Blurred lines: is it art or craft?

A brooch designed by Eimear Conyard, who won the jewellery design prize at the RDS National Craft Awards. Eimear says jewellery is also art.

Craft-work was distilled to a pure form at this year’s RDS National Craft Awards, and a number of these works could have been transported across the hall to merge with the concurrent RDS Students Art Awards.

Both exhibitions are on display in Limerick, in deference to its status as the 2014 City of Culture. If art conveys an idea, or explores the human condition, or is (merely) aesthetics, then visitors to the show have plenty to mull over with the students.

But much of the craft challenges prescribed perceptions. RDS arts programme executive, Dara O’Leary, says: “Much craft work often features a strong artistic element. Previously, the majority of craft would have focused on functionality but, increasingly, we are seeing more decorative craft that is not necessarily functional, really breaking away from craft as viewed in the traditional sense.

“The RDS Student Art Awards Exhibition is more in the realm of visual art but, increasingly, there is a blurred line and many entries each year are from student artists who are working in a craft medium and exploring conceptual ideas.

“Last year, we had a student artist that used a combination of digital printing and embroidery — traditionally a craft medium — in a wall-hung visual art piece that explored her own national identity. One of last year’s winners presented an installation comprising of ceramic tablets, and several of this year’s student art exhibitors are working in the medium of ceramics.”

The judging panel assessed the craft awards under four headings: craftsmanship, design, creativity and presentation.

Epitomising the notion of craft as an art is jewellery award-winner Eimear Conyard, who also designs watches. “The idea that jewellery is not merely adornment, but also an object independent from the body, has been a driving force in my work as a jewellery and timepiece designer over the past 18 years,” says Conyard, who is based in Kilkenny.

“Making something functional does not mean it cannot be art. After all, art has a function for me, as it feeds my soul. As a crafts person and designer/maker, I ask the question: ‘Is it the art of the craft or the craft or the art?’” says Conyard.

“Crafts people now make craft for the art collectors and art galleries, and the blurring of the lines between art and craft has been driven by the needs and wants of the market,” says Conyard, who is the manager of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland’s Jewellery and Goldsmithing Skills and Design Course.

The craft awards show is at the Hunt Museum until Oct 10, while the student show is at the Bourn Vincent Gallery, UL. Work by Eimear Conyard is also at SO Gallery, Dublin, until Oct 17, as part of an exhibition by the Irish Designer Goldsmiths.


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