On Thanksgiving Monday, I wrote a blog post where I shared some of my evolving thinking on “art” versus “crafts.” The post led to some interesting conversations both in the comments and on Twitter. One of the Twitter discussions really got me thinking about the definition of “crafts.”
This topic was further addressed today when I got an email from a parent in our class. (I always share my professional blog posts with parents, and I welcome their feedback. I’m so glad that this mom shared her thinking and agreed to let me share it in this post.)
Sarah’s comment about “tool development” really made me think about Mary-Kay‘s point about “tinkering,” and how crafters “design and experiment while creating.”
- To really communicate artistically, are there certain skills that students need to learn first? What might they be?
- What kinds of crafts might help students develop their artistic skills?
- Does this definition of “crafts” vary from the one that we may currently have?
Sarah’s email today and the questions that I shared above formed the basis for a great conversation that my teaching partner and I had this afternoon. While we both have questions about your stereotypical holiday crafts, we started to wonder what kinds of skills our students may need to develop to better communicate artistically. What kinds of activities might help them with this? We began to speak about the “elements of design,” which are also discussed in the new Kindergarten Program Document, and if some explicit instruction around these elements may help students as they create using them. We broadened our definition of “crafts,” and looked at some of the ideas that Sarah mentioned, as even just that important reminder that an artistic voice can be shared in many different ways. The Twitter discussion, Sarah’s email, and our conversation led to our decision to focus on a specific skill tomorrow, but also provide some varied, open-ended artistic opportunities — possibly both inside and outside — to allow children to practice this skill, but also make it their own.
Over the past few days, I’ve been reminded about the power of language. For me, the term “craft” means carbon copies of final products that allow for limited artistic expression, thought, or application of skill. But maybe my definition is too narrow. Maybe my views are too negative. And maybe under the umbrella of a Maker culture — an umbrella that I see both through the Twitter conversation and Sarah’s email — an intentional use of certain crafts, or at least “skill development,” can make art even more powerful. What do you think? How do we make “crafts” purposeful, and what “craft options” might we consider? What value might this have for “art?” I would love to continue this important conversation.
I think “crafts” provide a safe place for kids to try/experiment being creative. I don’t do the work for the kids (ie I don’t pre-draw/pre-cut for the kids) but I do do directed lessons where even though we’re all creating the same image, there’s a HUGE variety in the finished projects. It’s an insight into my students to see their interpretation of my lesson. For example, regardless of the size of paper, the child who always creates the tiniest version of the project. Or despite the specificity of the directions, the child who always finds a way to add their own flair. But there are also times where I put out materials and say “Fly at ‘er”. I don’t think crafts should be viewed negatively. I’ve never encountered a grade 1 student who fails to find the joy in the simplest of projects.
Thanks for your comment, Karen, and for sharing your experiences. It was your last line that really stuck with me for many different reasons.
1) I was that Grade 1 student, growing up, that didn’t enjoy these crafts. Fine motor difficulties, and at that point, an unidentified non-verbal learning disability in visual spatial skills (I was identified in Grade 2), made these kinds of crafts, a huge struggle. I couldn’t cut out the little pieces well. I struggled with knowing how to put the project together. And even though I listened and watched attentively, my final project never looked like the model and sometimes remained incomplete. I still remember those feelings of failure: a feeling that I lived with MANY times during the school year. (While I can see the value in failure and the learning we do from it, when no amount of “grit” and “perseverance” allowed me to succeed in this area, I just started to dread these crafts. That’s a feeling that’s hard to take when you know that they’re going to appear year after year.) It was almost 30 years after this Grade 1 experience that I learned to love art thanks to our Arts consultant (Karen) and an administrator in our Board — who was, at the time, an elementary curriculum consultant (Kristi). They taught me about the elements of design, and using the arts as an instructional strategy. They helped me see the value in the process, and not just the final product. And they helped me realize that every child — and adult — is an artist: something I never felt with those crafts. So maybe, as your comment taught me, it’s hard to ignore my experiences as I weigh in on this topic. They make me wonder about the child in the classroom that might be feeling as I did.
2) Even if all students enjoy the craft, is enjoyment alone, enough of a reason to do it? Would they enjoy an “art option” too, and maybe one that would allow for more thinking and application of skills? Looking back now on Sarah’s email, I do wonder if a “craft” option would help with this, but what kind of craft and/or what kind of experiences?
3) I wonder sometimes how many “crafts” we’re doing compared to how much “art,” and are we being intentional in our choices. Are we thinking about how a craft option now might lead to an application in art later, and are we giving options for this application? I know that I’ve done a lot of crafts with students over the years, and I never really thought “intentionally” before. What about others?
4) If our view of the child (as it states in the K Curriculum Document) is as “competent and capable of complex thinking, are we showing children we think this way with these kinds of crafts? Maybe it’s possible to do so, but I’m wondering “how” and if this always happens.
5) These crafts, at least in my experiences, tend to result in a full group, mandatory activity. I wonder if some student choice could be worked in here. As Sarah shared, there are lots of different crafts out there, and not all are pencil/paper ones (e.g., knitting). Would providing some different options, help students see that art happens on more than just paper? And could they help some students find a new interest/love?
I continue to wonder what else is possible. I’m definitely curious to hear what you and others think here, and so appreciate you extending the conversation.
Doing a STEAM activity making a relief sculpture with electric circuit. Idea given to choose where to place on LED and on/off Button somewhere on the relief sculpture. Child built what appeared as an igloo. Impressed. But not relief sculpture. Child: I want the light inside. I think that would be really cool. And the button can just be over here (not on the sculpture but so what?). Another child made a bowl (volcano, actually, she said). Another sculpted hand carrying torch so LED was outside the sculpture. Was not going to end up with a group of similar projects. Intention changed bc children expanded my own conception of the project. Light (LED) not decorative but functional.
Thanks for your comment, Cynthia, and sharing this story! The thinking and application that came from this activity makes me think of what happens during “art.” This is also a good reminder that art can include many things, including this connection with technology. As I said in reply to Kristi’s comment, if nothing else, this discussion has reminded me that there’s value in thinking about our definition and intention of art/crafts.
I wonder, Aviva, if it comes down to our own personal definition or vision of crafts. When I read the different conversations in your blog posts and the comments, I feel people land in two general camps: craft as a project assigned by a teacher to follow a specific process and end up with the same/similar looking product, and craft as a means to explore a particular set of tools, strategies or techniques towards a product that is uniquely the artist’s design. Maybe I’m looking at it too simply, but I think it depends on our focus: creating a specific product or creating using certain processes or techniques. is there room for creativity, bold inginuity, and personal self expression? Or is it about creating something that looks like the teacher’s model?
To me, one is worthy to allow our students the time to explore, the other is a type of craft best left for home for the students who enjoy it. Like so many things, I think it comes down to our purpose and focus as the educators leading the learning.
Thanks for the comment, Kristi! I totally agree with you here, and I think that you sum up the two arguments well. Before this discussion, I only saw a “craft” as your first definition. Now I’m seeing that there’s another option. If nothing else, I think that taking the time to think of our definition and intention has value. I know that I’ll be thinking about it more.
I believe that it comes down to knowing your students. If you ask why this child at this time, in some demographics you may be working with children who have not had opportunities to really develop those basic skills. Possibly a “craft” provides them the inspiration and a “safe” environment to test their skills and see what they can do. For some it may be an opportunity to scaffold their skills. Maybe they have basic skills but haven’t had the luxury of taking a risk using materials in a different manner. When you know your students you plan accordingly and give them a push forward. Maybe a “craft” is a safe starting point for some.
Thanks for your comment, Helen! Last year, I worked with many students that would have fit into this particular demographic. I wonder though, in an effort to make things look wonder, do we rush to a craft before giving children a chance to experiment through art? Or if not, how do we transition from a craft to art, while still helping children view themselves as “competent and capable?” Many of my own experiences with crafts, have been full group lessons. Maybe it’s different, when we’re looking at individual students and what they need to succeed. I also like Sarah’s definition of a “craft,” which varies from some of the the more typical pencil/paper ones that I’ve seen (and done) before. I think that another thing to consider is, even with a craft, what are the students doing, why are they doing it, and how are we still exploring the “process” and not just a look at the “final product.” I’d love to know what you and others think about this. Thanks for continuing the conversation!
As someone who has never viewed herself as artistic, but who has gone through obsessions with a number of “crafts” through her life, I struggle with figuring out how to approach this in the classroom. I follow patterns all the time for quilting. In fact, the quilt that I have on my bed was created using a pattern and kit – which means I made zero artistic choices. I made it because I loved the design. I would like to think it’s not just a sewn version of paper pumpkins, but in reality it’s closer to paper pumpkins than it is to true art. I enjoy the process of quilting – but most the time it really is just following the instructions. I choose patterns that are often technically challenging for me – that’s part of the enjoyment.
I was also a theatrical costumer for awhile, which means that I can look at a designers sketch for what a costume should be and draft the pattern and choose fabrics to match the vision. I have also designed costumes and then sewn them myself. So I am not unfamiliar with the “artistic” side of sewing.
I think there is value in both. However, what I see in many classrooms is never moving past the paper pumpkins. In many classrooms “art class” never moves beyond producing 25 copies of the same thing. I think there is value in having kids reproduce something in order to learn about a new technique or explore a skill, but if they are never given a chance to apply that learning to their own creative work than we are doing them a disservice. I also think we do students a disservice if we never have them follow a predetermined set of instructions (in different forms, since that’s how the world works), but that doesn’t have to happen in art class (and not all kids need to follow the same directions at the same time of course!)
I love the idea of having instructions, samples, and materials as provocations so students can recreate them if they wish. Perhaps reframing the purpose (Making decorations for the classroom) would make more sense than saying it’s “art”?
Sharon, I think that your third and fourth paragraph really sum up so much of my thinking. Maybe crafts bother me the most because we so rarely go beyond “crafts,” or apply what we’ve learned in a “craft” to what we create through more open-ended “art.” In the past, I’ve done this just as much — if not more — than anyone else. Now I’m very happy to change. Just like Sarah, you define “crafts” in so many different ways, and if we’re seeing the value of a craft on the ability to communicate through “art,” then I think that we need to start exploring craft options beyond the typical pumpkin/turkey/reindeer variety. I also agree with you about following instructions, but love your important comment in the brackets. When I read your response, I really see the important differentiated piece that we need to consider for all subject areas … including art. With so many full-class crafts though, I wonder if we’re always considering this and/or what we could do to consider it more. Thanks for giving me even more to contemplate.