A Theory of Craft

Function and Aesthetic Expression

By Howard Risatti

Foreword by Kenneth R. Trapp

352 pp., 6.14 x 9.21, 44 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-0090-1
    Published: February 2013
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8907-7
    Published: September 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7997-4
    Published: September 2009

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What is craft? How is it different from fine art or design? In A Theory of Craft, Howard Risatti examines these issues by comparing handmade ceramics, glass, metalwork, weaving, and furniture to painting, sculpture, photography, and machine-made design from Bauhaus to the Memphis Group. He describes craft as uniquely blending function with a deeper expression of human values that transcend culture, time, and space. Craft must articulate a role for itself in contemporary society, says Risatti; otherwise it will be absorbed by fine art or design, and its singular approach to understanding the world will be lost.

About the Author

Howard Risatti is professor emeritus of art history at Virginia Commonwealth University. His four previous books include Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery and Postmodern Perspectives: Issues in Contemporary Art.
For more information about Howard Risatti, visit the Author Page.


"A well-organized argument for the consideration of craft as art and its elevation in status. . . . An important contribution to the field of contemporary craft activity and its contributions."--Wintherthur Portfolio

"Destined to become required reading for undergraduate and graduate courses in art and craft history. . . . A book worth waiting for."--Ceramics Monthly

"With a writing style that is direct and engaging, Risatti examines the value of the handmade in an age of mass-production and constructs a critical framework for evaluating the place of craft media in today's art environment."--FiberArts

"[A Theory of Craft] lays out reasons for the historical dichotomy in Western philosophy between fine art and crafts."--Library Journal

"Howard Risatti offers a very palatable narrative in A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression. Risatti dives headfirst into the craft versus art and design argument, peeling back the layers to understand the most basic definitions, functions and history of craft."--Arts Reader

"Risatti has long been ahead of the curve in regards to bridging the art/craft divide. . . . A tantalizingly broad argument for craft's relevance."--Surface Design Journal

Multimedia & Links

Read In a guest blog post, Howard Risatti revisits a question he received concerning ecological sensitivity for craftsmen and women, praising the teachings of M. C. Richards and others. Read "Environmentalism Reviving Tradition in Art"

Read In another guest blog post, Risatti addresses the change over time in motivations for producing art, questioning how this alters the esteem for craft. Read "Monetary Motivations in Art and Perceptions of Craft"