For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Artist or Crafts(wo)man?"

by Varkøy, Øivind; Angelo, Elin; Rolle, Christian (2020)


Are orchestral musicians artists or crafts(wo)men? This article offers a principal discussion of the concepts of artist and crafts(wo)man, as well as the relation between these concepts, from a philosophical point of view. We discuss the concept of ‘the crafts(wo)man’ based on Richard Sennett’s discussions of this concept, in which Hannah Arendt’s thinking plays an important role. Then, we turn our attention to Aristotle’s distinction between poiesis and praxis, as well as his concept of techné, as discussed by Martin Heidegger, and Plato’s discussion of inspiration as a basic fundament for artistic performance. Next, we address Walter Benjamin’s discussion on artwork in an age of technological reproducibility, and we draw lines between characteristic aspects in Sennett’s argument and the tension between professional thinking and the philosophy of art. This article is part of the ongoing project, Discourses of Academization and the Music Profession in Higher Music Education (DAPHME), conducted by a team of senior researchers in Sweden, Norway and Germany and founded by the Swedish Riksbank. The overall purpose of DAPHME is to investigate how processes of academisation affect students at institutes of higher music education in Europe, especially the education of orchestral musicians of the Western classical tradition.

Key Passage

At the same time, however, we are aware that crafts(wo)men may consider good work to have value in itself. In this case, experiences have meaning that can be found in the process of handcrafting, exclusively for the crafts(wo)man him-/herself. No score of music, no novel, no painting can be said to have intrinsic value as products. The products of crafts(wo)men are means with ends outside themselves. Similarly, in Sennett’s definition of the crafts(wo)man (in Arendt’s terms, Homo faber) as a person who is dedicated to good work for its own sake, he speaks of the process of good work as having meaning and value for the engaged crafts(wo)men and not the product of the process. Sennett is interested in the phenomenon of people working with dedication and devotion. This is not restricted to artists. It is also possible that Sennett’s argument serves his project of raising the status of craft and the crafts(wo)men more than as a philosophical argument about different forms of human activities. By raising the status of the crafts(wo)man in focusing on the crafts(wo)man’s work as “work for its own sake”, Sennett problematises the traditional distinction between art and craft in an interesting way.  (p.15)


Craftsman, Artist, Homo Faber, Animal Laborans, Poiesis, Praxis, Arendt, Techne



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