In pre-schools, elementary schools, day camps and stay-over camps alike, ‘arts’ and ‘crafts’ are words that you have likely seen bundled together. With these two terms being packaged and sold as one generalized subject and hobby, many treat the words as interchangeable, so that when we say “art camp”, often “arts and crafts” is actually what it is taken to mean.
However, arts and crafts are not the same thing; they are actually different and distinct forms of creativity.
So if they are different, what is it that distinguishes arts from crafts, from an educational standpoint, and what’s the big fuss about anyway? Why does it really matter (or does it?)?
First Things First: Why It Matters
Education wise, arts and crafts differ in the type of instruction given, the type of skills being learned and practiced, the type of projects chosen, and the type of outcomes strived for and achieved.
Because of this, the difference between the two matters depending on what you hope your child is learning and practicing in an art class and art camp.
Alright, let's jump in.
Summed Up: Arts vs. Crafts
The main difference between the two is the end goal in creation, all other differences stem from this one.
Art is more focused on using tools and materials to express an emotion or idea, while craft is more focused on using tools and materials to create a specific tangible object or product.
With crafts, because there is a specific end goal in mind, like the caterpillar clothes pin project, there have to be specific steps that must be followed in order to reach that end.
For example, say you wanted to make a turtle using a paper plate. You might have green paint for the plate, green paper cut outs of legs and tail and head, and a couple of googly eyes.
Now in order to do this project and actually have it come out looking like the cute little turtle it's supposed to be, there are not too many variations you could make; the structures are rigid. The tail would need to be glued opposite of the head, the legs have to be glued two on each side, and the googly eyes would need to be glued next to each other on the head section.
In terms of creativity, it's possible to be creative with a craft, but the parameters of what you can be creative with are narrow, otherwise you’re making a different project.
Say, if you glued the turtle tail next to the head and put four feet next to each other on one side, and glued the googly eyes to a foot, you would not have anything close to a recognizable turtle, and so would not have actually completed the intended project.
With crafts so focused on the end result of making something that looks cool (aesthetics are part of the goal), there isn’t too much room for in-depth art learning.
Instead, you’re mostly learning how to follow directions and maybe how to re-create the craft again, while practicing fine motor skills.
While crafts are focused on making something that looks good and can be reproduced, art is not focused on either of those things.
First of all, art is not necessarily about aesthetics, as it is informed by emotion, so a work of art can still be art without being traditionally beautiful.
Secondly, art also cannot be reproduced, as artists create many different works, instead of just making the same thing over and over again (as if you were to make many paper plate turtles). As one writer put it, “There is only one true Mona Lisa, all the rest are simply imperfect copies.”
So if you’re practicing direction-following skills with crafts, what are you learning and practicing while creating art?
Great question! Let’s give an example. Let’s say we’re doing a masters study with our students. A master study is where we re-create a master artist’s work.
Waiiit, hold up! you say, Didn’t we just talk about how art can’t be re-created? And doesn’t that sound like you have the end goal in mind, aka craft?
Yes, yes, while we may be having students recreate the work (but remember, there is only one Mona Lisa), the focus in this project is never on the final outcome; it’s on the journey to get there.
Starting the project, our instructors always go in depth about the history of the piece and the artist, discussing topics like: Why is this artwork important? How did it contribute to history? What is our goal for recreating it? (For instance, we might be recreating a van Gogh to learn how to utilize various brush strokes.)
Once we begin the painting, the discussion is still on the process of the work. We may look at how an artist did a specific technique, and then use that example to walk students through learning and utilizing that technique.
In these art projects, instead of a rigid structure, students have room for their own interpretation of the technique, and their personal application shows.
We're also always talking about personal observations of a master study, asking students what they see in the work and how they can apply what they see in their own piece.
By the time we finish the project, it’s a great painting that has been informed by the artist’s own touch and understanding and usage of artistic techniques, but it’s also only the finishing touch on a long conversation about the process that went into it’s creation.
This conversation about process is a part of all of the projects that we do at Museo Art Academy. Let’s say we’re in a camp and we do an ink project of an animal. We might have an example that students can reference, but we’re also asking students to think about their work, what they’re seeing, what techniques will be used, and then to apply what they think is the best solution (within artistic reason. If there’s something that can be done in a better way artistically, we take that teaching opportunity).
In this way, you can see students are learning SO MUCH MORE than simply how to do a specific craft, or how to follow directions.
Instead, those who participate in art are learning and practicing creative problem solving, critical thinking, use of imagination, curiosity, creativity, and innovative thinking, along with artistic techniques, art elements & design principles, and art history.
Both arts and crafts can be awesome activities, but they are not necessarily equal. When choosing an art program for your child, it's a good idea to know and understand what type of projects your child will be doing to ensure that they are getting the most out of their experience.
To read more about the what your child is learning while also having a blast creating art, check out our blog about What Your Child Learns in Summer Art Camps.
But don't just read about our programs, try them out for yourself. Save your child's spot in one of our summer art camps now and let us know what you think!
Sources not directly linked in article:
Dutton, D. (2018). Denis Dutton on Art and Craft. [online] Denisdutton.com. Available at: http://www.denisdutton.com/rnz_craft.htm [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Art Site. (2018). Differences between Art and Craft. [online] Available at: http://www.artsite.tv/differences-between-art-and-craft/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].
Markowitz, S. (1994). The Distinction between Art and Craft. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 28(1), 55-70. doi:10.2307/3333159
Preschool Plan It. (2018). Arts VS Crafts. [online] Available at: https://www.preschool-plan-it.com/arts-vs-crafts.html [Accessed 23 Mar. 2018].