Letterpress: Art or Craft?

Some thoughts by our director on the art vs. craft debate as it applies to letterpress. What do you think? Is it an art? A craft? Both? Neither?

Kelsey Jackson Williams

Anyone who has spent much time in the world of visual and material culture will be familiar with the so-called “art vs. craft debate”.  Rooted in early modern and modern western European distinctions between (fine) “art”, e.g., Michelangelo’s David, and (not so fine) “craft”, e.g., a Toby jug, this perceived duality continues to echo through the contemporary art world despite repeated attempts to destabilise it, recalibrate it, or simply ignore it altogether [1].

As a printer, I only began to think about where letterpress might fit into all of this last year when a glass maker of my acquaintance asked me, did I think of myself as an artist or a craftsman?  At the time I off-handedly said “craftsman”, but in reality I don’t think the answer can be quite so simple.

The problem is that both “art” and “craft” come with their own cultural baggage.  When we…

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