I’ve been trying to work my way through reading, On Craftsmanship towards a new Bauhaus by Christopher Frayling. If I’m honest there’s a lot that I’m struggling to get a grasp of but here’s an attempt to distill a few reflections upon reading so far.
The first two chapters feel more like a consideration of the history and culture of Britain as we entered industrialization. I think the reason for this is to address the idea that we are in fact mistaken in our understanding of craft, we think of craft or craftsman as a occupation enjoyed by many pre-industrialization. When in reality ‘craftsmen far from being typical workers of the past era, accounted for less than ten per cent of the medieval labour force….in modern society there is far greater scope for skill and crafts-manship than in any previous society’. (p.65 quoting Robert Blauner in Work Satisfaction and Industrial Trends).
He uses the example of the craft potter, today seen to be someone working from traditional skills and challenges our notion of this being a highly prized craft in a bygone era;
“For, although pottery is today the most popular of handicrafts, it played a negligible part in the economy of Merrie England…When clay was worked by medieval craftsman, it was mainly to produce tiles and bricks for those who could not afford stone’ (p.65 Frayling, 2011).
If as Frayling suggests we are nostalgic for an era or way of life that never really existed the next question is why? And who is responsible for the prevalence of what Frayling calls ‘the mythology of craftsmanship – the myth of the happy artisan, the myth of paradise lost and the myth against all evidence that craftsmanship is an exclusively rural occupation’ (p.58-59 Frayling, 2011)?
Perhaps the answer lies in the trend towards language associated with craft in advertising. Apparently the use is so widespread that (this would’ve been in 2011 the time of the books publication);
“a recent survey of the state of language devoted a whole section to the word ‘crafted’ as one of those words in everyday vocabulary which ‘beguile as well as inform’. ‘When advertising people use “crafted” as a substitute for “manufactured”, the survey went on ‘they are attempting to delude the public into believing that something has been made by hand in a carefully old-fashioned way'” ( p. 61,Frayling, 2011).
He mentions ‘a series of 45-second films promoting Hovis on television’ as ‘the campaign that made the fullest use of this strategy’. He goes on to say that these adverts make the ‘mass produced goods associated in consumer’ minds with brass bands in rural Yorkshire during an early part of the century, bakeries run by craftsmen….to beguile the supermarket shopper into believing that it is as good today as it has always been’ (p.62, Frayling, 2011).
I wasn’t familiar with the adverts he was referring to, which led to an odd session of finding clips of Hovis adverts on YouTube. I think the ones below are those he was referring to;
Now I do agree with the general notion put forward, advertisers do have a lot to answer for in terms of attaching the word ‘hand-made’ or ‘crafted’ to mass produced goods, and in doing so have fixed this word into our language.
However I also think that the rise in craftsmen or designer/maker’s is also behind the surge in this terminology. I think there is a surge in people turning their hands to craft, and in my mind websites like Etsy or Folksy, have given a place for these people to sell their works (and therefore promote them and the concepts alongside it) to the general public in a way never seen before.
I also think the underlying issue isn’t simply nostalgia, it’s a desire for connection, and a desire for stories. Which leads me nicely on to looking into designer/makers which have used stories as part of their selling point or craft…