Creative Mom Confessions: Craft versus Art

To dispel any rumors that I am a "super mom", I have decided to confess some things to you.  My hope is that it will show you I am just like any other parent, trying my best to be flexible in the craziness that is raising a family. That my ideas do not live in a creative purist vacuum. That I am not perfect. How boring is it to read only about perfect people?

So let's tackle something I have had a few of you ask me about: Craft versus Art

There are many amazing early childhood blogs that focus on creativity, art, and expression that I follow. Many of them inspired me to share my Intellidance philosophies and ideas in a public forum. There are many different ideas and opinions about how to best support creativity in early childhood. I think one thing everyone agrees with is that process-based activities are very important in nurturing creativity, imagination, and  higher thinking skills in children. I've posted many art and movement activities that are very open ended with the aforementioned as the end goal. 

I have also posted art, craft, and dance activities that are more parent-directed. What some people would call "canned" projects. This is where there are some very different opinions. There are some arguments that these pre-planned, product driven activities are of limited value. In fact, on one my of favorite blogs, The Artful Parent, Jean has been asking the same questions in her recent posts Hand Turkeys and other crutches in children's art  and Another turkey drawing and a question about art instruction books. Read the posts and reader comments and you will see what I mean about very different opinions about the validity of product versus process art activities. 

But do things like hand turkeys, store bought craft activities, or homogenous group crafts in preschool or daycare settings detrimental to our children's creativity? Do I avoid these activities with my girl?

 No. 

My Creative Mom Confession is I like Craft.  I do them often with my girls. And I think you should too!

Here's why:

I believe that art, of any discipline, is a balance of process-based experience and learned skill. Art is about self-expression, exploration, and yes creativity. But artists need to develop and master skills that allow them to create a final product from their explorations and expression. All great artists have practiced their skills and learned from mentors with greater skill and experience. If art were simply an exercise in creative exploration anyone of any age, background, and experience would be an artist. But this is not the case.

Artistry in music, dance, theatre, visual art, or writing takes practice, the ability to look critically at what we create and to improve it.  It is an ongoing process. 

For me, early childhood crafts teach our children the basic skills needed in art.Gluing, pasting, drawing lines and shapes, molding, shaping, cutting, and many other skills in crafts teach our young children the skills they need to move forward in more advanced art skills. How can my child draw a picture of how she feels is she does not have the skill of drawing the shapes she needs to express this? 

What about prepackaged craft kits or cookie-cutter crafts in schools where everyone works towards the same results? What is the value in this? Think about the other life skills you child is learning: following directions in the right order, how to use and respect materials presented, taking turns, different art processes to create specific results, and fine motor skills practice. All of these things are valuable and important in early childhood education. 

This past week Bria's Kindergarten class did a clay workshop with a local artist. When I asked Bria what she thought about the experience she said she enjoyed it but was disappointed that they all had to make the same thing because "it's not unique then Mommy".

I must admit I giggled a bit to myself, proud that she obviously understands one of the best parts of art is the diversity and personal expression it allows.

We spoke about why the artist may have wanted all the kids to do the same project the same way. Did the artist teach her how to use a new material (potters clay)? Did she learn new ways of molding and sculpting? Even doing the same steps at the same time did the final results all look a little different?

Her answer to all of these questions:Yes!

We also talked about her dance classes at J'Adore. We start with an exploration section that allows the dancers to explore any way they choose the concept we are exploring. Then the instructor teaches the dancers specific dance steps (skills), increasing the dancers movement vocabulary, and then applies the concept to these teacher directed skills. Finally the instructor and dancers work together combining the concepts, skills, and expression to create a piece of dance that is both creative and masterful.

Without the exploration the dance would be a series of steps with no meaning.  Without the dance skills/technique the dance would be messy and difficult to understand. Combining the two in balance is what creates artistry in dance. 

There's the key: a balance of process and product. 

It is not about Art versus Craft. It is about the combination of art and craft. 

So buy your child pre-packaged art activities. Teach them simple line dances. Praise them for their efforts. Balance this with time to explore art materials without a pre-determined end result. Let them dance and move in ways that allow them to explore the awesomeness of their body. 

Not all children who are involved with art, dance, music and theatre are going to grow up to become artists. And really this shouldn't be our goal.

I want my girls to explore the arts because it teaches them a new way of looking at the world. It teaches them how to express themselves in different ways. It builds their confidence and self-esteem. It uses higher thinking and problem solving levels. 

But most importantly it teaches them to appreciate the value of art. The enjoyment of art. The humanity of art. 

So craft away friends! Craft away :)