Is Silk Painting Art or Craft?

‘Flowering Gum’ by Gabogrecan

I went to enter an art competition with one of my silk paintings, only to be told that silk painting was not considered to be art, but rather it came under the realm of craft.

So what is the difference? Well, I taught Art and craft for over 20 years in secondary collages and for 18 years part time for the National Art Gallery of Victoria, so I feel as though I have the skills and expertise to be able to make a responsible and intellectual comment here.

I think of art as the creative expression of the artist. It begins with an idea, then often there is research and inevitably the drawing of a design. Finally the artist produces the work of art by utilising a craft technique of their choosing. It may be oil, watercolour, collage, silk/fabrics, clay etc.

Now, I know that some artists can simply take a canvas and begin to throw colour around and come up with a pretty sensational work of art. Basically Jackson Pollock and Pro Hart completed some fine works using this ‘spur of the moment’ technique. So, virtually their art work came directly from the expression of their idea and strong sense of colour, tone, texture etc.

So why do we have a ‘thing’ about whether it is art or craft? If the craftsman simply copies an idea or technique from another and produces a finished work, then I guess you could say it is just craft as there is no initial creative ideas to express. The craftsman is more interested in the technique than the artistic expression of an idea.

I guess I have seen some silk painting that is simply a piece of craft; but please don’t put all silk painters into the same basket. Silk painting has grown from Batik and there are many famous Batik artists (especially in Asia). I don’t think anyone would knock their ‘work of art’ and simply refer to it as a ‘craft’ item.

Here is one of my designs for a major wall hanging to hang in the waiting room of Blamey and Saunders Hearing in a beautifully restored Heritage Trust building in East Melbourne. For me, this drawing is the basis of my ‘creative expression’. I love developing a strong organic contour for the basis of my colour and decorative work of art to follow.

Apart from simply drawing, I am also very interested in the use of both positive and negative space. I like my ‘background’ to be as important a space as my images; in fact I always paint the negative space (background) first, to ensure that I treat it as an important part of my design.

Now, getting this design onto the silk is a real exercise in craft. There is nothing creative here – just hard work; but it is essential preparation to enable me to be again creative with my use of colour and texture in the final stage of its development.

If you would like me to teach you just how to get your silk painting to award winning status, as I did, join my online Silk Painting Course now.

39 thoughts on “Is Silk Painting Art or Craft?

  1. Melanie

    Love Pollock’s artwork! But these silk paintings look just as unique. I see it as more of an artwork, but it’s beautiful nonetheless!

  2. rebeca

    A very good selection of information about silk paininting. Thanks for such a great article; it definitely helps to me to understand better

  3. cherrrieee

    Silk painting is definitely an art, despite what they say. The act of silk painting may be a craft, but the final result, being a work of individual creative expression, is most certainly art.

  4. Eric Pinola

    I am going to say that it is definitely a work of ART. Your paintings are beautiful and way out of the craft realm.

  5. DeeDee

    I think anything that has an individual touch can be considered an art. If you’re barely personalizing what the other guy can do, though, it’s probably a craft.

  6. Mike Gerke

    The “flowering gum” above is quite lovely. As far as I’m concerned, if you create it, draw it and paint it, it is art, regardless of the medium.

  7. Chris

    You bring up some great points about distinguishing art from a craft. I have often pondered that issue myself. I would have to agree with you. I think that anytime the maker adds their own artistic expression, their creation is art.

  8. Doug A.

    Nice article! Personally, I think that silk painting is a craft – simply because of the little intricacies that go into it.

  9. Catherine

    A tricky one as it sits on the dividing line because of the use of Gutta to create a resist but I personally would call it art as opposed to craft when it is used to create a painting that would hang on a wall.

  10. kristin

    I believe Skill Painting is Both. I lean toward an art but depends because one puts time effort, feeling, thought & emotion not to mention the hard work. A craft is something one enjoys doing on spare time like a hobby. Truly whatever makes one happy for me its Art

  11. Klicka

    This is an awesome way to express your feelings to others. Thanks for letting me know about silk painting.

  12. Maggie

    I guess i didnt realize people still did silk painting. I personally love human created crafts…. not from machines. I think that silk painting is absolutly beautiful!

  13. Sharon Lewis

    hi from Sharon: Silk painting is definitely an art. I am a silk painter and I have seen very beautiful artistic work done on silk. Silk painting can be done in many ways. It can be fine art or craft.

  14. jasmine frank

    I totally agree with you, although they may have some rules on that competition to follow, I think that their definition of art is a little confusing. Art is an expression, an expression that lead to making craft.

  15. erin

    Silk Painting is definitely another way to express yourself as an individual, i believe it is both an art as well as a craft.

  16. Jess

    That looks like it takes tremendous skill. I work with all sort of different mediums and I may have to take a better look into skill painting.

  17. Tammy

    I think we need to redefine ‘art’ and ‘craft’. I think ‘craft’ should be used more to emphasize the technique or medium used, while ‘art’ should refer more to the results of such technique or medium, combined with passion and inspiration. For example, a child’s cardboard box covered with gold-painted pasta is a craft, but the love he puts into it for his mother makes it a work of art. Art without passion is not art; craft plus passion is more than mere craft.

    I believe your silk paintings are art, and you should be able to call it such.

  18. Chintan

    Very good article. I love doing painting and silk painting is a unique to show your talent.Nice piece of information.

  19. Tina Lane

    This is a very interesting topic indeed and although I’m by no means an expert on the subject I would say it depends on the finished piece. I have been painting on silk for the past 2 yrs and during this time I have learnt that while there aspects of craft required for the control of the process there is no doubt that many wonderful works of art can be achieved using this magical medium. I have painted several big cat pictures on silk using anti-fusant to the prevent flow of paint within the animal but not the background. Some people have said why do this on silk and not watercolour etc? I understand this statement however there is something quite special when it comes to painting on silk and it needs to be seen in reality to fully appreciate what I mean. I am still experimenting and have used acrylic paints as well as pastels on some of my work including my tiger painting. I would say on a personal note that my silkpaintings are more art than craft but there are elements of both within the process of creating them.

  20. Daniel Jean-Baptiste

    Great blog.

    Regarding what is a craft and what is art is a little hypocritical on the part of those who claim to be experts. Nobody can define what your art is, better yet I feel that the prices speak for themselves. Quite a lot of what is considered serious art today is just childish nonsense. There are no art experts, those who claim this title are simply part of a con job.

    1. Peter Post author

      What an interesting comment Daniel. I gues an ‘expert’ is someone who has years of experience and expertise in one field or another. But you could also say that anyone who knows more than another on a specific topic, is an expert (when compared to the person who knows little)’ I do not think that an expert is someone who knows everything or is better than everyone elser. On the other hand (if you take my first definition) then I do not believe that there is no such thing as an expert in art.

      And surely ‘serious art’ is serious to those who think it is serious at the time that it is done and does not have a lot to do with what the general public think e.g. Gauguin, Monet, Van Gogh etc

      I’m not sure what you measn by ‘prices speak for themselves’ – are you suggesting that the more expensive a work of art is the more genuine it is as ‘art’?

      I really do appreciate your thoughtful comment.

      1. Daniel Jean-Baptiste

        Anytime that you put labels on art you are now taking part in some type of prejudice, you are putting a judgement on the creation. Question all including the so called experts because the term “expert” is meant to make you stop doubting, don’t stop being a skeptic.

        The sad reality is that craft and low prices are synonymous.

        My only reason for art is in its beauty, I have no time for politics, culture or thinking.

  21. Tessa

    Barbara I agree with your definitions of art and craft and would like to add this quote
    ‘Fine art is that in which the hand head and heart and eye work together.’ Ruskin

    Woven linen is used for oil paintings so why do some groups ‘pick on’ and exclude painting on woven silk? This prejudice may have it’s origins in gender bias and associations with women and sewing. It’s a pity as beautiful works of art are also made by women sewing. The vast majority of silk painters are women. Occasionally men come to one of my silk painting talks but are usually reluctant to try it themselves at a class.

    I think that more art groups in the UK are accepting silk paintings for exhibition now.


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