Tag Archives: definitions

Arts and Crafts: What’s the Difference?

Creative things you make with your hands generally get divided into two categories: arts and crafts. But what makes one category different from the other? It’s not always easy to tell, especially if you’re talking definitions. The lines begin to blur and in regard to most kinds of productions, the definition is in the eye of the beholder.

Some separate arts and crafts by type. Paintings and sculpture are art. Crochet and creating chainsaw sculptures are crafts. Baking, which is creative and done with the hands, doesn’t fall into either category unless you’re talking about the cakes you see on Food Network competitions. But food is ephemeral, so let’s focus on the kinds of work that last.

And arts and crafts are work. Make no mistake about that. They can be one’s hobbies, part-time occupations, or livelihood, but both arts and crafts require skill, practice, mindfulness, sensibility, and attention. That’s reflected in the phrase “a work of art.”

But to what efforts do we apply the term “art”? And what is “merely” a craft?

Kits and Patterns. First, the kinds of work that come in kits and with patterns are considered crafts. This includes everything from paint-by-numbers kits to bedazzlers to sewing. But wait a moment. Don’t clothing designers elevate their work from craft to art? In the main, those who design haute couture don’t use patterns. They invent, using only their own imaginations. Knitting and crocheting usually require patterns and are not considered art by most. Most home-made clothing likewise involves patterns. So perhaps one of the criteria for art is that it comes only from the artist’s imagination.

Beauty. This is a tough one since, as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But famous paintings that are unquestionably art aren’t always beautiful. Sometimes they’re disturbing or make us uncomfortable. Picasso’s Guernica is an artistic masterpiece. It is also a depiction of the horrors of war. Whatever it is, it’s not classically beautiful.

Nor does beauty by itself make a work of art. The paintings that people hang over their sofas depict beautiful scenes, but professional artists and art critics scorn them. Paintings of sad clowns or large-eyed puppies are classed as kitsch or dreck. They may be technically well done or pleasing to the eye, but they are not Art with a capital A.

Age. Art, perhaps, is something that stands the test of time. But if we limit art to the Old Masters, we deny that young artists create meaningful works. It’s a bit like poetry – no one values it unless you’re dead, preferably by suicide, or best-selling like Helen Steiner Rice.

Age, however, can elevate crafts from the mundane into art. A sampler stitched today is virtually worthless, but one made before, say, 1774 is a precious artifact. With most art, the older the better. The decorations on Egyptian tomb goods or the beading on native clothing are museum-worthy if only because they are old enough.

Location. And while we’re talking about museums, let’s talk about location, location, location. To many the distinction goes like this: Art is what you see in a museum. Crafts are what you find at a local outdoor festival or hanging on the walls of a restaurant. They are created by someone you know or at least could get to know. Distance in both time and location seem to make a difference in whether a piece of work is art or not.

There are gray areas, of course, and these are generally called “artisanal.” If a potter has a shop and sells hand-made vases and dinnerware, if a person who makes jewelry from semi-precious stones instead of diamonds has a shop, the general feeling is that they are more than crafters but less than artists, however lovely their creations.

Price. This is a no-brainer. If it sells for thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars it is art. If you buy it online or spend less than $250 on it, it’s not. There are gorgeous quilts hand-sewn every day that look like works of art, but they do not sell for the same prices as for a Van Gogh. We pay for perceived value.

Rarity/Collectibility. And this is how the perceived value is calculated. If there is only a limited number of an item, like Imperial Fabergé eggs (50 were made), their worth and claim to the title of art skyrocket. Of course, this distinction does not hold true for everything. There are models of Hot Wheels cars, Beanie Babies, and Star Wars figures that are quite rare, but no one considers these art.

Personally, I love art, but in many ways I prefer crafts. Blown glass, stained glass, needlework, carvings, calligraphy, and framed prints decorate our home. When I wear jewelry, it’s going to be amber or malachite or amethyst. I think of them as little pieces of art that anyone can own.


Light Crumbs and Muffin Bones

A woman told a joke and I collapsed in hysterics before she even got to the punchline. Here’s the set-up:

Why did the man have a hundred-dollar bill tattooed on his wing-wing?

That’s when I lost it.(1)

I found out later that she called a woman’s genitals her “tutu.” Which no doubt confused her kids the first time they saw a ballet.

Almost every family, and many politicians and pundits, have trouble calling things by their right names. So we have “lady parts” and “va-jay-jays” and “junk.” Even “uterus” was too shocking for the Florida State Legislature, which reprimanded a member for letting such a word fall on delicate ears, “particularly [those of] the young pages and messengers who are seated in the chamber during debates.”(2)

But every family also has unique words and phrases that enter their vocabulary and stay there, though not for fear of giving offense. They’re just things that no outsider understands.

Some of these terms are created by children and have no equivalent in adult language. One little girl said she wanted an Easter hat with a “go-down.” “You’ll have to show me one,” her mother said. Turns out a go-down was a ribbon that dangled down the back.

Another child invented “move-down” for that moment during a meal when you’re not completely full but need your stomach contents to settle a bit. My husband and I have adopted that one. It’s just so darn useful. “Are you through?” “No, just having a move-down.”

Here’s a good example of one of our neologisms(3): Light crumbs. Dan works nights and hates to leave lights on because of the power bills. I, on the other hand, can’t find my way upstairs without light. I can’t even get from the sofa to the switch by the stairs. If I get up the stairs, I can’t make it to the switch in the bathroom. If I get that far, I can’t make it to my bedside lamp. I have balance problems and walking in the dark makes me dizzy. Plus we have a cat whose nickname is “Mr. Underfoot.”

So Dan leaves a trail of light crumbs for me to follow like a vision-impaired Hansel and/or Gretel. Instead of turning them on as I reach them, I turn them off as I pass them. It’s less doofy than hanging a flashlight around my neck, more agreeable than sending the power company more than absolutely necessary, and easier on Garcia’s tail. Win, win, win.

Many of our personal vocabulary items have to do with food. Here are a few, with definitions.

Muffin bones. When you eat ribs, you usually have a side plate for the bones. When my husband was doing the low-carb thing, he wouldn’t eat pizza crusts. He would put them aside, and they became pizza bones. Similarly, the empty, sticky, crumby fluted paper cups that hold muffins are muffin bones.

Tuna juice. No, we don’t put fish through a juicer.(4) Tuna juice is the water that tuna packed in water is packed in. Cats love it, either straight up or mixed with their regular food.

Not-flan. I had a recipe for a sweet baked good involving pastry crust, eggs, cream cheese, sugar, and optional fruit topping. My husband kept calling it “flan.” I told him that wasn’t the thing’s name. “What is it then?” he demanded. I was stumped. “Well, not flan!” I replied. Ever since that has been our name for it. Later, after I thought it over, “Way-Too-Big Cheese Danish” would have been more accurate. But by then it was too late.(5)

Cat-related activities are good sources for invented words too. Here are some of ours:

Cat fit. Also known as “the Crazy Hour,” this is when cats race around the house for no apparent reason, as if the devil himself were after them.(6)

Bag mice. Those things that make the rustling noise inside either paper or plastic, that cats must protect their owners from. I was pleased to learn that this phenomenon must be universal, as once in Dubrovnik, a black catten(7) detected bag mice in our souvenir bag. (It’s also possible that it just wanted to sneak into the U.S.)

Kitty burrito. Not a food item, but what you must make in order to give a cat pills, fluids, eye drops, or other indignities. Swaddling in a towel is traditional, but we find that dropping the cat in a pillowcase and then doing the burrito folds makes it harder for the patient to squirm loose.

I have not trademarked or copyrighted any of these words or phrases. Feel free to use them if you wish. And if you’d like to share some of your most useful invented vocabulary items with readers of this blog, please do. But please, no euphemisms or slang terms for penis and vagina. We already have way too many of those.

(1) If you are the one person in the world who’s never heard it, the punchline is: Because he heard how women love to blow money.

(2) Pages and messengers range in age from 12-18. I envision an 18-year-old asking, “Mommy, what’s a uterus?”

(3) Look it up.

(4) Or cook them in the dishwasher, which apparently is a thing.

(5) This was also not during Dan’s low-carb phase.

(6) Once Maggie got her back paw tangled in a plastic shopping bag, got scared, and was chased up the stairs by a recently purchased videotape of An American in Paris, which is not exactly the devil, but pretty alarming anyway. Because no matter how fast you run, it’s still always Right There Behind You.

(7) Not a kitten, but not full-grown; a teen-ager.