‘The art of craft: the rise of the designer-maker’, Justin McGuirk, the Guardian 1st August 2011
After reading the above article:
Do you believe there is a demand for hand-made objects and work? Why do you think that some consumers seek out these qualities in the objects they buy?
Yes I believe there is a trend towards hand-made objects and work. But I don’t believe this is something which has fully entered mainstream thinking. Whilst hand-made objects and work might be highly prized in indie magazines I don’t think this is what the average consumer is seeing or reading. The consumers that do seek out these qualities are consumers who have sought to consider what they’re buying, they’re hungry for stories, for connection. I think there’s a dissatisfaction with the temporary or fleeting high that comes from something which is mass produced. It represents something throw-away and people want things that have a history, or a sense of permanence.
The article mentions a new desire emerging in people to see ‘process’ not just finished results. And the world of the hand-made offers this, it offers the consumer a connection to the hands and person behind the object they take home.
Do you think the desire for hand-made products is based on a romantic perception of the hand-made and a sense of ‘post-industrial nostalgia for the pre-industrial’? Why or why not?
I think nostalgia is a powerful thought which is present in culture at this time. But I’m not sure people today are aware of what ‘pre-industrial’ life looked like. How can they long for an existence or world they’ve never lived in? I don’t think people want to completely do away with the advances the industrial revolution gave, but there’s an emerging thought that perhaps the industrial advances do not fulfill people in the way that was expected. That whilst machines and manufacturing process have created a different world, people still crave basic things, connection, meaningful work (the sense they have achieved something). The hand made offers a very immediate connection to people and I think there’s something very immediately visible in seeing something emerge from crafting. A quote from the article fits this understanding; ‘ skilled manual labour – or indeed any craft – is one path to a fulfilling life.’
I’m never 100% sure what is meant by the use of romantic in this context. Is the life of a crafts-person romantic? Perhaps? But it’s also tough, there isn’t the safety net or money of a large company or industry. As the article later expands on, materials are expensive, and taking time to construct things by hand is also costly from a time perspective. It’s a high investment from the designer maker, to craft something.
I also wonder if the idea of crafts being ‘romantic’ bothers me because it suggests crafts is a practice of primarily the heart (and hands), not head and heart. Christopher Frayling touches on this in his introduction to: On Craftsmanship towards a new Bauhaus, saying he wrote the essays within the book to; “counter a crafts revivalism of an over-sentimental kind – the tweed and Viyella check shirt variety; to establish the place of crafts and design in the curricula of schools and universities, bringing together the head and the hand; to explore the rise of conceptual art and its implications for the skills of making” (p.19 Frayling 2011).
Do you feel that hand-made products are viewed as luxury or value added products? How do hand-made items compare with mass-produced items, in terms of their value, life cycle, cost and ethics?
The only example that comes to mind is the comparison between a piece of flat pack IKEA furniture, lets say a book case, to one carved by a carpenter. The IKEA bookcase comes flat packed, it made of wood veneer, takes 30 mins to put up and tarnishes fairly quickly. If you’re careful it might last a few years but eventually chips or scratches will age or remove the veneer. In the case of the hand carved case, it shows quality skill, knocks and scratches add to a sense of it having been lived with but don’t diminish the beauty of the whole thing. The carpenter has likely sourced a wood that can with stand life, it is likely to be passed down throughout the family generations and might be a treasured item with memories attached. These things I think make it seem a more valuable item. The life-cycle is extended because it has been constructed to last beyond a few years, and the price reflects the time and energy involved in bringing something out of solid wood.
Reflect on any hand-made item you own (not necessarily textiles). Can you remember why you were drawn to it? Did the fact that it was hand-made make it feel ‘special’ or did you just buy it because you liked the design? How did its price compare with the industrially produced equivalent?
The hand-made item I’ve chosen to reflect on is the small ceramic tile above, made by Zane Hazeldine Pottery. My husband and I came across his pottery studio whilst on holiday in Cornwall. It’s a small workshop set within the grounds of Cotehele Mill owned by the National Trust.
I’m mentioning the back story to finding and owning this title because I think that’s part of what drew me to it. Whilst I was drawn in the moment to the design of the tile, it’s small scale, delicate features, the subject of the bird and the pale colours used. The tile also acted as a sort of souvenir or marker of our time on holiday. I was also keen to support the work of the artist or potter who made the tile, in some way.
The tile was fairly inexpensive, I think £5-7 (can’t fully remember now). The fact that it was hand made did in my mind make it special, what added to that was the uniqueness of the design. I’ve never seen a title like that. I don’t think there is an industrial equivalent, for such a decorative, small tile. But I imagine you could buy bulk amounts of tiles to do a bathroom or kitchen for less?
I think really I was buying into an idea too, that you can make a living off of a small creative or craft based business. I wanted to support someone in a small way who was working to try and make that into a reality. We met and spoke to the potter whilst we were there, so that also encouraged me to want to invest in his work. It’s much easier to see the human connection or the value buying something like this has when you can actually see the persons work space, or the care with which they make their work.
I guess having said that I now see how that sounds like a ‘romantic’ notion!