Arts and crafts education

My own arts and crafts continue to be done, but in the last couple of months it seems like someone has been sick in my house every week, or big work events are going on, or big papers are due for my husband, or something.  So fun has been had, and a few things have been created, but I haven’t had time to talk about them or take pics.  So we’ll save some of that for a roundup later on.

What I want to ponder now is the state of arts and crafting education.  In my day job, I work at a University.  In the particular division I work in, the importance and value of in-person versus online education is being carefully considered (or hotly debated, depending on who’s in the room at the time).  The catalyst is this – a prominent brick & mortar institution has put forth some foundation courses from one of their signature degree programs in an online, affordable model.  Now the whole educational world is in a tizzy!  Who would pay our institution for online or in-person classes when they can get it from Harvard for such a low cost from anywhere in the world?  I think there are still some very valid reasons why localized and regionalized higher education aren’t going away any time soon regardless of prestigious online models.  But that’s beyond the scope of this blog.

While that’s a debate for the doctorates and bigwigs, it got me thinking about arts and crafts education.  We live in a DIY world, where craft tutorials of varying quality can be found on all kinds of platforms such as Pinterest, Cut-out-and-Keep, About.com, and dozens of other sites both craft-oriented and not.  There is no limit (except equipment cost/availability) to what you can learn to create.

This has profoundly changed the way we learn about crafts.  I still go to the library (or more often, to the library system’s webpage, where I have the book sent to my local branch) when I want to preview a craft book with the thought of buying it, or if I want to look at a book that I think might be generally inspiring, or if I want to get into a whole new craft area that I know nothing about.  But if I need to know how to do a single technique, I google it.  For example, I was looking for double-slide knots so that I could make an adjustable ribbon bracelet.  I found a tutorial, I did the technique, and accomplished a quick project. I didn’t have to try to figure out what book might contain this technique, nor order it from the library and wait for the book to come in to get the instruction I needed.20140410-181103.jpg

This increasing comfort-level and reliance on e-learning for our daily craft needs has led to a proliferation of other modes of teaching and learning online.  Technique-oriented blogs (as this one occasionally endeavors to be!), are everywhere for every craft, and I think some even make money through mini-stores, affiliations or ad space (I need to figure out how that works sometime! Any ads on this site currently don’t pay me but pay WordPress).  Dedicated craft-lesson websites like Craftsy, Online Card Classes, The Big Picture Scrapbooking, and others offer an online class environment for a fee.  Other sites, like KnittingHelp.com offer an amazing amount of online video instruction for free, but also offer a few longer videos for a fee.  I can’t speak to either model for profitability or sustainability, but certainly they are popular.

So with all this learning available free online, or for a fee, do people still go to in-person craft classes?  Big craft industry shows such as CHA (Craft & Hobby Association) and the Knit & Crochet Show have boasted increasing attendance over the last few years.  And there’s plenty of fervent internet buzz generated about the privilege of going to those big shows and experiencing workshops taught by “famous” elite crafters.  Local class or workshop-based shows can also be quite successful if they are supported by a strong local group or culture of crafting, and if they capitalize on internet tools to market themselves.  Classes at local shops, though, might suffer depending on their ability to market their workshops and educators.

And what about peer-to-peer learning?  While the fiber arts still boast a strong network of local guilds, other crafts seem not to attract such structured, open-membership groups for crafting.  Crop-nights or other scrapbooking events seem to be organized ad-hoc either by groups of friends or by home-party direct-sales entrepreneurs.  But peer-to-peer learning is massive and vibrant on the internet, where hugely popular sites like Ravelry (knitting/crochet) and Split-Coast Stampers (paper arts) seem to be thriving based on their ability to connect enthusiastic crafters in supportive and fun sub-interest forums.  Are there other community sites for other crafts?  If so, drop me a line and let me know.  I’m very interested to check these out, because I like to see how the different niche-social sites value different types of tools and visual representations.  Maybe sometime I’ll do a cross-genre comparison, just for fun.

So, in the world of crafting (where informal and non-formal learning are the primary modes of knowledge acquisition), online learning is huge, growing and maybe in some areas eclipsing in-person learning.

I would love to dig into the subject of arts and crafts in formal learning situations like higher-ed, but there is nothing really to compare.  There are very few institutions of higher education that offer art classes online.  For clarity, I’m not talking about digital-arts but arts where the result is a physical object, because obviously digital arts should be more easily adapted to online learning.

While even big dogs like Harvard are dipping their toes into the waters of online, for-credit courses in some subject areas (e.g., business), there don’t seem to be reputable studio art degree programs online.  If I’m missing your alma mater, I apologize, and please drop me a line so that I can expand my understanding.  Will the world of studio art higher-education be expanded beyond the physical walls of brick & mortar?  Or is part of getting an art degree the experience of getting hands smudgy/painty/clay-covered with fellow art students?  Can the classic art-school critique be done in an online forum?  Or is the experience of seeing a fellow student’s 5’x5′ thesis painting necessarily in-person because the sense of scale is part of the work?  And there are even less fine-craft programs in higher education, but I assume that they are also esteemed as necessarily in-person.

It will likely never be up to me, but I would love to see some intrepid teacher try to adapt some of the lower-level undergraduate studio art classes into an online format.  I think it could be done.  Like with other subjects, there are certainly trade-offs when learning in-person or online.  It would be cool to see how higher ed online delivery platforms could be adapted for such a tactile subject.

How do you learn arts and crafts? Let me know by poll or drop a comment.

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