What do we mean when we talk about quality arts education and how is it different from craft? For folks who aren't familiar with the arts and art history, the words 'art' and 'craft' can sound like two descriptions of the same thing. Looking from the outside in, it can seem confusing, because many philosophers, artists and arts professionals often engage in heated discussions about the weighty question "What is Art?!?". While I cannot deliver a clean and neat definition for art, I would like to tell you about the Creative Citizens perspective on arts in the context of the disability community and how this is different from craft projects.
The process of making art is really what makes it stand out as an interesting experience beyond what craft projects can offer. When people are engaged in a thoughtful process they are challenged and asked to communicate their own ideas, opinions and interpretations of the world around them. In a quality arts education setting, students are encouraged to investigate themselves and their relationship to the materials and/or the theme of the project. By asking students to create something that is uniquely theirs, an expression of their mind, thoughts and feelings, you are honoring their capabilities and valuing their unique vision.
The classroom environment for projects that encourage thoughtful process is one that is a little bit unpredictable. A teacher needs to be prepared for the unexpected from their students. It can be fun and exciting to be apart of this unpredictable environment of creating - it can also be a little bit uncomfortable if you're not used to it. For most art teachers that are accustomed to leading craft projects, there is a known goal from the very beginning. The teacher gives student the art-model to copy and from there everyone is expected to do the best they can to be just like the teacher. This craft technique might lead to a very cute craft project that can be enjoyed and repeated by others, but there is little to no true engagement from the person making the craft.
For example, in a craft recreation program, a teacher may find a very cute Christmas themed project online. They make a sample and have their group all make matching Santa hats. This may be very cute and give participants something to take home with them at the end of the day, but what kind of personal growth comes as a result? Are students thinking about their relationship to the holiday or are they simply repeating a hallmark image?
While it may be a little scary to let go of the predictable craft arts environment. At Creative Citizens, we believe you can have amazing results when you respect the unique vision of students and allow them to investigate their form of visual communication.
I invite you join this blog conversation about the thoughtful process behind art making. Do you have experiences with this approach you'd like to share?