One of the vital truths made clear by collections that illustrate the history of the arts is the essential identity of Art and Craftsmanship. The sculptor, the painter and the story-teller in their work and in their achievements share the same traditions as the mason, the goldsmith, and the weaver. Whenever in the world’s history, this identification was an accepted fact, when a close association between Art and Craftsmanship marked the order of things, when the atelier was the workshop, when the artist and the craftsman were one, then great works were wrought and great names were handed down. Whenever an artificial distinction arose, Art, entering a barren field, became the subject of affectation and Craftsmanship was debased. Such a distinction does not correspond to any reality of life.
Donatello carried throughout his career the consciousness that he acquired during the years of his apprenticeship to a mason. Michelangelo claimed that he was a sculptor because his wet nurse was a stonecutter’s wife. When artists attempt to set up among themselves an exclusive cult based on a belief in some form of special dispensation, it means that Art is dead. When artists will forget to think of their occupation as a thing apart, and of themselves as distinct from mankind; when they discover that they are craftsmen and belong to the great company of masons and goldsmiths and carpenters with Donatello and Ghirlandajo and Michelangelo, then they will get back their great traditions and come to their own again. The artist is known by his handiwork; in this alone his gift reveals itself. The good artist is the good workman and the good workman is the good artist. No freak ever was a good workman.
It would be a good thing to consider seriously this true saying in its relation to the art and the craftsmanship of the present day. It would be a good thing too to consider it in its obvious relation to the workman himself and to inquire whether he has anything in his outlook so good as the clean ideals and constructive aims of the past. Such an inquiry will not fail to show that destructive methods, undoing the old traditions, will extinguish the soul of the artist and leave his vessel stranded. Methods that lower the tone of his handicraft will in no way help the workman or contribute to the happiness of his lot.
G. B. G.