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On Craft

June 17, 2009

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by Jane Patrick

In the August/September 2009 issue of American Craft, Glenn Adamson, kicks off a new column entitled, “Considering”. In it, he discusses that in the current state of craft we can no longer look at an object and assume its maker. “You might think craft is the opposite of mass production,” he states, “but in fact artisans work at factories across the globe. They make prototypes out of clay and plaster, keep creaky and outdated machines running, or carry out the same highly skilled but repetitive work day after day, for wages most Americans would consider exploitative. Again, their names are typically effaced within systems of design and distribution, but without these craftspeople the global economy would be in even more trouble than it already is.”

With this Adamson states that, “…this spells trouble for the studio craft movement, in which single makers produce unique objects as a way of expressing their own aesthetic. Giving up on this once-vital approach to craft will be a painful process. But the time has come. Too much of craft production offers itself as an alternative to the vertiginous challenges of the present…As long as the craft community considers its goals to be the creation of autonomous and rarefied ojects d’art, it will remain trapped in a retrograde exercise.”

I react to what he is saying in two ways. On the one hand, I find it exciting to see so many objects in the marketplace that have a hand-made quality to them. They are perhaps mass-produced by hand in artisan factories but they have a one-of-kind quality which takes them out of the ordinary. The positive is that for many mass producers of craft, the making of objects helps sustain communities and families. It also offers the consumer items with character and charm. (Do these “affordable” objects endanger the traditional craftsperson? Or do they challenge them to do better?)

On the other hand, I cannot for a minute think that the craftsperson, who begins with a material to bring it to life, is passé. The need to create by hand is deep. We need its comfort, its meditative quality. Through repetition and time, lots of it, we grow and mature in our craft. This involvement is critical to taking what you do today and moving beyond it. This, I believe, is the primal seductive pull of craft that any craftsperson who has experienced the thrill of a problem resolved or a new innovation is not likely to give up on anytime soon.

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