Although there is no hard definition, an "Art knife" is a term you might hear when talking about custom knives or knife collecting. Art knives are simply very creative and artistic knives. They may be artistic simply in their styling or they might be highly embellished with gold, gemstones or other exotic materials. Art knives are often targeted toward collectors who purchase them for their beauty and craftsmanship rather than functionality but some people do prefer to carry a very stylish and personalized knife that might be considered an art knife.
Some craftsmen are really more artist than knife maker. They simply choose knives as the medium for their art. Some people scoff at a knife that wouldn't be used but it's no different from buying a painting and displaying it because you like the beauty of it and appreciate the talent of the artist. To be considered a knife it must have a sharpened blade. Anything else is open to the imagination of the craftsman.
Art knives are really not unusual at all. Highly decorated knives, swords and guns have been around for centuries and were often presented as gifts to dignitaries or VIPs or to commemorate special events. The famous old west gunslingers often had pistols with fancy engraving and pearl handles. When the United States Marines fought and won the battle of Tripoli in 1805 a desert chieftain presented Marine Lieutenant O'Bannon with a scimitar to show his appreciation. The scimitar was used by Mameluke warriors of North Africa. By 1825, all Marine officers were mandated to wear the Mameluke sword.
The Knifemakers Guild, the oldest and largest continually operating custom knife organization and has always embraced the art knife for it's craftsmanship and artistic beauty. If you go to a Knifemakers Guild show you will see all kinds of handmade custom knives made by Guild members but it will include some of the worlds most outstanding examples of art knives by some of the worlds best knifemakers.
One of the most outstanding and most accomplished knife artists was the late Buster Warrensky whom some refer to as the father of art knives although the late W.W. Cronk also is often credited with that same honor. Today, many knifemakers carry on the tradition of the art knife including Gil Hibben, Wolfgang Loerchner , Zaza Revishvili, Van Barnett, Gail Lunn, Stan Wilson, Ronald Best and many, many others. Collectors often pay several thousand dollars for high end art knife made by a well known craftsman and some are valued in the hundreds of thousands.
As with any form of artistic expression, the "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder".
Buster Warenski Wes Hibben
Buster Warenski Van Barnett
Willlie B Ellis Mike Pellegrin
Willie B Ellis Gil Hibben
Stan Wilson Bill Luckett
Billy Mace Imel
Gail Lunn Harry Mathews
Pat Crawford Ronald Best
Ronald Best Stan Wilson