Thursday, July 28, 2011

Art vs. Crafts

photo credit: my sister.

Since we just finished up a series on Open-Ended Play, I wanted to share some thoughts my sister had on "Art vs. Craft".  In the early years especially, I've traditionally been a huge fan of open-ended art.  And I still am.  But as she points out 'craft' has its place too in the life of a young child.  She is guest blogging today and sharing her thoughts on the topic.  Enjoy the read.

I read a fascinating article discussing the difference between art and crafts last week, and the importance of art in child development. The article defines art as activity that “encourages a child’s originality and unique expression with an unknown outcome.” By contrast, crafts “involve the child’s reproducing an adult’s idea, while following directions to make a specific ‘thing’ – a known outcome.” Think of a rabbit of cotton balls on construction paper, modeled exactly off of a teacher’s version, verses a free-form collage of cotton balls.

Did you know there was a difference between art and crafts? The distinction is new to me, but it makes sense.

The author elevates art over crafts. She asserts that crafts do not require “original thinking” and “are meant to be useful or practical, or to reinforce a fact or learning theme” while “art is a unique form of creativity that inspires each individual child to be original and inventive and to think for himself.” That’s true to a great degree. And the culture tends to favors product over process. So most children think art is coloring books and crayola crayons, and languish for lack of freedom to paint abstractions with giant brushes and sidewalk paint in the driveway or erect cities of great splendor from toothpicks and marshmallows.

On the flip side, art without crafts is nothing. Crafts provides the opportunities to develop specific skills that can be bent and used during artistic endeavors. Indeed, much of art instruction is skill development through crafts. In grade school, my mom taught me the concept of perspective and how to draw a cube and a cylinder by copying her sketches while my aunt taught me the mathematical proportions of the human face for purposes of portraiture. Both my art teacher in junior high and my instructor at college spent most of their classes having us replicate other artwork or still-life arrangements. Public galleries are often scattered with art students bent over easels, copying the work of the masters. The point is not to be another Rembrandt; rather, a close study of Rembrandt can lend something to the quality and character of the student’s original work.

The conflict, then, is not between art and crafts, but the distortions that come from emphasizing one over the other. Art and crafts are equal partners in the creative process. For my own part, I’m now more conscious of the projects I give Evangeline. The majority of her creative work requires only her imagination plus art supplies. But I try to sneak in a couple projects a week where I’m drawing or painting or building something and allowing her to observe and copy if she likes, or even providing her printable coloring sheets where she gets to follow the lines of a third-party artist.

(Photo: The other day Evangeline asked for scissors and construction paper. Then a glue stick. A while later she brought her “boat” over to show me.)

attorney turned stay-at-home mom of two kiddos (3.5 years and 2years old), loving wife, crafter/artist extraordinaire, fashion consultant (to me, anyways), best-friend sister to two of us!


  1. This is great insight. I agree both art and crafts are important but I never thought of it that way! Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a fantastic post - I'm sharing it with our community. Thank you!!

  3. Here from HHH great post! Balance is great...good insight! Thanks! Following you on GFC!

  4. Stopping in and following from the HHH. I had never thought about the difference between arts and crafts before.

  5. wow. never, ever considered the difference between the two. but it totally makes sense. now i just have to figure out how to just let go and let them do art... mess and all. *sigh* thanks for the post, bethany!!