In the sphere of visual arts does it matter if something is called “art” or “crafts”?
Say it’s a rainy day and family members are voicing that common lament, “I’m bored!”
As a parent you have several choices to provide some interesting stimulation for the family, and crafts or art are among them. You’ve just been cleaning, so you spread a vinyl tablecloth on the table and start gathering items.
You put empty toilet paper tubes, glue, construction paper, pipe cleaners, yarn, scraps of ribbon, scissors, washable markers, that page of half-used stickers, some fabric remnants, a couple of bottle caps and some cardboard on the table. Now you call the kids (of any age) and say, “Let’s see what you can make.” And then you walk away.
Art, in this context, is seen as a process. The kind of learning that takes place and the skills valued in art aren’t just the techniques of how to hold or choose a brush. What is important in the process of making art is access to a supply of materials, including objects you may have at home anyway - “found objects” - and the time for the child, youth or adult to explore those materials. As the artist thinks creatively they are likely to come up with an original idea for how they want to use those materials and begins to plan how to create something new. At the beginning of this art process the outcome is often unknown and full of mystery or challenges which emotionally engages the artist which in turn provides internal motivation to complete the work. During the process of creating the artist is most likely going to use problem-solving skills such as deciding which item to attach next or even how to attach an item to the artwork. There may also be sharing or mentoring between the artists and they may even have invited friends to help. That makes you realize your kids are finally learning to work together and build community. By the time the art is complete, what began as unknown is now a unique representation of the artist’s personality and interests. The artist has expressed something that communicates to other people and often gives the artist a sense of accomplishment and self confidence.
It doesn’t matter if anyone else likes the art, it doesn’t matter if the kids (or adults) set the art aside or even if it eventually ends up in the trash. What does matter is that the individual has experienced all of the skills and learning modalities represented above by the words in bold. They have used thinking and reasoning skills, communication and language skills, and have exercised physical skills such as eye-hand coordination and fine or large motor skills. And they have experienced all of this in a purposeful way.
What then is learned from doing crafts? Many of the same skills are used in creating crafts, but the major difference is that a craft has a pre-determined process, a known outcome and is usually focused on a “product” that has been designed by someone else. The items produced will be similar to every other crafter’s item. There can still be choice and creativity (choose whatever color you wish) in a craft, and problem-solving (how can we divide the pipe cleaners so everyone has the same number). But each person participating in the craft is using the same materials and looking at a pre-made sample to copy. Still, crafts are very useful in reinforcing early learning and academic skills such as following directions, reading instructions, or sequencing actions. Because crafts are often done with a group of people socialization skills are practiced. Measuring and planning are also used in crafts. And crafts are purposeful with a clear intent.
When art and craft combine, we often end up with “functional art” such as a beautiful scrapbook of memories, a finely executed wooden chair, a visually striking quilt or other artwork that is both aesthetically pleasing and useable in our everyday lives.
Both arts and crafts have a place in our lives and cultural. Neither one is better than the other - just different, and both have value and joyful beauty to those who participate.
For more ideas on creating art with kids, a wonderful website is: http://www.brightring.com/index.html by MaryAnn F. Kohl a long time advocate for children’s art.