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.

Creativity Doll

Long story short: I’m working through this creativity program. I’m part of a group and we meet every week, it’s a whole thing. I’ll go into more detail about it later, today I want to tell you about one of the exercises I just got to do.

The assignment was to make a creativity doll. And that was the whole exercise.  Whatever that meant to you, you were supposed to create.

I instantly knew that I wanted to make a rag doll. Like my childhood Raggedy Ann doll. Like Raggedy Ann, my creativity doll would have a candy heart. But she would also have magical sparkly things in her head.  And I wanted to create her completely out of supplies that I already had around the house.

She’d have a green dress, a flamingo print pinafore, a sweet face, and I could use some satin ribbon to make little ballet shoes for her.

I told Mr. Man about my plan.  He asked if she would have a cat.  You know, I had been thinking about that, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull it off.  And then, when I started gathering all of my supplies, I found a little bag full of felt cut-out cats.  Oh yes, she would have a cat!

I corralled all my supplies in one location and was ready to get to work.  Where to start?  Maybe it would be a good idea to look for a pattern.  Ok, Pinterest, whatcha got for me?  Wow, there was a lot there.

Once I recovered from Pinterest overload, I decided to make my own pattern.  She was MY creativity doll after all. So, I drew out the shape that I wanted, then I cut out the pieces, traced them each again, and added a ½ inch seam allowance.  Then I used those pieces to cut her out of off-white linen that had been purchased several years ago for a kaftan that has yet to be made.

After she was pieced together, it was time to get the sparkles for her head.  My original thought had been Christmas tinsel, but I realized that I didn’t want to dig it out of the back of the garage. I found a rhinestone necklace from the flea market (another unrealized project) and smiley face confetti.  And a few sweet pea seeds. Who wouldn’t have wonderful ideas with all of those treasures in their head?

The only purchase for her was a bag of candy hearts (one for her, the rest for Mr. Man). It just felt important that she have a candy heart like Raggedy Ann. I used clear nail polish to give it a clear coat before placing it.

Now that she was dressed, the poor dear needed something nicer for her hair.  I used all the remaining embroidery floss to make her a fringe. It wasn’t enough for a full head of hair, but it was much better than just magic marker.

At the end of the day, this reminded me why I’m so hesitant to get started on projects like this.  Once you have your idea formed and pull all of your materials together, its going to be a long haul. I may try to make her a nicer top for her dress and maybe a petticoat, but for now, she can sit on the windowsill with her cat and grow happy, sparkly thoughts.

Fairy House Craft Day

Somehow, I tricked my friend S into coming over for craft day this past weekend.  I’m still surprised that she let me talk her into it.  But in spite of how much of a poorly conceived idea it was or how much craftprehension we started out with, we managed to have a great time and created a couple of delightful fairy houses.

The great thing about building fairy houses, or any fairy garden furnishings is that fairies are magic, so whatever you make for them doesn’t actually have to be functional.  As long as the intent is there, the fairies can do the rest.

I have been wanting to make a fairy house out of wine corks with a beer bottle cap roof.  Because Pinterest.  I’ve been collecting supplies for a while (tough work, I know).  S brought her collection of Veuve Clicquot corks and seashells because she is fancy like that.

Of course, in my house the single greatest barrier to crafting (and productivity in general) are furry little somethings named Anabel and Sally.  Hot glue and fluffy kittens are a bad combo.  So craft day had to happen al fresco. 

Mr. Man was a helpful enabler.  He set up the easy-up canopy and a table in the driveway.  He also ran an extension cord and power strip for us and loaned me some handy tools (I have got to get my own needle nose pliers, they are SO useful).

We gathered our supplies, poured a couple of mimosas and got to work. Our warm-up craft was making champagne cage miniature chairs (it is important to warm up for all sorts of activities, not just working out).

Then it was time for our experiments in magical architecture.  While S got started on her Veuve Clicquot sea-fairy temple, I sorted through my wine cork collection and realized that I had enough Stoplman Vineyards corks to make a single brand fairy house too.  We used Ikea cork trivets as our bases. 

After enough mimosas and only a few glue burns, our masterpieces were complete!  Now the only problem is where to put these houses to let the magic get in.

Craft day was a success! Fortunately (or unfortunately) we have a load of supplies left over.  I hope we can do it again soon.

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.