Arts and Crafts

Enough about art.

I’m here to talk about craft.

Not the Martha and her hot-glue gun kind of craft.

Or those dreadful outdoor fairs filled with stained-glass wine coasters and Labrador retrievers made out of macramé.

No, I’m talking about the look-how-beautifully-everything-fits-together kind of craft.

The first-you-make-the-sushi-rice-for-seven-years-and-then-you-can-slice-the-fish kind of craft.

And my point is that while a few ads do legitimately aspire to the level of art, craft is what keeps hundreds of ads every year from outright sucking.

Say “craft” to many in our business and the image that comes to mind is the prima donna sociopath, endlessly re-kerning type while the traffic manager flips out. If there’s someone like that at your agency, he may or may not be an artist. But he’s not a craftsman.*

Real craftsmen have a smoothness, an economy of thought and movement, that tempers their obsessive attention to detail. “Measure twice, cut once,” as the carpenter’s maxim goes.

Here are some other differences between art and craft:

Artists want—no, need– their creation to be new and original.

Craftsmen have different, more immediate worries. Is it well-made? Is it honest? Does it work? Will it wear well?

The joy of art is in the conceiving and the beholding. The joy of craft is in the making.

Artists sign their work. Craftsmen do their work, and if they do it well and long enough, the work itself becomes a calling card.

Art is high-maintenance. Who does the maintaining? Craftsmen.

Art concerns itself with Big Things. Craft is democratic. Small-space trade ads, national TV campaigns, they all are things to be crafted. And if anything, the craft shines more brightly in the dark recesses of the obscure trade journal than in the glare of prime time.

Because, let’s face it, not a lot of people notice.

Only stubborn pride in craft compels an art director to slave over all those nasty titles in the Summer Sales Event spot so they come out clean and graphically coherent.

Meter, rhythm, syntax—if they’re in that bank-ad body copy at all, it’s because a craft-obsessed writer put them there.

That’s why, if I were a client, and I had to choose whether artists or craftsmen worked on my business, it would be such a no-brainer. It’s like asking a homeowner about to do a major addition whether he’d rather have Frank Gehry or Norm Abrams from “This Old House.”

Hell, I bet even Frank Gehry would rather have Norm.

*Apologies upfront to female practitioners. Craftsperson? Craftswoman? The language hasn’t caught up to the reality of your skills.


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