Art vs. Craft

I’m reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin—great read so far and a kick in the pants against complacency. I’ll post more of my thoughts on the book when I get through the rest of it. (Short version: Go get it now!!)

But already it has started me thinking more about the difference between art and craft, and how that difference should guide how I use my time and target my personal development.

Art is the design, the creative input that makes something great. Art as defined here is much broader than something that hangs on the wall: it’s on display when a salesperson engages someone in a directed conversation or when a developer designs an innovative user interface. Art is not linear or predictable and cannot be packaged as a commodity. It can’t be taught, but it can be buried.

Craft, on the other hand is a technical skill. It is linear and can be taught. Craft is the process of building something to spec. It’s critical, but since it is predictable and teachable, it’s more of a commodity than art.

When I look at how I spend my time and add value in my work, I sometimes get hung up on the craft because it can be fun and challenging. But when I look at my best work, I’m proud of it because of the emotional investment and creativity in it, not by any technical aspects of its execution. I think I need to keep watching what I do so I don’t get too deep into the weeds on execution (craft) and let the displace what has real meaning (art).

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