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Let’s Discuss Art Versus Craft

by Jean Van't Hul
March 6, 2008

Perhaps it’s time for a discussion of art versus craft. You may have noticed that one was started in the comments to the interview with Barbara Zaborowski. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but just want to get this started… Please feel free to comment and share your viewpoint.

First, let’s look at MaryAnn F. Kohl’s paragraph about craft versus art from my interview with her since I think she describes them both well and succinctly:

“I would like to differentiate between “ART” and “CRAFT”. Craft follows distinct steps to a required or expected outcome. Fun, yes, but not art. Art has no planned outcome, though there may be some specialized materials and techniques to use. The results are not planned or expected. Art is free. Craft is static. Process, not product.”

Personally I think that both art and craft are great in the right contexts.

I focus on art in my blog for a number of reasons. My education and background are in art for one, as is my interest. And since my own daughter is only 2 ½, I focus even more on activities that a young child can do and enjoy. I think that young children benefit more from a free exploration of materials and the freedom to create their own unique finished product than they do if they are asked to attempt to recreate an Easter Bunny out of construction paper and cotton balls.

That’s not to say that I don’t and won’t post about crafts or that we won’t ever make Easter Bunnies.

Crafts can be fun too! And of course it’s okay to make crafts with your children. I don’t do much of that yet with Maia because at 2 ½ I think she’s too young to wield scissors for one thing (I tried recently and she put them in her mouth) or to follow the directions for making most crafts. And because I want her first bunny to be a completely unique Maia creation rather than one that I think she ought to make. I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot more crafts with her over the years, including making paper chain garlands, holiday crafts and decorations, sewing projects, etc. I even subscribe to and enjoy FamilyFun, a magazine that is chock-full of crafts for families.

I do think, however, that crafts are over-used in childhood education in general, and often at the expense of art or even in the name of art. I know they were in the many public elementary schools I attended as a child. And I grew to hate it. I was someone who drew and painted a lot at home but when it came to “art time” at school, I had to cut out the same animal or holiday shape from construction paper as everyone else and glue it together in a predetermined way. I thought at the time, and still do, that it was often used as meaningless busy work to keep us occupied and quiet but not necessarily learning.

On the other hand, I think childhood crafts can be fun and even wonderful if the child wants to make them and if the maker has the freedom and encouragement to add his or her own creative touch.

Adults who craft do it because they love crafting and because they have the freedom to endlessly embellish and alter and add their own mark. They can create something original that they are proud of. Let’s give children the same freedom to create original rather than “cookie-cutter” crafts, even if it just means the freedom to make their tree purple rather than green.

What do you think?

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