Friday, March 7, 2008

Art versus Craft and Kids

I started posting on this in the comments section of another blog - The Artful Parent - and decided it was something to expand on...

My kids don't ask me if we can "do a craft" they refer to it all as art and some of their art is "craft like" - like embroidery

I’m an artist (I have a degree in “experimental arts” and spent the 90’s doing installation art until schlepping TWO kids around city to city and sleeping on floors while I installed and opened and schmoozed got too hard to even contemplate) AND I used to work for the Ontario Crafts Council in their Resource Centre and the Craft Gallery - which highlighted the very best of international craft.. The Crafts Council defined craft partially by materials (fibre, wood, glass and ceramic) and through self identification of the maker. I suppose there is an issue of series production in it as well, and an issue of “usefulness” but I knew craftspeople who never did a production piece in their career, and those who never made anything more useful than something beautiful to look at or touch...oh there's an issue that seldom comes up - art is to look at, craft is meant to be touched, handled, there's no distance between a craft and it's "appreciator".

Several of my art school profs looked down on craft and had similar definitions as Mary Ann Kohl (art is the process, art is imaginative, craft is about the end product, craft is about rules and following a pattern). There’s some territorialism there.

But I’m not sure where the line is, having staddled it my entire career. Are glass blower Laura Donefer’s witchpots static? Are printmakers making something that is all process or is production an issue for them?

I’ve found my own way of approaching this in homeschooling, and in teaching art and creativity courses to other kids, and it has to do with MY intentions.

I use “craft” to teach skills that have nothing to do with the object they make. I look for teachable moments in their interest in craft - math skill development - counting, following patterns, measuring, geometry, etc, social studies - putting it in a historical context, regional geography and culture, reading and writing - practical stuff like reading and following directions, finding high interest reading material for them to encourage reading, motor skill development in doing the craft…I'm an unschooler at heart, but I take some geeky pleasure in categorizing what my kids are learning when they follow an interest and I try to feed those interests as best I can.

I use “art” to expose them to…the idea that imagination is more valuable than any thing I could ever teach them.

I make no assumptions about what they want from art - so I’ll teach them how to take good care of our art tools, I’ll provide lots of different materials, and then I’ll let them come to me with any particular skills they might want to develop - like drawing realistic looking birds for instance, but I won’t assume they want to know how to draw realistic birds.

My art classes are structured to expose kids to other artists and stories about them, "meet" new materials they might not have been exposed to yet, make materials from scratch, do some warm up exercises - games - that reinforce how differently we all approach the same thing, and then lots of time to PLAY with the art materials on their own terms, I'm there for technical support, and if they want to learn something in particular I'll guide them through it.

For myself…art is often about a message I need to get out there, an idea that is eating up my brain and needs out. I have a very wide and varied list of skills I've picked up to get that message out and I learned those skills for specific projects I had in mind. Craft is about the meditative qualities of the process - not the product, I have little attachment to the product. Sort of the opposite of Mary Ann Kohl huh?


Monkey said...

I'm an Art teacher and I tend to like the word "Art" better than "craft" because of how my professors acted in college like "craft" was so awful...though clay pots that were used for drinking out of always seemed more crafty to me than artsy...they were just so snobby about everything in college. I call more things Art than craft and tend to think of things that you just make when you're playing around and doing it for yourself as more crafts and things you hang on the walls as Art...though I think they can be combined and hate it when people get all touchy about it...everybody always has to label something don't they? And when you don't label it the label they think it should have, they get angry. It's craziness really.

monkey said...

"meeting new materials"...i love that. i taught preschool for almost two years and my director shared much of the same fundamental philosophy in teaching. we were not a curriculum based school...we allowed the children to explore many different areas and ideas and if a project led to something other than what we initially planned, so be it. art was the predominant tool we used to foster creativity and independent thinking. i find it so interesting that so many people use language and semantics and a divisive tool with the intention of creating a hierarchy. well, i suppose that's a lot of the pedagogy of education in this country, really. i'm rambling. too much coffee. just wanted to say hello and that i love being an observer of your life.
*i'm also the second 'monkey' to leave a comment :-)*