Art vs. Craft- why can't we have both?

Being an {semi-retired} art teacher, one of which who has taught in a preschool classroom for years, the subject of art vs. craft has been an intra-personal debate of mine for a long time.
Creating "art" in our pajamas with few materials and NO direction from mom!

I can remember when I was in my undergraduate art ed. class (many moons ago) and I was to create a unit plan around the assigned subject of “nature” to a group of first graders. Off to work I went; researching artists who were particularly fond of nature (Burchfield and Oudry to name a few), materials to use in my unit plan; and created lessons that tied it all together. My unit included: painting with nature (using nature as paintbrushes), going on a nature walk with a journal and illustrating birds (like Audubon), architecture and nature (Wright , for example). My instructor was ecstatic with my unit until she saw the last lesson.

“Creating animals using pinecones and sticks?!?” she muttered aloud. “No, sorry Aimee, you cannot use that idea- it’s a craft.”

A craft? Ok- maybe I was confused by the whole thought process here- but how was using pinecones and sticks any different than using clay to make an animal sculpture? She went on to explain that the end result wouldn’t be “open-ended” enough.

Trust me, I tried to argue my way through it, having to change the pinecone and sticks to clay.
So what is the difference?

“Art is a form of work that is the expression of emotions. Craft is a form of work, which results in a tangible output, for example, molding and carving.

Art is often described as unstructured and open ended. It has no limitations of expression, just like in painting. Craft on the other hand is structured, which means that it has a certain form that is visible. (Taken from Difference.com http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-art-and-craft/ on November 11, 2011)

I have come to discover that crafts should not be discounted. You can easily turn a craft into an open-ended result by eliminating extras such as “wiggle eyes” and such and allowing your child to take his or her own spin on it. A lot of time on Classified: Mom you will see a craft- a project in which has an end result. Why? Well, for starters I teach a lot through art and craft projects. Crafts are just as important as art. In most cases it teaches young children how to cut, paste and follow step-by-step directions.

We do a lot of art around here as well. My children always see mom creating (whenever possible) and more times than not my children love having the ability to create at any given moment. Open-ended art is very important and should be encouraged. Allow children of all ages to create, keep art supplies on hand (play dough and watercolor paints are the just fine), and back off. Allow them to create freely without any pointers from you.

What are your thoughts? Is there room for both in a child’s life? Can you intertwine a craft and an art into one project?


  1. We like both around here! My husband has an art degree and was actually the one who introduced me to the difference! Fun post! I saw you on the linky on Tots and Me, and am following now!

    Carla @ Jansen Family Adventures

  2. I also have been torn between the two. Art? or Craft? Yes,we are all well aware of the benefits of open-ended art for children, and the importance of process not the product. And I am pretty concsious when choosing creative activities that they have many different ways for children to express themselves. However, I don't see anything wrong with doing some craft with children. I feel that children learn to follow simple instructions while doing a craft, as long as they are not required to produce an end result that look all the same.
    Thank you for this thought provoking post.
    Sabina - http://playfulteacher.blogspot.com/

  3. I like both too. My son is only 18 months, so we don't do many crafts yet. But, I've worked with chidren for a while now and can see the benefit of both. I'll be discussing this in my 31 Days of Play next month. I hope you follow along and join in on the fun. www.dirtandboogers.blogspot.com

  4. I was a big "art" person with my preschoolers. Open-ended all the way. And I did very few crafts with the kiddos. But now I've come to agree that we should not discount the benefits of crafts. However, I have found that crafts work best with 5 years and up. Younger than that the adult is doing the work for many crafts. But I find that the older preK kids definitely enjoy crafts and so thus I've started incorporating a bit more crafty projects into my lesson plans but instead of placing them under the art category, I use them for a fine motor or scissors activity. Balances it all out. :-)


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Aimee ~Classified: Mom

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