Art or Craft?
Is writing an Art or a Craft? Scholars far brighter than I have debated this issue over time. Like many philosophical issues, the answer is “it depends.”
Dictionary.com defines Art as: “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” It defines Craft as: “an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill.”
Craft is a tool to achieve Art. However, there is an implied perception that Craft may be learned (to some extent) whereby Art is a God given talent. Of course, both assertions are true to some extent but false in other examples. Anyone can learn the basics of writing just as they can learn the basics of how to hold a paint brush or how to finger the strings on a guitar. When I turned forty I took a year of piano lessons and learned that no matter how much I practiced, I would always be a terrible piano player (I was so rhythmically challenged that after a year of dealing with me, my instructor quit giving lessons for good.) There are also those people who can sit down at day one and automatically apply all of the elements of craft to achieve wonderful artistic expression without going through the painful learning process. I’m reminded of the scene in Amadeus when Salieri sees one of Mozart’s first drafts and is astonished when he sees few if any notes of correction.
Natural prodigies are frustrating for those of us who have to labor to learn enough craft to achieve even the smallest amount of artistic expression. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t soldier on.
The mission of a writer is always to entertain and enlighten. This mission holds whether a person is writing business letters and reports, poetry, fiction or a philosophical teatise. It’s just that the mix of enlightenment and entertainment may be different. (I guess there is a level of enlightenment achieved by reading Fifty Shades… but…)
Writing is like any Art form in that it is extremely beneficial to know the elements of Craft to sufficiently create Art. The Craft elements or rules should be looked at as guidelines to achieve the overall goal of the writing. A writer needs to understand the purpose of the writing to effectively address the reader.