aesthetic art, we now see
artists exploring new mediums and techniques. This has resulted the artist and the
craftsmen working together and both learning new techniques. Overall history
has shown that the role of the craftsman, artisan, and artist contains
different definitions in the Western and non-Western culture.