It is a constant discussion. It is therapeutic for children (adults too) to make things. Yes, it can be a learning and creative experience too. Often arts and crafts are a way to occupy one’s time and de-stress, use your hands and mind to some degree, in a pleasant constructive way. I know there are lots of craft lovers out there who may not be too happy with me after this post, so if you love your crafts, it may be time to stop reading.
I am not bashing crafts, all good. Stores like Michael’s have made hobbies, crafts and scrapbooking into a very detailed, sophisticated outlet. Simple definition: A craft is that in which one uses ones hands to make something, most likely for a particular purpose. It is skilled work which may involve the development of a technique, such as pottery or flower arranging. You have to know how to throw pottery on a wheel, glaze, fire etc. Some pottery is very beautiful, and it is art, but also has a purpose, right? A scrapbook is to relive memories and at the same time, is more appealing when it is expressive and aesthetically pleasing. An arrangement of dried flowers-no real practical purpose there except to enhance the way something looks, can be aesthetically pleasing. So is it art? It takes some skill, but how much skill? Is it at the level of a Van Gogh painting? How about woodworking? You need skill to do that and it does reap a practical result, perhaps a chair or a dresser. I think you get where I am going.
So then, What is art? Does art have no practical value? Is it just a statement? Does it have a purpose if all it does is evoke emotion or communicate something beyond the obvious? It too requires skill and development of technique. My humble opinion is it requires more of that than a craft, and then you have a Jackson Pollock painting and you think, “What skill?'” There is actually a lot of skill behind Jackson Pollock. So does it involve a certain number of years to learn and study a discipline and practice to continually perfect? Is it art if it stimulates thought or emotion? Is art, art in part because no one thought of expressing something in the same way?
I want people to do what makes them feel good, especially in recreation. Arts and crafts are for hobbies and recreation, not academic pursuit. Art or the Arts can be for self and creative expression that results in works for public display or participation. Thus a difference in the level of the quality, and as a result, the process. In teaching children and considering an arts integrated curriculum or the infusion of the arts (all of the arts) into a STEM curriculum, the question of making things and arts and crafts crosses my mind frequently. What makes something “art?”
I have said, STE[a]M education is not arts and crafts. Project Based Learning or Inquiry Based Learning should not be a poster board for arts and crafts. If you are going to build something, such as a bridge out of what are essentially popsicle sticks, you must understand the design and structure and purpose. It is the substance behind the craft, and at the same time, you need the skill. I think that true art, in whatever form, involves process and time. It involves imagination, trial and error and repetition to strive to improve. And above all, it involves communication. You must have something to say. The art is the vehicle or vessel.
In a recent conversation, the kind you have with your child as captive in the car, my son and I discussed arts and crafts versus art. I talked to him about my experience and life as a performing musician, not much of which he remembers. After describing how it was for me and my perception of my work, he said, “it sounds like engineering.” I said well, it has many similarities. There is a problem and you have to solve it. In the case or art or music, the problem is learning the music to perform at a high level and gaining the technical mastery to do this. In addition, there is having something unique to say, but within the confines of what is written. My interpretation of Piece X should be different from anybody else’s.There is a process and procedure, in essence, a design of how to do it. It may not be the same for everyone, but there must be one. Practicing with no method or plan is useless. As well, practicing by rote is useless, and copying is just not okay. I equate that to the filling out of a worksheet or coloring in the lines on an existing drawing. You need a very small part of your mental power. Music must be analyzed and the history and cultural time in which it was written studied. If it is a character, like in any play or movie, one needs to understand personality and motive. Art in its pure form exists with many levels. Craft is exactly that, a craft or well-done task.
Not to belabor the difference between art and craft, I will wrap it up. My point is if we are to add the arts to education to gain academic depth, there must be a process and a protocol. Let’s not just make stuff. Let’s dig deeper than that.