Arts and crafts are often lumped together, but are they the same? And do the differences matter?
Arts and crafts play important roles in our lives. They can bring joy and happiness into our lives by helping us to tap our creativity to transform our lives and those of others.
However, the inability to tell the two apart can impact how we view ourselves as creators.
In this article, I will explain the difference between arts and crafts in a way that is easy to understand (with examples). I will also touch on why it is important to understand the differences between the two.
Why it is important to understand the difference between arts and crafts
If you plan to get into arts and crafts as a career or hobby, you can save yourself a lot of angst by understanding what kind of creator you are.
As a creator, you need to choose the type of creative activities to engage in based on your personality and natural strengths.
By understanding the difference between arts and crafts, you will be able to understand whether:
- You have the personality and strengths of an artist or a crafter.
- You are suited for the kind of creative work you are engaged in.
- You can easily make a living from your creations.
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A summary of the Differences Between Arts and Crafts
Art involves the use of creativity and imagination to produce works that are beautiful or connect at an emotional level. Examples of works of art include paintings, sculptures, literature and music (see types of art). 
Craft involves using skill and ingenuity to make useful products such as tools, clothing, or furniture. 
In practice, there will be a lot of overlap between arts and crafts, and in many cases, it can be challenging to tell them apart. In fact, there are people who view the two as the same for various reasons. ,,,,
It is more useful to view arts and crafts as a spectrum with various creative works falling somewhere in the spectrum.
With that said, there are simple ways that you can tell them apart based on criteria like purpose, ideation, and originality among others.
Note that for simplicity, the differences I will discuss in this article are crude generalizations based on a stereotype or representation of the extreme ends of the art and crafts spectrum.
Table summarizing the main differences between arts and crafts.
|Are primarily created for self-expression
|Are primarily created for a specific function
|Prioritize aesthetics over function
|Prioritize function over aesthetics
|Are often created through inspiration
|Are often created through a process
|Tap ideas internally
|Tap ideas externally
|Are judged subjectively
|Are judged objectively
|Use emotional and spontaneous creativity
|Use cognitive and deliberate creativity
|Are not constrained by rules
|Are constrained by rules
|Are harder to reproduce
|Are easier to reproduce
|Have unpredictable profitability
|Have predictable profitability
|Growth is experienced by getting better at tapping ideas and imagination
|Growth is experienced through experience and honing of skills
|Examples: Drawing, Sculpture, Painting
|Examples: Weaving, Metalwork, Sewing, Leatherwork
Hopefully, these differences will become clear as we examine them in detail.
1. Art is created for self-expression while crafts are created for a specific function
Every art or craft piece is made with a purpose in mind. Arts and crafts, therefore, serve different needs based on the intention of the creator.
>> Art is primarily created for self-expression.
Art is made to express the artist’s ideas, vision, aesthetics, emotions, or beliefs. The artist values self-expression and bringing their vision to life, even if it conflicts with practicalities and convention.
Art does not need to have a particular use for it to be considered valuable.
>> Crafts are primarily created to serve a particular function.
The crafter identifies a particular problem or opportunity in the market and produces objects or works to solve that problem or fill that need.
For example, you make a pot to cook food in it. Therefore, craft works derive their value from the function they play.
2. Art prioritizes beauty while crafts prioritize function
Arts and crafts produce works that seem similar superficially but differ based on their priorities. These priorities are based on the purpose of the created work (see point 1).
>> Art prioritizes beauty over function.
Artworks reflect the aesthetics and tastes of the creator. For example, when a fashion designer creates clothes for the runway, she may focus more on how they look, rather than how practical they are for daily use.
>> Crafts prioritize function over beauty.
To a crafter, how well the object performs its function is more important than beauty. For example, an architect needs to ensure that the building he designs is liveable and meets code requirements.
With that said, creators can produce items that are both beautiful and functional. Applied art, for example, is the art of decorating functional objects or crafts (see Types of Art).
3. Art is often created through inspiration while crafts follow a process
Arts and crafts can also be differentiated based on how they are created.
>> Art is often created through inspiration.
Art can be hard to explain or teach because it comes from the artists’ emotions, experiences, and beliefs. Some artists can produce impactful art with minimal training, while others struggle despite years of experience.
Also, the process of creating art can be unpredictable. Ideas can come out in a torrent, and at other times slow down to a trickle.
>> Crafts are often created through a process.
Crafters often follow an established pattern or routine to create. For example, if you are a dressmaker, you may create templates that you can tweak based on your clients’ sizes and particular specifications.
With crafts, therefore, you can create systems, patterns, and processes that speed up the production process. A weaving loom, for example, uses templates to automate the production of hundreds of woven mats.
4. Art is made by looking inward for ideas while crafts are made by looking outward for ideas
Creative ideas can come from within you or from others. The source of ideas can differ between arts and crafts although there is some overlap.
>> Art is often made by looking inward for ideas
Artists tap into their inner selves to express ideas and emotions that are unique to them. They use their imagination to produce highly original and unconventional works.
You may say art is produced from the heart because it is primarily concerned with expressing what is inside.
>> Craft is often produced by looking outward for ideas.
Because crafts are created with a particular purpose in mind, a crafter needs to create crafts based on the problems and needs of others. For example, a carpenter can come up with a new furniture design based on feedback that he gets from his customers.
As a crafter, you can look at what is doing well and modify it to suit your potential audience.
You could say crafts are produced from the mind because you have to engage your brain to solve problems.
5. Art is judged subjectively while crafts are judged objectively
The value of arts and crafts is often valued differently, and this stems from the functions they play in society.
>> The value of art is often judged subjectively
The value of art is often subjective and difficult to quantify. For example, one person may be strongly moved by a painting by Picasso, while another may hate it or be indifferent.
Since art moves people in different ways, the value of art is in the eye of the beholder.
>> The value of a craft is often judged objectively
The value of crafts is often easy to quantify because it depends on how well it serves their intended function. For example, if a cup cannot hold water, then everyone can agree that it is a poor cup.
It is, therefore, easy to develop criteria to judge crafts.
6. Art uses emotional creativity while crafts use cognitive creativity
There are different types of human creativity. Neuropsychologist Arne Dietrich, for example, identifies four types of creativity. 
The extreme ends of the arts and crafts spectrum exhibit two of these creativity types (emotional and spontaneous versus deliberate and cognitive).
>> Art is made through emotional and spontaneous creativity
In this type of creativity, ideas seem to come out of nowhere. It almost seems like the creators are tapping ideas from an unknown source.
Great artists, musicians, and scientists often have this type of creativity.
Nikola Tesla, the inventor responsible for alternating current (AC) and wireless communication, displayed this type of creativity. He would often get his ideas through visions. 
>> Crafts are produced through deliberate and cognitive creativity
In this type of creativity, new ideas come from experimentation and improvement on already existing ideas.
Tesla’s great rival, Thomas Edison, exhibited this kind of creativity. Edison invented the motion-picture camera, the electric bulb, and the phonograph. He also worked on direct current (DC).
He would get his breakthroughs through experimentation and studying the ideas of others. 
7. Art is not constrained by rules while crafts have to adhere to certain rules
Both artists and crafters can produce original work, but they face different levels of constraints regarding originality.
>> Art is not constrained by rules
Art is mainly for aesthetic appeal and does not need to fulfill a specific function. It is, therefore, immune to many of the rules that limit crafts.
For example, if you draw a chair, you can let your imagination run wild because it does not have to be bound by the laws of physics.
>> Crafts are constrained by rules
As a crafter or an applied artist, rules dictated by the function of the craft produced. With crafts, therefore, there are limits to how original you can be.
For example, if you are an architect, you cannot build anything you want. You must ensure that your building meets code requirements (such as light, wheelchair access, and safety).
Buildings, therefore, will generally tend to look alike. So will other functional crafts.
8. Art is hard to reproduce while crafts can be easily reproduced
You can differentiate arts and crafts by the level of uniqueness displayed. If something is harder to reproduce, then it becomes unique.
>> Art is often harder to reproduce
Original art can be hard to reproduce. For example, you may have a template for making a hit song or artwork, but it could still fail once it hits the market.
Here’s why art is harder to reproduce.
- Artists rely on tapping emotions and ideas from within. Original art is highly subjective and relies on characteristics peculiar to the creator.
- People react to art subjectively, therefore, two similar works can evoke different responses.
The discussion on reproducing art is now more relevant than ever because of AI tools like MidJourney, which can reproduce all kinds of art.
>> Crafts are often easier to reproduce
It is easy to copy crafts. This means that as a crafter, you will face more competition unless your work is highly original. There are, however, trade-offs if you want to be more original.
There are several reasons why crafts are easier to reproduce:
- Crafters prefer to produce objects that are easy to mass-produce because they are more profitable.
- Crafts can’t be too unique because they are limited by practicalities and conventions. For example, all cups tend to look alike because they have to perform similar functions.
- Crafters often get ideas from what is already in existence (i.e. by re-mixing ideas).
9. It is more difficult to predict the profitability of arts compared to crafts
Both arts and crafts can make money. However, they differ in terms of the reliability of income. With art, income can be unpredictable while crafts can bring in a steady and predictable income.
>> It is hard to predict the profitability of arts
Some artists struggle to make money, while others are incredibly wealthy. Why is there such as huge variation in profitability?
- Art is often subjectively judged, so it is hard to price artwork. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and it is difficult to predict this.
- Many artists create works for their own satisfaction and not necessarily for profit. Some feel that selling their creation is like selling their child.
- Creating unique or original work takes time. A painter, for example, may take years to complete a painting, and once it is complete, it may not sell.
>> It is easier to predict the profitability of crafts
Income from crafting can be predictable and reliable because:
- Crafts are easier to price because they are primarily functional items. So, the function often dictates the price.
- People make crafts for sale, and there is less sentimental attachment.
- Crafts are easier to mass-produce once you come up with the original patterns.
10. Art improves through imagination while crafts improve through honing skills
How do you become a better creator? The path differs depending on whether you are an artist or a crafter.
>> An Artist improves by getting better at imagining and tapping ideas
To become a better artist, you need to get better at tapping, generating and expressing ideas or emotions that resonate with your audience.
This ability is often innate that is why a new painter who is not technically gifted can produce a painting that sells for thousands of dollars because she can connect with the viewer.
Conversely, work by a technically gifted painter may seem bland because it does not arouse any emotions in the viewer.
>> A crafter gets better through experience and honing skills
As a crafter, you get better the more skillful you become. This is usually the product of practice, experimentation, time, and experience.
Because crafts are judged objectively (that is, based on how well they perform their function), if you can produce a technically superior product (such as a car or a guitar), you will be successful.
The 10,000-hour rule works well for people with a crafter’s approach because they can build pattern recognition skills through deliberate practice.
An experienced crafter, for example, can produce an intricately woven mat quickly because they have mastered the patterns over years of practice.
Hopefully, this article has given you something to think about as you pursue your creative journey.
As a creator, you should find something you will enjoy and start creating beautiful works.
Whether you follow the artist’s or crafter’s approach is not important. Arts are not better than crafts, and vice versa. We need both, and they play different roles in our lives.
Choose something that leverages your natural strengths, interests, and personality.