Craft vs. Art in the Classroom

I used to snub my nose at craft.  For some reason, as I studied fine art, I was convinced that craft had a place beneath art, maybe reserved for those with less creativity.  Oh boy.

A few summers ago, my family visited the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Manitoba.  As I walked through the exhibit in their Permanent Gallery, I began to feel embarrassed because of my assumptions and attitude toward craft.  The care with which these pieces were created put many of my own artworks to shame.

There is something to be said for the refinement of technique; the quality that grows from repetition, practice and development of skill.

This morning, I attempted to create a pencil charm using my daughter’s Rainbow Loom (I had gained the confidence to try after successfully making her a bracelet yesterday).  I was making something, but I don’t feel that I was being original, because I was following instructions in a step-by-step format.  Someone else had thought of the design, and I was merely becoming familiar with the technique.  But is this something that should be frowned upon?  No, I don’t believe it is.

IMG_1105If I continued to develop my skills with the Rainbow Loom (and all of those wonderful elastics that have now invaded every room in my house), I would soon feel confident to begin experimenting and creating my own designs.  Perhaps, I could even start to express ideas visually using an unassuming material such as small, colourful elastics.  Think this is a stretch?  Consider the work of Olek, and her crochet/conceptual/street art.  Hmm, the lines between craft and art are beginning to blur…

~~  Craft, technique, skill, craftsmanship…  ~~

  • Do we rush our students, in an effort to cover as many topics as we deem appropriate for one of our classes?
  • If they are hoping to develop their skills, are they losing out because they have fewer final artworks to display?
  • Is the emphasis on process vs. product considered an investment, since we are helping our students to develop the skills needed to produce quality art?
  • How much time should be devoted to technique?

What are your experiences?  Does this relate to current conversations about teacher-directed vs. student-directed learning?  What about process vs. product?  Feel free to comment.

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3 Responses to Craft vs. Art in the Classroom

  1. Sarah Abend says:

    I understand your concern. I just started a position at a high school with the teaching assignments of Crafts and Studio Arts. I have a degree in Sculpture and Metalsmithing, so I also know the Fine Art vs. Crafts conversation/debate VERY well! I found myself at odds with teaching “crafts”, not because I turn my nose down to it, but because the conception of “crafts” amongst most people is anything you can purchase at JoAnne Fabrics or Michaels Crafts; from beading, friendship bracelets, scrapbooking to basket weaving or needle point. In this day of DIY and learning via youtube tutorials, the real challenge is how to introduce the tradition of Crafts in a way that is relevant to the students and novel at the same time… hoping I meet the challenge.

  2. dhorak says:

    Ah! This is the kind of stuff that plagues me! I struggle with allowing my students time to develop skills and techniques in my classroom because, like you said, I want them to have more finished pieces. I expect them to invest the time on their own, but to do the creating and designing in my class.

    I’m starting to realize that I need to allow more time for both. I sometimes work as a performance artist, and I value time as an element in artistic process and product. Sometimes the craftsmanship found in a well made chair or knitted garment has more power than a quickly sketched idea, however brilliant or original.

    One possible solution is to address time as an important component of artwork along with all the other elements and principles. This is how I am able to marry craft and art. Certain pieces require lots of time, and that time adds value. Certain pieces must be made quickly to capture some kind if freshness. Just as we choose our canvas and medium, we must decide the most effective amount of time and skill to put into our artwork.

  3. petersansom says:

    I surpose my own take on this is, like with many other things in life, that it is a questionn of balance. I make plans of how I see series of lessons panning out I’ve the weeks. I make estimates of how much time is needed to complete an assignment. Within these plans there is often space for high tempo, almost rushed creative experiences. But there is also space for the more process based,,more carefully worked out ideas. But I have to own up to a general underestimating of the time needed for these parts. Often I find myself readjusting the plans, simply because there are also significant things to be gained from forcing an idea through to the very end and giving pupils the time and the space to completely work out and and discover all there is to know about what they are doing.
    The only downside is ensuring the tempo stays in the project and that the whole thing doesn’t gri d to a halt.

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