Arts versus crafts


Before I had children the artist in me thought I would have paints and various art supplies always available to my children. So that they could express their creativity whenever the urge would strike them.

Then I had children and realized how messy they can be while pursuing their artistic endeavors. And the artistic side of me came into conflict with the somewhat anal side of me.

I try to set aside a block of time a few days a week for them to explore painting, drawing, oil pastels, and various other messy crafts.

I make a distinction between art and crafts. Art is something that we create without as set goal in mind. Art is approaching a subject with creativity and looking at things in new ways. Creating art means that sometimes the end result isn’t as wonderful as you imagined, but that the doing is what matters.

Crafts are completely opposite. They are working towards a specific end goal. An example that comes to mind is the handprint turkey that every school child in America makes for Thanksgiving.

I think both of these things have places in children’s creative lives. Both teach different things and work different parts of the brain. Sometimes children want a little direction. And sometimes they just want to make something that looks like something,

Having said that, I am not a good crafter. I don’t follow directions well. Gluing eyes onto little pom-poms annoys and frustrates me. I don’t really want to make anything out of tampons.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that we almost never have coloring books in our house either. I just don’t really get them.


I like watercolors for their ease of use and clean up. I always buy PRANG. The colors are vivid, unlike some of the slightly less expensive brands like Crayola. The price difference is only a couple of dollars and it worth it.

I sit with them when they are creating and give subtle direction. I will say things along the lines of, “Hey what do you think it would look like if you painted a design on one half of your paper and then folded it together?”

or I will set out unusual things to paint with and see what sort of techniques they come up with. Toothbrushes, q-tips, sponges are all examples of this.

Show the children paintings by famous artists that used interesting techniques. My children can recognize Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Picasso, and pointillism. Set out a bowl of fruit and ask them to paint it realistically, then ask them how they think Andy Warhol might have done it.

Most important of all, don’t praise how “good” you think they did. Or offer suggestions for how they can improve that drawing and make it look “better.”

Instead say things like, “I like that color choice,” or “That is an interesting way you approached your painting,” or “What do you like the most about it?”

And when they do create something special, put it in a frame and display it.

Children's Artwork

This painting was created using the paint on one half of the paper and then fold it so it prints on the other side of the paper technique. I love this one. It has been matted, framed, and been hanging in our home for over a year now.

17 Responses to “Arts versus crafts”

  1. mamasutra Says:

    “I don’t really want to make anything out of tampons.” Amen!!

    I really liked this post, to hear about your philosophy on teaching kids about art. I know nothing about art, but this made lots of sense to me; lots of good ideas for working with my own kids.

  2. Sarah Says:

    I’ve always had vague thoughts on this subject (such as disliking coloring books, etc.) but you distilled it into a wonderful post. I think you should consider a writing a book about “arts” and “crafts”! :)

  3. Elizabeth Says:

    First, I want to say that your first photo there, with the paints and brush? That is a GORGEOUS photo. Excellent composition.

    Secondly, I have bought every craft item known to man in the hopes of inspiring my boys to create art. They are absolutely uninterested in fingerpaint, watercolors, chalk, markers, and crayons. I’m holding out hope that Kaitlyn will want to color with me!

  4. Brigitte Says:

    I’m glad that there’s at least a small outlet for your artistic side! I’ve wondered, is there a way to contain the mess? Dress the kids in Hefty bags and line the floor with old sheets? I also am torn between encouraging my daughter’s endeavors and cleaning up afterwards!

  5. Keri Says:

    I really love how you were able to distinguish between what is craft and what is art. =)

    I’m going a bit off tangent here but I was wondering if you could write about what your general day-to-day homeschooling “schedule” is like. When my son is older, I know I will need to have some sort of homeschooling routine. I’m curious how you are able to do that along with chores, blogging and whatever work you have to do. I work at home plus teach two evenings a week. It’s hard enough for me to get work done and I cannot imagine how I will be able to do it when it’s time to homeschool my son. I know it can be done but it would be helpful to learn from others how they do it. ;)

  6. Sara Says:

    I love Prang paints too. In fact, when my oldest was about 4 she painted a watercolor using the “paint half and fold” technique and I matted and framed it and have it hanging in one of our bathrooms. She did another with crayons and paints of hearts that I framed in put in our hallway. Everytime I pass it I love it a little more. Thanks for such good ideas.

  7. judy Says:

    I love this post. The more you talk about their work, the more they grow as artists. Especially with little kids, engaging them physically–like let’s paint really, really, fast–or go slooow, or lightly, or use the wheels of a car versus a feather–starts making them really notice all the different effects that they natually make and the endless ways you can create things…

  8. Stephanie Says:

    This is a great post! Ironic, too. My four-year-old daughter just did a beautiful watercolor painting which I framed and put over the fireplace. First she started with a little scribble, and then she said it looked like a giraffe, and then she painted the picture from there, including sun, grass, flowers, butterflies. It looks really wonderful! People can actually tell what it is.

  9. Kate Says:

    Great topic. I like your distinction between art and craft, but also want to add that there is a space in the middle where a craft leaves enough to the imagination to also be art. For example, sometimes I am at my most creative when I have to be creative within boundaries that a craft sets for me.

    I completely agree with the way you talk to your kids about art, too. I grew up with the “great job, great work”, and it loses it’s punch after a while.

  10. Erna Says:

    I totally agree with the way you drew a line abou tarts & crafts. I love my children’s art most of all but the crafts have their place and help children occupy some of their time too. :0) Ditto on the colouring books . . . although we do have a few laying around.

  11. We Love Baby! » Blogging Baby Sleepover for Thursday, March 1 Says:

    [...] The first post I came across was written by Chris of in the trenches of motherhood. Like one of her commenters suggests, she writes about the differences between art and craft so well, she really ought to write a book about it. [...]

  12. Other blogs : Blogging Baby Sleepover for Thursday, March 1 Says:

    [...] Filed under: Blogs, Crafts, Creative projects, SleepoverIt’s been rainy here in Northern California lately, and our dwindiling supply of glitter glue, foam shapes, construction paper and pom poms will attest to that. I thought I’d surf some parent blogs for a few fresh ideas to keep my kids’ hands busy this weekend so I can maybe finally finish my current knitting project. The first post I came across was written by Chris of in the trenches of motherhood. Like one of her commenters suggests, she writes about the differences between art and craft so well, she really ought to write a book about it. Over at Z Recommends there was a post about making shadow portraits, which pointed readers to this excellent tutorial at shiso mama. I think something like this would be a great gift, either to your own family or for grandparents or other close loved ones. Ankle-Bitten Authoring points us toward a slightly more involved project, in which a television stand is turned into a play kitchen. I would love to give that one a try. The end result would be so unique and you could incorporate your kids’ favorite colors and kitchen appliances and gadgets into the final piece. How about you, readers? Have any fun and unique crafts you’d like to share?Permalink | Email this | Linking Blogs | Comments Published Thursday, March 01, 2007 1:16 PM by Blogging Baby [...]

  13. Roberta Says:

    I am with Keri on this one! I’d love to know some of your homeschooling techniques and how you balance the schedules!

    I find your posts true gifts and thank you endlessly for sharing so many important parts of your life and your wisdom with us! :)

  14. kerflop Says:

    Hey now, don’t knock tampon crafting until you’ve tried it.

    That said, you rock. I? merely scrape by.

  15. Angel Says:

    I don’t know about your distiction between art and craft. How is “paint a picture of this bowl of fruit” different than “make this turkey from your handprint?” In each case, you have an opportunity for personal expression and the joy is in the doing. When my kids were at the art museum last weekend we looked at a number of mixed media pieces that incorporated pompoms and magazine cutouts and things that I typically think of as craft supplies. I think arts and crafts are just different ends of a spectrum and there really isn’t an easy way to distinguish between the two in advance.

  16. holly Says:

    That IS a really nice way to sum it up! Especially when talking about kids. Art = process; Craft = product? Puts an “acceptable” place for both in our life.

  17. chris Says:


    Hmmmm. Well, there is a difference in that making a turkey from a handprint implies that the turkey is the desired end result. Everyone elses will look exactly the same.

    Mixed media would be an example of art. Unless they were told it was supposed to be something.

    Maybe I am not making the distinction clear enough. I feel another post coming on :-)