Tag Archives: Project 2: Craft and the hand-made

Project 2: Research ~ Ptolemy Mann

For this task I have been asked to research a designer/artist/maker whose work I am drawn to and consider the following questions. I’ve chosen to look more closely at the work of Ptolemy Mann.

What is their craft and how do they approach their work?

Ptolemy Mann is a textile artist and designer, whose craft is primarily weaving. She is a highly skilled hand weaver and so some of her work, commissions, is made by herself at a loom. Her textile work reveal she is an “expert at creating a broad spectrum of vibrant colours in a single design, she is known for her painterly approach” (p.172, Textile Visionaries by Bradley Quinn).

 

Circle #10, 2011, textile artwork woven by Ptolemy Mann.

Circle #10, 2011, textile artwork woven by Ptolemy Mann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Project 2: Craftsmanship and quality

Before I move on to researching a designer/maker/artist whose work I’m drawn to, I wanted to touch briefly on a few things mentioned in the course book under the titles; ‘craftsmanship and quality, desire for narrative’.

I think a really good recent examples which shows how both those elements are something people are hungry for (possibly mostly at the luxury or high end of the consumer scale), is the birth of the London Craft Week. London held it’s first week dedicated to craft in 2015, and recently, held its second week in May 2016. Much like the London Design Week and London Fashion Week’s the events took place across London, with artists opening their own studios as well as large high end fashion brands offering an insight into the artistry or craft that goes into their products.

The video below is the promotional video for the 2016 week. I wanted to include it as it’s insightful about the current mood or desire for craftsmanship today.

Guy Salter – Executive Chairman, London Craft Week says;

“Consumers they have the money to spend, but they’ve got a little bit tired of the same old brands, the same old streets. People are asking many more question about the substance of how is something made, who made it,  where was it made? We are giving those consumers the alternative where one minute you could be going behind the seasons of a household brand. But the next you’re going around the corner down an alley and coming across an independent maker who you’ve never heard of before but whose work is of the same or higher quality.”

“What we aim to do is create something which I think is unique. Which is actually an opportunity for that consumer to shop, collect, buy, learn, discover beautiful things from around the world. meet exceptional makers face to face, and actually understand why what they do is so special.”

To me Salter’s word really express that desire for something hand crafted, as something unique, just as each individual person is unique. It’s also about the experience for the shopper, people are being welcomed into the story as it were, to become part of the craftsman world by seeing their working environment, the skill of their craft and by buying their goods.

I think it’s also interesting the appeal is made to those interested in more luxury goods, the brands that were included (Chanel, Mulberry among others) are not high street brands. I wonder how or if this desire will filter down into the consciousness of lower or middle income consumers. Or if this will remain the new centre of luxury tastes and desires (for a season of course)?

Project 2: Considering Craftsmanship

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…

Project 2: Exercise 1 ~ The hand-made

‘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?

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Project 2: Research point ~ Slow Design

Research: Slow Design

What are the guiding principles of this movement?

Slow movement is a really a philosophy for life. Whilst it’s early origins are said to be in the Slow Food movement, the idea of ‘slowness’ as a philosophy has spread and been fleshed out into real life practices and attitudes towards; how we design products, branding, work, leadership, fashion, family. It is encourages a holistic view and evaluation of life, as opposed to the fragmentation often seen as a part of modern living.

Quality over Quantity – the idea that its better to design one thing well i.e. with quality raw materials, with good ethical practices, with less environmental impact, than many things poorly. Being willing to pay more to have an item that will last longer than to pay less and have many items which will be used briefly and thrown away. Longevity is another key part of designing – designing things to last in contrast to deliberately making something with a short life span to keep consumers buying products.

Human Connection – seeing design as something which should add value to society, enriching the lives of every person who comes into contact with a product, from the maker, designer to consumer.

Environmental Connection – taking time to consider different solutions to design which include the environmental cost. Often this movement champions local produce, things made from regional materials or local designers.

Slowing down the pace of life, to allow conscious decisions .

Strong bond between craft and slow movement – craft or craft-manship is strongly encouraged in the movement, as an alternative to the speed of mass production, and the disconnection that can occur in the process with the land and with society.

Balance – although the movement is called the ‘slow’ movement this isn’t an encouragement to literally do everything at a snails pace. They talk about ‘good slow’ and ‘bad slow’, an example being ‘traffic or slow broadband – bad slow’ – something which hinders you being able to achieve your work. ‘Good Slow’ being taking time to read a bed time story to your children, or taking longer on a project to reach a more sustainable design as opposed to rushing it and using the cheapest available materials.

People Not Consumers – Designing with people’s needs in mind and encouraging people to see themselves as valued not just something to be manipulated or squeezed for profit.

‘The slow movement is a cultural shift towards slowing down life’s pace. It is not organised and controlled by a singular organisation. A principal characteristic of the Slow Movement is that it is propounded, and its momentum maintained, by individuals that constitute the expanding global community of Slow. Although it has existed in some form since the Industrial Revolution its popularity has grown considerably since the rise of Slow Food and Cittaslow in Europe, with Slow initiatives spreading as far as Australia and Japan’ (Wikipedia)

Key Figures:

Carl Honore – author of In Praise of Slow – a book advocating a change to our approach to life.

Geir Berthelsen – Founder of The World Institute of Slowness (originally a Think Tank, in 1999).

Safia Minney – Founder and CEO of People Tree, a Fair trade fashion company, also author of Slow Fashion  and advocate in the slow fashion movement.

Alastair Fuad Luke – Slow Research Lab – rethinking the process of research in creativity and beyond. Here’s a link to their Resources; Slow TOOLS – Slow Practices. 

 

Research Links:

Do you believe this approach to design and making could have a positive impact on our consumption of products?

In principle yes – in practice is another thing. I think if designers can communicate this approach in a clear manner then they may be able to affect consumer attitudes. I think it also requires a different approach to advertising, particularly the messages that come across. If advertising continues to push fast consumption or thoughtless consumption people will continue to consume in this way. It’s a bit of a paradox, that designers in this movement will have to ask people to consume less but when they do buy to buy products of a higher value or monetary cost. I think designers must make clear the different value their products bring to consumers and to the world in general, shifting value from being ‘what do I get’ and ‘how quickly/easily can I get it’ to ‘how does this benefit the people who made it, what is the cost to the environment, Do I need this, Does this add value to my life?’.

Would you place more value on a product that has been created with this principle in mind? Why or why not?

Yes, I think so. Partly because if a product is created in this way it tells me that the designer hasn’t just created it to gain the most profit for themselves irrelevant of the cost to people or the environment. But I would still want to research the designers process, to see evidence that their words match their actions. I’m also drawn to the idea of something having been crafted with care and by hand, perhaps it’s a love for stories or something that seems more personal. Another reason is because to a degree these principles make up some of my own approach to designing or printmaking, so it would be strange for me to practice these things but not support those same principles as a consumer.