Art or Craft, What’s the Difference?

Questions About Art, Crafts, and Meaning Making

Do you have some sort of creative expression? Do you write? Or paint? Or sew? Do you make decorative objects? Utilitarian objects?

Do you consider the product of your effort art? Or craft?

A while back, I found a show on PBS called Closer to the Truth that was ostensibly about art and meaning. I was expecting some insights from neuroscience or a conversation about symbology. It turned out that the show was basically just white, male, Eurocentric gatekeeping. I was really disappointed by the lack of breadth in the perspectives presented.

I had been looking to learn something new or feel enlightened, instead I got a bit fired up. Isn’t there a universality in meaningful art? Because it expresses something about the human condition to which a diverse audience can relate. You know, the collective unconscious and all that jazz.

I decided that I wasn’t willing to accept something as art “because someone else said so,” anymore. So I started looking for a better way to answer the question of what is art and what is craft.

One common answer that I kept coming across is that art expresses ideas beyond the scope of the form whereas craft serves human objectives (well-being and fulfillment of expectations). But are these mutually exclusive?

Monet at the DeYoung, 2019

Maybe the Dictionary Can Help

Art and craft are both valued as products of human effort. Definitions of craft indicate that there is an expectation of a certain, demonstrable level of proficiency.

But I think that proficiency is as necessary for the production of art as a certain amount of creativity and freedom of expression is desirable in a craft. A ballerina or a writer would be called an artist although they both work every day their craft.

For some reason, thinking about proficiency reminded me of what Mr. Densley, my 8th grade art teacher, used to say, “Even Picasso learned how to draw it how it looks before he could draw it how it doesn’t look.”

Can we determine what is art versus what is craft based on the materials used or the method by which a work is created?

An Inch of Art for a Week … or was it a craft?

If Not How, Then What?

There are many things that are considered art which are created with common materials. Think about seeing an Eames chair made from molded plastic being displayed in an art museum. Or art made from junk like the work of Noah Purifoy.  

Maybe craft is the creation of a utilitarian object and art is nonfunctional? But what about the art of fashion? Clothing, despite how fanciful or decorative or imaginative it may be, is still a utilitarian object, isn’t it?

Maybe art is the creation of one, unique artifact whereas crafts are things that can be replicated?

But then what about Monet’s many, many iterations of his water lilies?  Or the performing arts? A symphony or a play must be replicated to be experienced as the artist intended. Or objects that are mass produced?  How do we reconcile the work of Andy Warhol?

My creativity doll and her pet cat

The Process Or The Product

I was talking to an executive from a local arts organization, and I mentioned my conundrum to her. Her answer: art is the idea and craft is the execution of the idea. I like this definition very much although it speaks more to the process than the product (that is a whole other rabbit hole we may want to explore another day).

Now I’m wondering:

Is the distinction between art and craft even useful? Necessary?

Maybe what I’m suggesting is that we can all be more critical about finding ways to consider creative work on its own merits and making up our own minds as to what we feel is meaningful regardless of whether someone else chooses to call it a work of art or a craft.

I would LOVE to know what you think.

Introducing the Virtual Museum Visit Series

the louvre museum, photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

Do you miss museums? What do you think about a virtual museum visit?

Back in the old days (before March 2020) I liked to find a reason for a museum visit at least a couple of times a year. For me, it was a great way to break out of my routine and get a different perspective on things.  If there wasn’t an exhibit that I was particularly interested in, the people watching alone was usually well worth the price of admission.

Some museums are beginning to open with restrictions. When I think about recent museum visits, a social-distanced museum experience sounds delightful. But I’m probably not going to make a point of going to a museum anytime soon.

Venus de Milo at the Louvre: Photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash

Recently, I saw a teaser on the internet about virtual museum tours and thought what a great topic for a blog post! Most of us still aren’t traveling anyway, why not check out some of the great museums of the world from home?

I thought that it would be easy to pull together a list of museums and link to their virtual tours and we would be on our way.

Once I started digging in, the first thing that became clear is that not all virtual museum tours are created equal. The second thing was that trying to wander around a museum virtually is not as easy or as much fun as one would hope.

Like most things on the internet, it is better to have an idea about what you are looking for before you begin. Whereas back in the old days, you could decide to go to a museum and just wander around for a few hours, the navigation of even the most user-friendly virtual museum tour is broken down into layers and layers of sub-menus. There are so many decisions to make before you get near any art.

Some virtual museum tours try to make it seem like you are walking through the galleries. I found these tricky to navigate and started to get frustrated. Some are more like online photo albums – it’s really more of a slide show than a virtual tour.

I realized that what I really wanted was some sort of video where someone would take me through a gallery, give me a good look at the work, and tell me about it. I started to find some videos on YouTube, but there is a lot of variation with these as well. So, what I’ve decided to do is start a series here where I will create a curated virtual museum visit for various places. These may include videos, virtual tours, selections from a collection, and articles about the institution, a particular collection, exhibit, or work.

This will give me an excuse to snoop around and see what I can find with a clear goal in mind: providing you, with a manageable, curated experience. I envision it being the kind of thing that you can just read the post and go on with your life or you can take a little time to click through the various resources I’ll link to and have your own little virtual field trip.

St Peter’s Basilica: Photo by Jan Tielens on Unsplash

Some of the places that I have started exploring for us include:

On the one hand, it’s never going to be the same as being there in person. On the other hand, doesn’t it sound fun is it to get to poke around from the comfort of your own home?

I’m going to try to post at least one a month and we’ll see how it goes. If you have any tips for navigating virtual museum experiences or suggestions for particular things that you would like to see, let me know!

A History of Art

A long, long time ago, when I was just a wee lass, I went to college. I was looking forward to learning all sorts of new things and exploring all there was to offer. I did what I could but being a dance major and having ballet class every day in the middle of the afternoon put a big crimp in my schedule and I never got around to taking figure drawing or English literature, or the history of art.

After I graduated, I took up reading in a big way. I was going to make up for not taking English literature in the bargain aisles of Barnes and Noble. One day, I spied this tome, the same book that had been used as the textbook for the art history class that I could never work into my schedule.  Now was my chance, I would be my own art history class!

It is an unruly book and did not lend itself to beach chair reading (my preferred reading method).  I tried to be studious and read a bit of it, but I don’t know when last time was that I opened it.

I’ve dragged it around for the past *cough* 20+ years, always telling myself that one day, I would get around to breaking it open again. I would sit at a table with a good reading light and learn everything about art history.

Fast forward to last Monday. Because of the national hermitage movement, no one is meeting in person anymore. But everyone wants to meet on ZOOM.  Which is fine, except for the multi-neck, potato head effect that occurs when I have my laptop on my desk.  I needed a little booster, something sturdy that would raise my laptop enough that the camera was more at eye-level than chin level. And guess what, A History of Art is just the thing!

Since this book will be living on my desk for a while, I decided that I might as well crack it open. When I did, I laughed out loud!  The dust jacket flap was marking the place I had stopped at all those years ago … page 54, Ancient Near Eastern Art.

Here’s the thing, I know why I stopped. I wanted to learn about post-Renaissance, Western European art through mid-20th Century American art. And while I wanted to be a good student and begin at the beginning, I only managed to get from the Paleolithic era to roughly circa 2,000 BC.

It’s not because I don’t think that ancient art isn’t interesting or doesn’t have something to illuminate about the human condition, it’s just that I have a hard time relating when something is so far removed from my frame of reference.

Which got me thinking, I wonder if teaching history chronologically is the wrong approach? I wonder if we might be better served learning history backwards?

I flipped through the book to find where I thought I wanted to start, and I landed on page 636. This chapter deals with the period referred to as Mannerism, which seems to be the late Renaissance period immediately preceding Baroque. I think I’ll start there and work my way forward for a bit, then jump back and take a stab at the first half of the book again.

I’m looking forward to filling in the gaps in my knowledge of art history, even if it is in a haphazard way. And more importantly, to being able to ZOOM without looking like a potato head!

World Ballet Day 2019

Guys!  It’s World Ballet Day again!

I’m glad that I didn’t mark my calendar after last year’s World Ballet Day because World Ballet Day 2019 is certainly not on the same date.  But there are a bunch of new ballet videos on the internet today for our viewing pleasure, some from companies that we got to know last year and some that are newly discovered.

*Disclaimer: I don’t have hours to spend watching videos of ballet classes and rehearsals either. But by linking a bunch of them here we can all find them whenever we do have time to squeeze in a few minutes of ballet viewing in our day.

The Royal Ballet is back again with four hours of content. I love watching their class so much.  I also really love all of the studio fashion statements.

The Royal Ballet

The Australian Ballet has also posted four hours’ worth.

The Australian Ballet

A new discovery for me this year is Teatro alla Scala.  I skipped ahead to a terrible turns exercise – double attitude, double arabesque, double a la seconde, double pirouette en de dan – the stuff of my dance nightmares.  Fortunately, it looked like many of the professional dancers were having a hard time with it too.

Teatro alla Scala

The Wiener Staatsballett has given us a rehearsal of a Balanchine ballet that they are adding to the repertory.

Weiner Staatsballett

I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch a little ballet today and remember these links are here if you need a fix in the future.  Afterall, ballet season is just around the corner.

Monet at the De Young

monet water lilies

Monet: The Late Years

I happened to be in San Francisco for the weekend last May for Mother’s Day.  My dear, sweet brother-in-law had arranged for my mom and my sister to see the Monet exhibit at the De Young Museum for Mother’s Day and since I was in town, I had the good fortune of getting to tag along.

I thought that it was interesting that Monet was such a prolific and esteemed artist that the 50 or so works in the show were all made after he was established and successful.  The subjects of these paintings were almost exclusively locations in his own gardens on his estate in Giverny.

For great biographical information and a more comprehensive description of the paintings in the show, check out this page on the De Young Museum website.

The earliest painting in the exhibit is Morning on the Seine from 1896.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take a better photo of it.  At first glance, it seems just very grey, soft, and muted.  But when I really took a moment to look at it, I started to notice a tremendous depth to the foliage.  Monet used many different green and purple tones to build these shapes that appear flat from a distance, but up close have an unexpectedly rich dimensionality.  Once I got sucked into this painting, I started to notice the subtle contrast between the way that he rendered the landscape and its reflection in the water.  This is the kind of painting that you could look at for years and notice something new every day.

Morning on the Seine, Claude Monet

More than 20 of the pieces in the show were water lily paintings.  This is such an iconic Monet subject and one that is so often reproduced on merchandise that it seems like something that you think you have already seen and not necessarily special.  But seeing so many different variations on the same subject all together was fascinating.  Particularly when there were multiple paintings in a series that all portrayed the exact same vista from the exact same spot.  When was the last time that you really looked at something that you see every day?  Try it.  And then go back again a few hours later and take a moment to look again.  Think about how it now appears different from what you saw just a bit earlier.  What a wonderful reminder that everyday things we think we have already seen have something new to offer us if we can be bothered to take a moment to open ourselves up to them.

I took many notes on the differences in paintings of similar subject matter, the variations in color and texture and focus and size of various pieces.  Another subject of Monet’s that gives a very explicit example of this were the paintings of the Japanese Bridge. 

One thing that I found even more unexpected and interesting were the paintings where he really just seemed to have to get the idea on canvas as quickly as possible.  These were paintings where the canvas showed through.  There was a raw-ness and an energy to these works that really spoke to me. 

Toward the end of the exhibit was a series of Weeping Willow (1918-1919 and 1921-1922). I think there were more than the three that I photographed.  The later piece just blows my mind a little bit. This is the same guy painting the same thing that he had already painted over and over and it is so different and unexpected!  Now, this was all during the period when his vision was degenerating, but that alone does not explain the difference.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to tag along with some of my favorite mothers on their special day.  It was a great opportunity to be reminded of how much there is to see if we just take the time to look.

One Inch of Art for a Week

In October, my neighbor and I went on an open studio tour in our neighborhood.  At one studio, the nice woman gave us both a handful of 1” squares and encouraged us to try to find the time to make 1” of art.  Miraculously (or maybe she knew exactly how many squares she was handing us) I wound up with seven squares.  I resolved to set aside a time to make one inch of art for a week, as a tribute to my artist friend, MaryBeth Leonard.

A few years ago, MaryBeth created a project for herself she called “A Drawing a Day for a Year.”  She catalogued all of her drawings on a blog and even wrote great descriptions and stories about each drawing.

Those little squares sat in a pile on my hutch for five-ish months. I looked at them every day.  Eventually, they began to turn into clutter, and I decided that it was time to act.

The first thing that I did was set out all of the squares on a sheet of paper and tape them down.  There were all sorts of fun colors and deciding on an order and a pattern gave the project a defined scope that made me comfortable.

Next, I decided to choose one medium for all of it.  Instead of colored pencils or markers or crayons, I decided to use my collection of teeny nail polishes.  Sort-of weird, but also sort-of artsy.  I like the dimension that you can create with nail polish, I had a bunch of different colors, and it would be a challenging medium.  I would use the bottle brushes and a toothpick to apply the paint.

Another interesting component of using nail polish was the patience factor.  I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to add different colors without letting the first step dry. Once I figured that bit out, it was a nice part of the process to step away from the work for a few minutes at a time.

I left the whole project sitting out on the dining table all week so that I wouldn’t forget.  I liked not having to set up my art supplies to get to work on my project, but I don’t like having stuff just sitting out all the time.  Obviously, this is why serious artists have studios.

Here are the results of my inch of art experiment.  Maybe I’ll stick with writing.

Friendly Neighborhood Craft Fair

There was a craft fair in the neighborhood a few weeks ago called the Patchwork Show Long Beach Makers Festival at which my artist friend, MaryBeth Leonard, was hosting a booth.  I generally try to avoid craft fairs.  Mostly because there are too many interesting things that I want to buy.  A secondary problem is that I see all sorts of things that I think I could make myself or that trigger a new project idea and then I get overwhelmed with craftprehension.

*Craftprehension – noun; apprehension brought on by too many craft project ideas; also, a word that I just made up


Since MaryBeth was going to be there, I wanted to make a point of showing up so I asked my golf partner if she would be up for a different kind of Sunday walk.  Fortunately, M is generally up for most adventures and away we went!

When we got there, we somehow managed to decide to start at the exact opposite end from where MaryBeth’s booth was.  As we went up and down all the rows looking for her, we found all sorts of other fun treasures.

Sea princess cake pops:

Because, what good is a cake pop without a mermaid tail, really?

Crayon unicorns:

They had these crayon sets in SO MANY fun shapes

A chic bo-ho sundress:

I kind-of want to be the girl on the sailboat in the picture

So many cute plant-themed graphics

I was drawn to the Botanical Bright booth because of the graphic illustrations and t-shirts. My t-shirt drawer is full and really I only ever wear the same few over and over so I’m trying to not buy any more until I can convince myself to get rid of some.  I’ve bookmarked this seller’s website for when I do.  She also had these beautiful succulent arrangements in geodes that the kittens would  be so excited to tear apart, so I abstained from those as well. I did wind up picking up some crystals because you know how I feel about having a little bit of magic in your life.  I think she said the silver one gives you superpowers.

Finally, when we were practically at the end of our adventure, we found MaryBeth!

Isn’t she lovely?

She had a big selection of matted prints from her “A Drawing a Day for a Year” project. But she also had original drawings and paintings.  I found just the perfect thing for someone’s Christmas gift and M found something for her beach-themed room.

Just a smidge of her work









I fortunately managed to not bring home a bunch of new craft ideas, just a reminder about the succulent projects that I haven’t gotten around to and a sweet little handful of magical rocks.