Dangerous Liaisons: Relationships between Design, Craft and Art

Grace Lees-Maffei, Linda Sandino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


The title for this special issue takes its starting point from Choderlos de Laclos’ novel depicting the machinations, seduction and jealousies of a ménage a trois, a fitting analogy for the complex matrices of the affinities between design, craft and art over the last two hundred years. Drawing on our analogy, design, craft and art can be seen to occupy an unstable territory of permanently shifting allegiances and this is true of both the histories of these three sets of practices and the three families of discourses surrounding them. The evolving nature of design practice on the part of some leading exponents defies categorisation: the designed goods of groups such as Droog and manufacturers such as Alessi demonstrate a concern for allusive and narrative qualities beyond functionalism. The claim to art status by some craft practitioners of this century and the last is more vociferous than ever and recent fine art practice has increasingly looked outside of the armoury of fine art techniques to employ strategies previously considered to fall into the domain of material culture, architecture and design, and processes more traditionally associated with the crafts. The rich and deepening liaison of textiles and fine art exemplifies this dynamic; Dale Chihuly's work provides another example of such convergence. Existing debates have centred on liaisons between these practices and their objects as subject to a conventional hierarchy of the visual arts with fine art as the dominant partner. More recently, however, questions of status are seen as no longer relevant, and understanding of the development of these cultural strains has been seen in terms of parallel development, or convergence, rather than hierarchy. Where design, art and craft can be seen to have existed distinctly, it is important to consider the extent to which these practices have developed internal principles or characteristics or whether those principles have been forged solely in contradistinction from one another. To appreciate the significance of liaisons between design, craft, and art it is necessary to interrogate the mutually informative relationship between practice and discourse. The principles that define the differences and relations between design, art and craft are subject to historical change and vary regionally and culturally. This introduction proposes what the following articles demonstrate: namely that the interplay between design, craft and art are a compelling and revealing focal point for analysis. The articles demonstrate, in addition, the inadequacy of normative or unchanging usage of the terms design, craft and art, which are mutable in relation to both time and space. This introduction reviews some salient instances in the development of discourses about the interplay of design, art and craft while the following articles identify case studies of visual and material practice which mobilise, or confound, normative categories in a manner which invalidates or at least complicates discourses dependent upon conventionally discrete definitions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-219
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Design History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2004


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